Curriculum review and how to deal with the racial imbalance issue in Greenwich Public Schools are at the top of the Board of Education's "to do list" for 2013.
In addition to approving their 2013-14 Operating Budget, Greenwich Board of Education discussed and voted on several other issues at their business meeting held at Greenwich High School on Dec. 20.
Dr. William McKersie revealed during his Superintendent report that the new Connecticut State Department of Education accountability system is now in place and that the Board will “dig into” the system at its Jan. 10 work session. The school's chief also announced that the District’s Improvement Plan will also be posted on the GPS website Jan. 14.
McKersie stated that the final touches have been made to forming the Math Curriculum Review Committee membership, whose charge will be to review math in grades K-12 and to "make adjustments to align the curriculum with the expectations of the Common Core State Standards and next generation (Smarter Balanced) assessment. The Committee will then identify materials that best support alignment with CCSS, integration of technology, and best practices in instruction."
Ambitious To Do List?
Asking “how do we value education?” and “how do we prioritize?” in response to budget constraints, Dr. Gaetane Francis, parent of both an elementary and middle school student, spoke during the public hearing expressing her “overall sentiment of worry” as she sees the district taking on several “big projects” in the areas of math, social studies and technology.
Regarding the math review, Francis stated “if we are going to do it, we need to do it well” and expressed her concern that the process will be “short changed from the start” with the decrease in the related budget line item.
The superintendent informed the board that the Digital Learning Committee will be convened for the first time in January. McKersie indicated that he is near a final decision point in selecting a technology consultant. In addition, a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) procedure has been sent to all building principals.
Social Studies: “We are stuck. We have to get this unstuck”
The Social Studies Curriculum review was brought to the board in February, 2012 and then again in March when the item was again deferred.
McKersie emphatically advised the board “we badly need to get this moving. We are falling behind in rigor. Our rigor is slipping.”
A pair of fresh eyes in Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction & Professional Learning Irene Parisi, who officially started on Nov. 19, along with Social Studies Program Coordinator Jarret Pepe took an “exhaustive look of questions from the board in an intensive review.”
McKersie assured the board that the state standards outlined in the report will be used as a baseline, “not the ceiling”, and that the administration will be “accountable.”
“We are making no advances in our work in Social Studies”
Although board member Peter von Braun said that he thought that the report was “content light,” he did add that Parisi’s “arrival here gives me more confidence.” While von Braun stated that he would vote in favor of the report based on the administration’s assurances, when the vote was taken to accept the social studies report it was 6-1-1 with Peter Sherr voting against and von Braun abstaining.
“Pressure on end dates”
The board also reviewed an administration proposal on changes to the 2014-15 school calendar which include:
- holding classes on Veteran’s Day at an additional cost of $85,000;
- shortening the February break to a 4-day weekend which will include President’s Day;
- the last day of school will be on June 15, 2015 which will include a cushion of 5 snow days.
“Not a cheap ticket decision”
While board member Jennifer Dayton didn’t feel that there were enough “public speakers” on the calendar topic and therefore wanted to defer the vote, Barbara O’Neill said that the board had “sufficient input” to make an “educational decision.”
Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty called the calendar dilemma “an emotional issue,” pointing to the fact that board members received a “significant” amount of emails on the topic in the days prior to the meeting. Moriarty also reminded her colleagues that when calendar options were last examined the input was half in favor of February, half in favor in April, but a basic common theme was ending earlier in June.
“They can’t speak with one voice”
“The fact that the PTA and GEA didn’t speak on it tonight,” said Moriarty is an indication that the calendar issue is one in which it is difficult for them to “accurately represent their bodies.”
The 2014-2015 calendar was adopted with a vote of 5-3 with Dayton, Sherr and von Braun voting against.
The board then took up the 2013-14 calendar, but with a vote of 2-6 to accept proposed changes with Steve Anderson and Adrianna Ospina voting in favor, the proposal to change the calendar failed and it remains the same as it is currently reported on the district website. (click here to view)
During public comment period, Peter Bernstein, the president of the Hamilton Avenue School PTA, voiced concerns about the pace of change being made to magnet school programs and communication with the community.
"I apologize if I sound like a broken record, but when I spoke at your meeting on September 20th at Hamilton Avenue, I voiced two concerns. The first was that you not push changes to the magnet programs too far into the future. And the second was a challenge to start a discussion with the parents whose children are potentially affected by changes—or failure to make changes—to the magnet programs or any other changes related to racial imbalance."
"Make the hard decisions and let Superintendent McKersie get on with his job implementing them”
"As of tonight, 6 months have passed since receiving the racial imbalance letter from the state and other than a lot of talk and generalized study; you are no closer to enhancing the existing magnet programs or advancing the ball on racial imbalance. We’ve heard a lot about STEM and IB, but what we haven’t heard is how these or any other ideas would be used to get kids into—or out of —the imbalanced schools and what value any of these program would bring to the children at the affected schools," said Bernstein.
The magnet school parent also questioned the board on their outreach. "Other than a few non-specific discussions with PTA leaders, there has been no community outreach," Bernstein said. "You can’t expect the parents in the affected schools to come to the Board of Education meetings to learn about your plans or lack thereof. You need to go to them, educate them and ask for their opinions. Why hasn’t this happened?"
Anderson suggested "Take a leap even then you don’t have a guaranteed outcome." Although the board voted 8-0 to accept the Magnet School report, during the preceding discussion Anderson proposed that the district might consider utilizing free and reduced lunch designation as a means of channeling students to different schools in the district. He added that the state "wants us to solve a racial problem, but we can’t use race" in the solution.
Another suggestion was to utilize the upcoming magnet school lottery process to begin to try to implement change. Ospina said that if the opportunity to utilize this lottery process is missed, “we will need to wait another full year.”
Additionally, Sherr inquired whether the board should look at providing a secondary IB track for ISD parents to perhaps be able to attend Western Middle School through a magnet program, which is currently not an option.
McKersie indicated that the board’s Jan. 10 work session would be a good place to discuss the racial balance issue. Dayton asked that Town Attorney John Wayne Fox be present at the meeting to address any legal questions that board members may have.