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Board of Ed Approves Secondary School Proposals, Promises Focus on Achievers

As anticipated, proposals for academic placement restructuring were approved as well as the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.

After three months of discussion and public meetings, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education approved proposals to and and introduce the in the middle schools.

The middle school restructuring proposal was the most contentious proposal -- eliciting many comments at meetings and online both for and against. However, that proposal passed by a vote of 7-2 (with Wayne Eastman and Mark Gleason dissenting). The high school restructuring proposal passed by a vote of 8 in favor and one against (Eastman). The IB proposal for the middle schools passed unanimously.

The votes were not a surprise after the Board for the proposals at a meeting on Feb. 22.

Board of Education President Beth Daugherty said that the proposals were a major step toward the district's goal of being the "top-performing diverse district in the nation."

Although Board members made extensive comments at the February meeting, they again commented before the vote last night, outlining their reasons. Wayne Eastman reiterated his enthusiastic support for the IB program but said he would prefer to see "levels with choice" in the middle schools and high school where parents and students could make academic placement selections.

Andrea Wren-Hardin took issue with Eastman's comment: "We are also responsible for those whose parents are not engaged," Wren-Hardin said. "Do I support parental engagement? You know that I do. Should it be a criterion that determines if a student gets an excellent education?"

David Giles voiced the middle ground that many parents in the district seemed to fall into. Citing "a lot of anxiety" in emails and feedback that he had received, Giles said, "Some fear we are moving toward mediocrity." Giles felt, conversely that the proposals were "a movement toward improvement for all." However, he added that the Board needed to "assume some responsibility" toward gifted and talented students. "I ask that we as a board take that on -- perhaps this summer as we look at goals."

Daugherty later said she liked Giles' idea. "I agree at the middle schools we do have work to do to challenge our most talented students."

Mark Gleason opposed the middle school restructuring, saying that the proposal was "too much focus on structure, not enough on content." Gleason later gave specifics on what those content improvements could be: more writing across the board, more non-fiction texts, more critical thinking texts and skills development, more global focus in social studies, and more accelerated options for students gifted in science.

Gleason said that he felt that moving forward on the proposals was happening at the expense of pursuing these improvements.

"I support a lot of Mr. Gleason's ideas," said Wren-Hardin. "But we never focus on one thing at a time. There is  a whole group of things we are working on."

Daugherty told Gleason she was borrowing a quote of his in this instance: "Don't give up the good to try to obtain the perfect."

Some members of the public voiced their frustration with the process. John Davenport said the process had not provided sufficient public input and that the Board had not been responsive to the feedback it had received. Nancy Gould of the South Orange Board of Trustees said that the proposals would ultimately negatively impact real estate values in the towns, as well as academic excellence.

Conversely, Ruth Lowenkron was disappointed that the district had scaled back the timetable for reducing levels in 8th grade. She also wanted to see IB implemented more quickly.

Marina Budhos expressed her pleasure with the impending adoption of the IB Middle Years Programme. "I'm fairly humbled by this process, having brought the idea of IB to this district." Later she said that the adoption was a great affirmation and she was happy to see how the community had grown to understand and embrace IB.

She also addressed the middle school restructuring, "I want to dispel the idea that those of us critiquing the proposal are not supportive. I urge all of you to not in any way undermine your responsibility to make sure there is a true transformation with true curriculum change."

Donna Smith March 06, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Should we accept this nanny state vision held by the majority of the Board of Ed, or should we empower parents and students to make the appropriate choices for themselves? I found statements by several of the Board members last night to be very condescending.
Morrisa da Silva March 06, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I took issue with Andrea Wren- Hardin's statement questioning Wayne Eastman's commitment to educating all our children. There is nothing wrong with asking for parental and student engagement in education. Many districts with a choice model do not have a problem with this expectation. Montgomery County which has been referred to by our Superintendent in some of his presentations has choice options which begin in elementary school and continue through both Middle and High School. They have a Parent Academy to help lead the way to a fully engaged learning community. In fact, I'll argue that asking and expecting this level of engagement and supporting it with clear communications is a key to the success of districts like Montgomery County and will be necessary if our district will have success with our transformation. Ms. Crawford in her comments alluded to the importance of student "buy in" in the new deleveled model. If we are successful in raising the bar at our Middle School through curricular development and dedicated teacher support and if we are successful at maintaining and expanding the excellence that exists at Columbia High School we will need to ensure both student and parent engagement.
Steffi Poss March 06, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Deeper parental involvement may require some workshops for parents regarding curricular goals and requirements so they can encourage and support those study skills that their children need for success. There may be many parents who want to be supportive but are unsure about strategies, especially with a curriculum which is new to our district.
Marian Cutler March 06, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Fundamental elements for any program to grow roots and stand strong for the duration -- let alone recommendations touted as transformational -- include: (1) a defined endpoint or goal (what will deleveling and/or IB do for our kids, our schools); (2) known, key milestones where we can collectively stop, mark our progress, track our success; (3) pre-approved metrics and benchmarks to objectively measure the work done and (4) transparency of costs, obstacles and best practices. The transparency will be important with regards to IB as this is a multi-year, ongoing and renewable series of investments that must be funded each year on an ongoing basis. The District has publicly stated the first year of IB (2012-2013) would be only $54,000, but that's not true using their own numbers. The addition of 2 curriculum leaders within each middle school IS an IB cost and our investment moves quickly off of the $54,000 start. The BoE last night called on our communities to hold them accountable. Let's start at the beginning with IB and keep accountability front and center. Marian
Marina Budhos March 06, 2012 at 10:54 PM
While I completely agree that transparency and accountability must be a part of this implementation, I beg to differ on the issue curriculum leaders. We would need these positions even without IB, because curriculum supervision, and delivery of quality curriculum in the classroom has been woefully understaffed in our middle schools, which are in need of a serious reinvigoration.
Marian Cutler March 07, 2012 at 01:49 AM
In full agreement that our curriculum is woefully lacking and needs intensive care to bring it up to standards. But, as we have Core Curriculum supervisors already for each subject and this is a move in parallel with the introduction/preparation for IB, I stand by my statement that this is an IB cost. Necessary, yes. But, we should be transparent about what the costs are as we move in this new direction. I have no issue with the hires, but these are not issues of grey.
Marina Budhos March 07, 2012 at 03:49 AM
We have content supervisors for 6-12, yes, but chain of command goes through the middle school principals in its execution. Having fully reviewed the ELA and seen how stretched and weak we are with respect to the middle school, and given our size, over two schools, it is not a particularly onorous nor unusual overlay of administration. Even if some of this capacity is to ensure the delivery of the IB overlay into the classroom, along with Common Core and differentiated learning, it's clearly money well spent. I think frankly this is a red herring of a conversation.
Marina Budhos March 07, 2012 at 03:50 AM
In fact, I'd be more worried about all these changes if I didn't see them throwing some focused resources in that direction. I think the more important part of your concerns regarding accountability have to do with setting clear benchmarks for these changes.
Marian Cutler March 07, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Marina Respect your perspective and we agree to disagree. But we are in firm agreement about being worried if they were not putting up the necessary resources (hires, etc) to make IB a success. Having met with too many schools with IB, it's the implementation (as well as the communications) that predicted success.
Marina Budhos March 07, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Marian, We're in full agreement that a well done implementation is key. I feel a nearly ethical responsibility to ensure this happens, and I hope those involved with all aspects of the plan see this as well. Respectfully, Marina

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