Frameworks Committee deciding pros, cons of schools (Sept. 4, 2008)

Sept. 4, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

What works and what doesn’t with classroom structure in the Williston School District?

The Conceptual Frameworks Committee has been hard at work over its past two meetings debating the pros and cons of the current system. But as group member Abby Klein pointed out last Thursday night, what works well is often a matter of perception.

“Something might be working for some people, but not for others,” Klein said.

Committee Facilitator Mary Jane Shelley charged the group of parents, teachers, administrators and community members with the task of debating three topics at its Aug. 20 meeting — configuration, communication and house equity. The work continued last week during an Aug. 28 meeting.

Shelley stressed to the group on Thursday the importance of knowing what should be preserved regarding the current school structure so as to know what needs to be addressed.

“If you don’t know what’s working, how do you know what you change?” she said.

The Frameworks Committee came about as a result of the configuration debate over ideal classroom structure between the school administration, parents and community members this past spring. The group had its first meeting on July 31.

Shelley said she expected varied takes on all the subjects and the discussions would help everyone understand different opinions. She said the pros and cons had to be established for the conversation to move forward, adding it could all change as the meetings continue.

Many of the topics discussed were interchangeable under the heading of configuration, communication and house equity because of Williston’s unique house system. Some members said many concerns brought forth were unique to Williston and not other districts.

“There may be pieces (of this process) that are artifacts of the house system, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change them,” Shelley said.

In terms of communication, many group members agreed poor communication leads to creating a “rumor mill,” with some members talking about communication problems that happened in the spring in regards to configuration updates. Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks said the rumors flow “either way” between the administration and the community.

It was a point many committee members agreed with — the methods for communicating important information needed to change.

“We need a better system,” said Carter Smith, special education director for the school district. “As it is now, it’s a broken system.”

The group did not have time to finish its discussion on house equity at the meeting, but did discuss how some of the houses were equitable. While it appeared not all committee members agreed, the group found the houses were equal in terms of quality teachers, distribution and access to resources, and consistent curriculum, among other things. It was also said it was possible for the houses to be different yet equitable in the house structure.

At its next meeting, the committee plans to pick up where it left off and continue its discussion on house equity, this time focusing on how the houses may not be equitable and how that could change.

Detailed minutes from past Frameworks Committee meetings and agendas of future meetings are posted on the school district’s Web site, www.williston.k12.vt.us. The next committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 11.