Calendar, Courses and A Cure For Racial Imbalance

The Board of Education continues its quest for a response to the State Board of Education.


Sandy Sandbags School Calendar

The State of Connecticut requires 180 days for public school students. “The 2012-2013 School Calendar shows an ending date for students of June 24, 2013 which includes 5 closure days in the 181 (day) school year."

Because Hurricane Sandy closed Greenwich schools for an unprecedented 6 days, the impact on the school calendar was added to the Board of Education discussion last week.

Although Veteran’s Day was originally scheduled to be a staff development day, the Board approved that the Nov. 12 holiday would be a regular school day. While this gains back a day for students, it comes with a price. GPS employees previously scheduled to have the holiday off will be paid time and a half.

“Sandy and Athena have forced our hands earlier”

Said Board Member Nancy Kail as the discussion ensued as to what to do with the remaining 5 missed days.

The approved 2012-13 calendar “states that additional storm days will be taken from either the remaining days in June (up to 4 days available) or from the Spring Recess in April.”

The Administration has proposed some possibilities for the Board to ponder:

  • Consider holding school on other single-day holidays — January 21 2013 (Martin Luther King Day); March 29, 2013 (Good Friday); May 27, 2013 (Memorial Day);
  • Consider shortening the April break - April 15-19, 2013: advance notice would help families and staff members plan;
  • Consider shortening the February break - February 11-18, 2013;
  • Make no other Calendar changes at this time, but clearly indicate to staff and parents how calendar changes will be made if there are additional closures this year.

During her public comments, GEA President Cathy Delhanty spoke to the merits of keeping the April break intact calling it “most essential” as a post-CMTs “refresh and recharge” for teachers.

Board member Steve Anderson also pointed out that nearly all surrounding districts have the same April vacation and infringing upon those days would have an impact on staff members who have school-aged children. For Anderson, the primary driver should be “effects on education for children”  and suggested to “recapture days in February break before the March testing cycle” would serve to  keep “the education of our children first.”

Board Chair Leslie Moriarty reminded the board that when April break days were utilized in the past under Superintendent Dr. Larry Leverett,  “they were not good educational days” with attendance very low.

They don’t have a crystal ball

While the recent winters have been more severe, over the past 20 years, there have been only 3 years when the number of snow days have exceeded 5.

The Board batted around the various scenarios and even took a “sense of the meeting” poll with most members favoring the utilization of April break days, Anderson lobbying for February and Adriana Ospina stating she would need more information to make a decision.

The calendar discussion will continue at the next board meeting which will be held Nov. 15.

New Courses at GHS

Greenwich High School Headmaster Chris Winters presented a proposal for new courses at Greenwich High School for 2013-2014, which includes an introductory Latin course, AP English Language and Composition and several AP Art classes. Winters commented that the questions he received, however, were on courses that were not proposed, which did not make the slate due to enrollment requests.

Curricula For Advanced Students

During the public comments, the PTA Council ALP Committee Co-Chairs Dr. Gaetane Francis and Marty Dayton addressed the Board stating that “advanced students need curricula that are accelerated and more complex and Greenwich High School is not providing this for our advanced 9th grade Language Arts and History students.” They asked the Board to consider classes for 9th graders that “have clear criteria-based entrance requirements and curricula that will stimulate our most advanced students in English and History.”

In specific reference to the concern, Winters said there have been “short-term improvements made” that he believes are challenging the students. The Headmaster explained that “best practices” have been  implemented “ to add rigor to courses” specifically into the Grade 9 English 113. This includes “deeper connections” and “more consistency.”

Echoing Winters, Bridget Barry, Sheldon House and English Administrator, explained that these modifications do not mean more work. Rather that more “layers” of “analysis” have been added to English 113 in a “natural way.”

Longer term, explained Winters, there are options the high school is considering. First, Winters stated “we do believe we differentiate far better than what we are getting credit for." Through the 5-house system at GHS, 90% of 9th graders remain in their assigned houses for English and World Themes. This aids the freshmen in making a large school feel small and Winters said that given that benefits, the GHS Administration is “hesitant to give that up.” They will explore creating an honors level or options as well as develop a new course whether it be in English or World Themes.

Following Winters explanation, McKersie told the Board that while modifications have been made to English 113 for 9th graders, “we want to hear input from Board on what is the next best step is.”

“Outcomes matter," said McKersie. "When that 9th grader goes into the 10th grade AP course, are they prepared? And indications are yes. We are taking this seriously to understand it from the viewpoints of parents, teachers, Administration and Chris Winters," McKersie said.

The Board will continue discussions over "the right courses" to meet the needs of the students. McKersie added that “we have some big questions in the curriculum area” and pointed to the hire of Irene E. Parisi as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Learning as a crucial step in bringing more focus and expertise to play on this crucial area for the District.

Racial Imbalance Update

Following on the Board’s Oct. 18 discussion on Racial Balance and the Achievement Gap, McKersie reported back on additional analysis done by the administration. The possible solution categories are:

  • Magnet Schools—both full and partial magnet;
  • Autonomous Schools including charter, contract and compact schools;
  • Redistricting including school closings;
  • Grade Reorganization;
  • Controlled choice where parents upon registering give 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices for schools;
  • Out of District Tuition;
  • Combination Solution

The comprehensive analysis considered factors such as demographics, housing, enrollment patterns and projections, classroom facilities, school choice plans, transportation and budget implications.

Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty stressed the "need to develop a response to the state" as well as "to give direction to the Administration on which options that we are likely able to fund and what is adaptable."

A discussion ensued in an attempt to take some options off the table. With enrollment projected to shift across the district, Nancy Kail lamented "we are going to have to face our love of neighborhood schools." However, she sees this "an opportunity" to address the student achievement challenges with "racial imbalance as a by-product

The Magnetic Issue

Barbara O'Neill observed "we don’t have magnet schools because we don’t magnetize many people." Board member Anderson offered "we need to figure out a way to discriminate without discriminating." He went onto explain that "if we really want to magnetize, we are going to have to do something so different." In recent a conversation he had with New Lebanon PTA President Mike Bocchino, Anderson said that the idea of an "8:15 – 4:30 day of full academics" was broached.

While McKersie believes that the administration and board have the requisite understanding of the issues and factors, they lack the appropriate level of personnel and "technical capacity" to undertake the analysis and develop a viable plan. 

As such, McKersie is planning on releasing an RFP seeking to select a "consultant team that can provide comprehensive analysis of these critical issues."

Like the calendar and new courses, discussions on racial imbalance will be continued. The Board will meet on Thursday, Nov. 15 at North Street School, 7 p.m. when they are scheduled to vote on election of Board Officers for the next year.


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