Parent group asks officials to release detailed audit info
July 17, 2008
By Tim Simard
The Vermont Department of Education released a report Tuesday reinforcing the Williston School District's internal audit that calculated the hours of instruction students receive in science and social studies.
In a letter addressed to the parent group Williston Schools Re-Configuration Campaign for Change and copied to Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney, DOE Acting Commissioner Bill Talbott wrote, "Based on all of the information that the Vermont Department of Education has within its possession, and based upon the above investigative steps, I do not find a basis, at this time, to conclude that the Williston School District is materially out of compliance with the School Quality Standards … and the State Board of Education Rules and Practices."
The DOE issued the letter in response to a complaint, lodged last month, against the school district by Campaign for Change. The group asked the state to look at four areas: the hours of instruction in science and social studies in the upper houses, the hours of instruction in all subjects in the lower houses, whether or not teachers in the district are instructing subjects they've been licensed for, and if Williston students are receiving an equal and adequate education as detailed in Act 60.
A state law, Act 60 is the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, part of which requires schools to comply with School Quality Standards. The DOE monitors compliance.
The news is a victory of sorts for the administration, which has said the district uses integrated learning to help meet or exceed the state mandated 120 hours per year in each core subject — English, math, science and social studies. Campaign for Change has argued the hours of instruction for science and social studies, which meet half the year in most upper houses, is not meeting state requirements.
"We kind of expected it," Nardelli said of the DOE's findings. "I don't know if that report is going to satisfy everybody, and I think there are still some questions that will come up with the Frameworks Committee."
The Conceptual Frameworks Committee is a recently formed group of administrators, parents, teachers and students that will develop a plan for the future of the school district.
Ann Smith, a member of Campaign for Change, said she was disappointed by the DOE's findings, stating she had hoped the department would have done more investigating.
"They didn't do their own audit," Smith said. "They just took (the administration's) word for it."
Jeff Smith, Ann's husband and another member of Campaign for Change, hopes to explore an appeal process with the state.
"We're not going to let this go," he said. "Ethically, I just can't. Our kids are being left behind."
Fighting for information
Last week, Campaign for Change invoked Vermont's Open Records Law asking the administration to provide a more detailed audit report on hours of instruction in science and social studies, as well as in English and math. Also requested were reports on gender equality per house per grade.
The administration released a report on science and social studies in the upper houses on Friday, but the parent group is still awaiting word on the rest of its request. According to the Open Records Law, the administration has two days from the date of the request to release the information.
Jeff Smith believes there's "no way" the school is meeting grade level expectations in science and social studies. According to Smith, his son, a student in Phoenix House last year, did not receive the 108 hours of direct instruction in science the administration said he did. Based on his son's schedule, Smith figures only 80 hours were taught.
"To put it bluntly, I'm not very happy," Smith said. "I just don't trust anyone associated with that school anymore."
Sarah Hibbeler, a parent and member of Campaign for Change, believes the difference in hours of direct instruction and integration for each house will bolster the opinions of parents who believe there is inequality between teams.
"Would you rather be in the house in the very low end of this range?" Hibbeler asked hypothetically.
Nardelli believes the houses are fair and equitable, even with the different hours of instruction. He said each house tailors its teaching to student strengths, and to have the same standards for all could be a large mistake.
"We can't box kids in," Nardelli said. "It would lead to a tremendous failure."
Kevin Mara, another member of the parent group, is becoming impatient with the administration for not releasing the rest of the requested information, especially the information on gender equality.
"I'm kind of at a loss," Mara said. "I'm trying to stay communicative and objective, but it feels like road blocking."
Nardelli said the administration is checking to see if it can release the gender information requested. He said there's no report per house compiled for gender equality. He said he believes there may be lines the school can't cross in releasing information, since it could compromise the identity of students.
Mara, a community member of the Frameworks Committee, looks forward to having discussions within the group.
Hibbeler is also waiting to see where the committee takes the conversation.
"Frameworks is where everything is sitting right now," she said.