Answering Questions from the Community about the Schools

Recently, I received a personal message from an individual that I have the utmost respect for and who also has earned the respect of my two oldest boys. In the message this individual was concerned that the board of education was being “lead by a ring in their nose” and that some members of the board were remiss in their responsibilities to the school district. There were several questions asked such as, “how long had the Milford High School been under academic review for failing to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP)?’ There was real concern in their tone that many were blaming the teachers for the current status of the school. The question was also raised as to whether the right leadership/administrators were in the right place and if they had the training to be in those positions. The next section of the message asked a great many questions about the direction of education in the Milford school district, and the curriculum changes/consistency in education needed today. The last part of the message goes on to question whether the current superintendent and their staff have a plan for moving the district in a positive direction with regard to NCLB. The underlining tone of the message was that in this time of change and confusion in Education today there is a both a need for innovation balanced with stability so that our excellent teachers can do what they do best, teach. Well being that these questions were put so well in this message I thought I would take the time to answer as best I could, but I think I need to first share a little more about my thoughts on Education in general. As I prefix my blog page, the thoughts in these answers are mine not the boards as the board is eight members not an individual.
First let me share with you the rules I’ve kept in the back of my mind since 2002 when I took on the responsibilities of a board member in Milford:

As a member of my local Board of Education I will strive to improve public education, and to that end I will:

• attend all regularly scheduled board meetings insofar as possible, and become informed concerning the issues to be considered at those meetings;
• recognize that I should endeavor to make policy decisions only after full discussion at publicly held board meetings;
• render all decisions based on the available facts and my independent judgment, and refuse to surrender that judgment to individuals or special interest groups;
• encourage the free expression of opinion by all board members, and seek systematic communications between the board and students, staff, and all elements of the community;
• work with other board members to establish effective board policies and to delegate authority for the administration of the schools to the superintendent;
• communicate to other board members and the superintendent expression of public reaction to board policies and school programs;
• inform myself about current educational issues by individual study and through participation in programs providing needed information, such as those sponsored by my state and national school boards association;
• support the employment of those persons best qualified to serve as school staff, and insist on a regular and impartial evaluation of all staff;
• avoid being placed in a position of conflict of interest;
• take no private action that will compromise the board or administration, and respect the confidentiality of information that is privileged under applicable law; and
• remember always that my first and greatest concern must be the educational welfare of the students attending the public schools

I continue to follow these rules as I approach my 10th year on the board, and I’ve made it a point to learn all I can about boardsmanship and education. Recently, I had the privilege to attend ALL the RTTT meetings our district has been involved with, and was extremely proud when I sat with the Delaware Sec. of Ed. To hear our district had one of the best plans in the state! I will talk more about this new plan later, but suffice to say the superintendent was the driver on it.
The next big question that was asked is one many in Milford may not have all the facts on so let me share some numbers. Since the 2005-2006 school years the Milford High School has been failing to meet AYP that goes along with NCLB, and it’s currently in Academic Watch. So 3 years prior to the start of the current superintendent’s term, the district’s High School was in trouble academically, and the state now says we need to make “Corrective Actions”. As a board member and a parent that information has been driving me to learn all that I can, and see how we can change this situation! Other numbers the board and the community should be asking for answers to are:
• How did we drop from #2 in the state to 18th out of 33 in just a ~3 year span?
• How have our SAT scores dropped so that we are 49th in the US in Delaware?
• Finally, the one that has driven me the most is, what have we done to correct the fact that our graduates are having trouble meeting the academic rigor to be successful in their first year in our own instate colleges?

