Parent and taxpayer response

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Test Scores & Accountability: A 2 Edged Sword

Wednesday, November 28,  2012
Special Board Meeting
Academic Progress/Student Performance
Office of Planning Evaluation & Research

Attendance was not good. This was anticipated. Only a fraction of the normal amount of chairs were provided.

After the regular opening of the meeting a handout was given. Dr. Carlisle explained it as a Chronological History of Testing that is used across the country. It should be noted at this time that the Stakeholders were not given a copy of this material. We were also not given any further information about this document so that we might consult it as a reference later. It was explained that the results of high stakes testing might be improved by introducing a system of rewards. I suspect that he was referring to the State and Federal government's new turnaround principles that are being introduced, and the new Teacher evaluation system that was piloted in Bergenfield and 8 other school districts last year. District  goals were mentioned, but we have not seen these elusive goals. Questions that were posed by the Board of Education do not support the assertion that these goals even exist. It was asserted that we are better off now than a year ago. The data did not support this allegation. A millisecond was spent on informing parents and community that our high school has been designated a FOCUS School.

He went on to say that the focus will be on "how" money is to be spent from now on. There is also supposedly a hiring and spending freeze that began Friday November 30, 2012.  Well, it is about time.

Each Principal  gave a presentation that was to explain the scores from the respective schools.
A lot of reasons were given as to why the scores went down  or did not go up. The transition to Singapore Math is one of the reasons given. The transition to the Common Core State Standards is another reason given. The transient nature of a fraction of the population and attendance was cited.

Grieco Elementary School -  Principal Jeff White 
He talked about Singapore Math and praised Dr. Carlisle and the Board.  More specifics were needed in terms of what measures are being introduced to increase Literacy and Math scores. He did emphasize that they were striving to create independent thinkers

McCloud Elementary School - 
  • Mr. Brown talked about guided reading instruction. (more guided reading models)
  • He spoke of giving students added reading and math periods to reinforce their weaknesses in those areas. 
  • the extended day program to help make up for students who enter in September already 8 weeks behind
  • 6th grade students are tutoring 4th graders
  • Daily walk throughs inspecting expectations (not sure of how this is accomplished)
  • implemented staff changes to support student learning. (this was not explained)
  • visited Bergenfield for an example for "best practice" in Learning Organization

Mr. Brown has a very unique situation in his building. He does not have an assistant principal. I don't know why the administration does not see this as a problem and I do not understand why Mr. Brown is not complaining. It is more than obvious that there is a discipline problem in this school. Mr. Brown needs a team that includes the disciplinarian who is generally the Assistant Principal. Students are just beginning to be separated upon entry into McCloud. The "special" children have already been identified, separated out and placed in the "IVY PROGRAM" .  No one acknowledges or wants to admit that this begins the real problem. The adults seem to think that children are not aware of the way these groups are expected to perform at different levels. Children know when very little is expected of them. It is obvious.

Every child should be IVY. Here is where the pants are beginning to sag. IVY students are expected to do more work and to behave as little ladies and gentlemen. What is expected of everyone else? Add to that the problem of transient and chronically absent students. Another thing, we should all remember that there is no ATTENDANCE OFFICER. There is also no attendance SECRETARY for the district who works with this attendance officer and parents to keep children in school.

One of the requirements of the state (listed in one of the Englewood Reports) was that the research paper be introduced in the 6th grade. Where is it? The question really should be answered as to why the 6th grade is in McCloud Elementary school.
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Janis E. Dismus Middle School - The highlight of the evening
Principal Lamar Thomas stepped outside of the box with his team and took responsibility for the scores and performance of middle school students. He owned the failures and the successes.  He outlines proactive measures that are already being undertaken with his team to solve achievement, climate and culture problems within his school. These are only some of the ones I remember.
  • changed the entire math team
  • changed the way students are graded 
  • examined the real relationship between the allegation that one half of the school population is on the honor roll, but not earning better scores on standardized tests
  • held teachers to task on giving out good grades because they LIKE students
  • was adamant about the fact that the team decided that an A from  Dismus should equate to an A in any other district.
  • more collaboration between teams and teachers
  • provides online resources
  • they ended social promotion
  • they sent students to summer school that they identified as needing more support and work before entering the high school. (Word on the street is that these students were refused admission into the Academy@Englewood if they did not participate in the summer program at Janis E. Dismus. Are these students still in the Academy?)
  • met with parents to explain the new rules and got approval when they expected some push back
  • efforts were made to create a more inclusive and less restrictive learning environment
There was a marked emphasis on "we" that was missing from the other presentations. No excuses were made for students not doing well. The emphasis was on "we" will do better. We have aligned ourselves to face the task ahead to do better. It was refreshing NOT to hear excuses.

