Superintendent of Schools Dr. William McKersie started his first Board of Education meeting stating that it was his 35th day in office and that he is "listening." There was plenty to listen to last Thursday evening.
"Numbers Don't Tell The Story"
The public comments portion of the board meeting brought out several parents to speak on the topic of class size in the elementary schools.
PTA President Peter Bernstein said at the podium, "it is striking that the class size guidelines are being used by the district as both a sword and a shield." As of last week, the school's third grade was one student away from each section at the top of the guideline.
parents also commented about their fourth grade calling the numbers of students as a "difficult challenge" for the teachers. Old Greenwich parent Theresa Plavoukos asked the board to "revisit the amount of support you can provide."
Both schools referred to the needs of the students beyond the class size numbers in term of support which tell the full story.
Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty said that there is always "tremendous tensions around (class) decisions." There are two "significant constraints" to bear in mind: space in the facility and money.
According the report submitted at the board meeting, there are 11 sections across the district which are approaching the top of the guideline: one grade at , Hamilton Avenue, , , , and two grades at , and Old Greenwich.
A discussion ensued among board members regarding the possible return of hard caps with Board Member Nancy Kail asking how "hard caps would be implemented," remarking that she felt that they would "remove flexibility" for the administration.
Adrian Ospina agreed with Kail stating that she looked at the hard cap as a "rigid limit" and believes the best approach is to "trust that the principal knows [the school] community and looks at the overall school."
Hard, Soft, Cap or Guideline?
During PTA Council comments, President Lisa Beth Savitz requested "that the board revisit the intent of Policy E-040 and allow the Administration greater flexibility." She acknowledged the "level of frustration" amongst parents as "significant." Further, she recognized that "personnel headcount is a factor, but if "guideline" means "softcap, "could we call it that so parents are not misled?"
The board voted whether to add the topic of class guidelines to a future agenda but the motion failed 4-4 with Ospina, Moriarty, Anderson and O'Neill voting against.
A Mixed Bag of Academic Achievements
Special Project Manager John Curtin presented the latest summary of Academic Achievement for the district based upon last year’s standardized testing.
While the 2012 results across the district for grades 3-8 reflect five-year highs in students achieving proficiency, mastery and advanced levels on the Connecticut Mastery Test in reading, writing, math and science, Greenwich still lags comparable districts (DRG B) in all subject levels and at all performance levels.
Growth in scores was comparable to other districts indicating that any advancement by Greenwich students was matched by those in other districts.
While noting that both the level of minority enrollment (30.2 percent) and students qualifying for free or reduced lunch (13.9 percent) had grown over the last five years, the report stated that “per pupil expenditures in Greenwich are among the highest in Connecticut and the array of services available to support high need students is extensive."
The report went on to describe the district’s next steps in further analyzing the data and then determining the appropriate action steps to address the issues identified.
Racial Imbalance: We are in the Driver's Seat
McKersie reported a favorable reception by the State Department of Education (SDE) reassuring the Board and public that the SDE is not "going to force a solution" and that they are "not going to make us redistrict."
In an effort to allow Greenwich to "focus on achievement first," McKersie revealed that the SDE is "open to a whole new timeline." Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty advised the process will include "community input" and that a page will be added to the GPS website where all data will be posted.
McKersie has proposed the linking of "racial balance revisions" to the budget planning in an effort to ensure that the district is "making budget provisions for any cost implications."
State Representative Livvy Floren, who played a role in the discussions with Commissioner Pryor, remarked that "Dr. McKersie made a cogent and compelling case for allowing Greenwich to approach the issue of racial balance in a comprehensive, cohesive way. The Commissioner heard and heeded. Greenwich will now be able proceed to a successful solution in an orderly manner."
Bring Your Own Device?
The next meeting of the Board of Education will be a work session on Thursday, September 6; 7:00 p.m. at the Havemeyer building.
The meeting will included the anticipated "whitepaper" on the 2012-2015 District's Technology Plan.
The 94-page reports asks the "essential question:" How can we prepare our students to achieve the highest level of Common Core Standards so that they are college and career-ready with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the 21st century?
One of the recommendations of the plan is to "integrate technology through digital learning environments" utilizing 1:1 mobile learning in grades 6 - 12 and Digital Learning Centers and Mobile Labs in grades K-5.
"School districts will be grappling with the idea of greater access for students by encouraging them to bring their own device (tablet, laptop, eReader)," observes the plan. "BYOD needs to be addressed, at the minimum, at a procedural level so that guidelines for bringing student-owned devices to school and using them responsibly can be established. However, BYOD is the recommended way to reach 1:1 at the secondary level in a timely, cost-effective manner."
Also to be discussed:
- Reading, Writing and Math Diagnostic Memos for District Improvement Planning;
- School Calendar Parameters;
A First Reading of the following Monitoring Reports, which will come before the Board two additional times before a vote:
Do you think Greenwich secondary students should BYOD?