Now there are plenty out there who want to play the BLAME game and there is actually plenty to go around, but I have never laid it on the good teachers in our district. If there was a place to lay a large part of it that would be the folks in Washington and Dover who believe that ALL children come from the same cookie cutter mold, and they can ALL learn and perform at the same level like little robots! All they’ve succeeded in doing is creating a generation of test takers with little reason to think outside the English/Math box we’ve put them in, which may be part of the reason why our students have lost the competitive edge that made the USA great.
If there was another place to put the irresponsibility on it would be the parents who missed the chapter in the “child care manual” about how they are part of the education picture in their child’s life. I know that today many families are struggling just to survive and the Milford district actually has a ~56% free/reduced lunch population, but involvement is so much more then monetary. I will not go into the data for how parental involvement can affect education as it’s available on the web just by Googling, but its well known how early involvement gives a head start to all children.
One area that all districts in the state can take on their shoulders is the stability of leadership, and the transitions from teacher to administration. I recently saw a presentation by a group from DASL that looked at the movement of administrators in the state, and questioned why they moved. This “Tracking Transitions” report also looks at the training we give the new administrators, and looks at the struggles they are facing in their new positions. The other piece to this is that moving creates instability which has already been seen to disrupt learning, and because many times we are taking teacher leaders to be administrators we are losing our classroom teachers. The “thinning” of our teacher leaders means we have less mentors for our young, incoming teachers who face many struggles in today’s growing accountability environment. All this plus the new reform movements being pushed down from the federal, state, and business groups means more hoops are being placed for both students and districts to jump through!
This brings me to my last point of this lengthy rambling, and hopefully answers the last questions of my friends’ message. First, I am including a link to the last RTTT plan draft we worked on, but remember this is a draft and a work in progress. The plan was put together by a group from the district made up of teachers, association leadership, principals, boards’ members, and the districts curriculum staff. This group met both in small working groups, and also attended monthly workshops with the state DOE folks to model a plan for closing the achievement gaps, and setting our students up to succeed beyond their graduation. I will let each of you read the plan I’ve attached, but wanted to share the main points and vision of this plan:
The Milford School District’s vision and commitment is to accelerate the achievement of all students, especially those currently targeted as underperforming. We will increase the rigor of our courses while providing all staff with appropriate professional development to support an increase in teacher effectiveness. We will also provide all staff with diversity training, assign mentors to those students struggling academically or behaviorally and offer assistance to parents. To further support students, we will offer extended day and year learning opportunities. Therefore, by 2014, we will:
* eliminate the achievement gap among minority students and white students * increase the growth and achievement for all special education students
* ensure all graduates have met the requirements to qualify for college acceptance or the world of work.

The plan itself is a reform plan by definition, but based on the current state of the high school some type of reform plan is needed. The difference is that the plan uses methods currently used in the district, and focuses on making sure the teachers in the classroom have the resources they need, including professional development. The plan also looks to educate administrators in how to not only evaluate teachers, but how to offer them ways to improve their skills. When you have read the plan and if you have more questions please contact me to discuss.
My final comments on the questions that were asked of me are this, and again they are my opinion only. The current superintendent came to us after an extensive search that involved both the outgoing superintendent, the past-director of personnel, and the board of education. When this person joined the district it was three years into an academic downslide and the need to make improvements was a high priority as we faced the new Partnership Zone as directed by the state. For those not familiar with the process you can look at the recent news articles from the Christiana School District, and realize that local control of the communities schools will go away if this happens here. Finally, it takes time to put a plan in motion, and the superintendent has just finished her second year and I would ask that naysayer’s look at the growth in student performance before judging and taking the district backwards. Thanks for your indulgence

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About Gary M Wolfe

The Author spent 10 years as a member of the Milford Delaware Board Of Education, and is currently seeking the 18th Senatorial seat in the Delaware Legislature.
This entry was posted in Delaware, Education. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Answering Questions from the Community about the Schools

  1. Very informative, Wolfe.

  2. Aller a la plage! says:

    I took me time to consider what to write. To simplify. a respected eductaor vented strong concerns. With your knowledge, you conveyeand the district’s plan and vision. From my point of view – two well intentioned individruals and a well written plan which has drawn strong concern in implementation. The rating the plan gets while read on paper should becongruent to school application, right? I think there is where it get fuzzy….

    • Wolfe Gary says:

      I think I may be alittle confused, but the rating on paper is based on the merit that it has the best chance for success over some of the other plans written.

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