Dwight Morrow High School, The Eagle Program
Totally unacceptable presentation. We need a night dedicated to these programs alone. Dwight Morrow is the FOCUS school. There did not seem to be a full understanding on the part of the Principals of the significance of this designation. After listening to the high school presentation I found myself wondering why anyone would send their children there. (And my granddaughter is already there)

All Presentations lacked discussion of a key component. Curriculum.

Stephen Brown gave an over long reason as to why Harley Ungar would be the first one allowed to attack.
Mrs. Ungar's first question demonstrated her disconnect to the children in the district. She wanted to know if the projected goal given by each principal was a  personal one, because she felt that it was a stretch to expect a 10% increase in the scores. If Board members expect so little how do they expect teachers and Principals to expect more.

Henry Pruitt wanted to know why Science was not discussed. (I got the feeling his questions were about his child.)

Molly Craig-Berry spent a good deal of time cross examining Mr. Brown and Mr. Thomas. It was difficult to follow her purpose. (I got the feeling again that the questions were in reference to her child or children.)

Howard Haughton spoke of how much he learned at the Atlantic City training session with the New Jersey School Boards Association. He only shared one item. He suggested that the parents in Englewood download the tests and test the children at home in order to prepare them for standardized tests. (To Mr. Haughton, who has a stay at home wife. Thank you very much for that piece of wisdom.)

It was very late and parents with small children were mostly gone. Stephen Brown took center stage and started criticizing principals for not forcing teachers to improve scores. I think that is what he did. It was unclear. He spent a lot of time bashing teachers. He did so in a different tone than is usual, but that old bias stuck out like a sore toe. It was not a time for that. Dr. Carlisle defended the team of principals, but Stephen clearly placed a load on the principals that somehow seemed out of place and inappropriate.

Privilege of the floor
Mr. Popkin was first as is usual. He began with his usual criticisms and was stopped by Dr. Carlisle who asked him not to continue if he could not find anything positive to say about the presentation. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, but I felt the same.

Leen De Weerd Mosely spoke at length about the educational practices in Belgium.  After reviewing several sites that explain the various types of schools in Belgium, I see no reason to confuse what is happening in American Education Reform any further. This is a paper written by Toon Dystra. High Performance and Success in Education in Flemish Belgium and the Netherlands. The study was commissioned by the National Center of Education and the Economy for the New Commission on the skills of the American Workforce.  It is a very interesting read for anyone truly interested in educating children. Elements may be incorporated into existing curriculum, but represents a moot point however in light of the fact that we have been mandated to a course by the state and federal governments.

Only 1 City Council member was in attendance. Eugene Skurnick, the 3rd ward Councilman made sure he gave the press (Rebecca Baker) instructions on what to write. He reminded the Board that the people they work for or those who elected them were expecting more of them. It was a very interesting speech. It is not clear whether he means the people of the 3rd Ward or those of the Englewood FAST persuasion. He did however, have a very good point as he pressed the Board on the importance of students having books.

I reminded the Board that they must develop goals and objectives created especially for the children of this district in order to ascertain how well the Superintendent and the staff are doing. Questions that they asked should have been covered in the goals and objectives developed with and agreed upon with the Superintendent. It is unfair that they expect the Superintendent and the Principals to read their minds and determine what they want. It will save time and money, if they just do this very simple thing. It is a mystery why they have not done it already. (In a retreat last year Glenn Garrison was very clear when he said that it really did not matter. He said that if the Superintendent was not successful they would just fire him.) They totally ignore the fact that the goals are extremely important to the success of the district. How are they even spending money without knowing what programs are growing out of agreed upon goals? How are they going to evaluate the Superintendent if they have never developed a set of criteria for which he is to be responsible? The course will be much clearer for all of the Administrators when there are agreed upon goals and objectives. 

Stephen Brown's answer was not acceptable. He reminded me that they have been putting out fires and dealing with all types of unsavory messes that have been taking up their time. He blamed people in the audience, teachers, administrators, myself included for these messes. He blamed me for objecting to the board changing the school colors. He never owned the blame for any of the drama that has transpired for the  last year. This drama was created by the board, beginning with the strange contract that did not follow the law,  the over hiring of teachers, the abolishing of 2 bargaining units and the list goes on and on. He spoke of other districts where Board members spend 1 hour per month in meetings. Gee Stephen, you think. Perhaps it really is time for you to get off the board if it is too hard for you to come up with goals and  objectives. Perhaps the Board members of other districts are leaving the running of the district to the (paid employees) Superintendent and the Principals since they have already created goals and objectives that must be satisfied.

Perhaps it is time to get some help from the New Jersey School Board's Field Representative who will aid the Board in learning to develop goals and objectives created especially for this district.
We are already paying for this service to the tune of approximately $26,000.00 per year.