Guest Column3/5/09

Your turn to structure the schools

March 5, 2009

By Ann Smith

This Monday, the Williston community will have an opportunity to voice its opinion regarding long-term reconfiguration changes for our schools. We are invited to provide feedback to the Frameworks Committee regarding two building options and 11 grade configuration options for implementation in 2010-2011.

I encourage everyone to attend this forum. Although not a member of the Frameworks Committee, I have attended a majority of their meetings. I am pleased with their accomplishments and hopeful for positive change.

Foremost, everyone needs to be well informed of the various options. This forum will be structured and limited to two hours, with little time for discussion before providing feedback. It’s prudent to do your homework and critically contemplate the implications of each option for the betterment of all students, not just your own.

Graphical explanations of each option are available on the school Web site at www.wsdvt.org/quicklinks/frameworks/WSDConfigurationOptions.pdf. The document was recently updated with significant corrections to options previously posted.

Additionally, we need to recognize how we got to this point and why we are looking at reconfiguration at all. How, last April, a large number of community members joined together to express concerns about our unique school configuration model, which is not meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of a substantial number of students and families.

The following are several of the concerns expressed about the current house system:

ACADEMIC CONCERNS

•    It is inappropriate to impose the same teaching style (weak or strong) for a subject for four years.

•    A child who has a weak teacher or whose learning style does not match the teacher for four years will never recover those skills and is set up to struggle or fail.

•    There’s a significant lack of consistency in quality and quantity of education between houses and no means of assessing accountability to improve this.

•    Boredom, educational complacency or both are created when children are subjected to the same routine and methods for four years.

•    Scheduling children of the same age and academic ability between houses is prohibitive, resulting in inadequate instruction for children above or below grade level.

•    Our world is changing daily. Our children need experience with change to become adaptable and amenable citizens.

•    Teachers need to better focus their expertise. Four-year curriculum spans are too diverse and do not maximize teachers’ time, energy and expertise for our children’s benefit.

•    Williston’s NECAP scores are still not where they should be given the demographics of our wealthy town.

SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL CONCERNS

•    A four-year house commitment seriously limits exposure to age- and gender-matched peers for social and academic ties.

•    There is strong competition for house assignments, which creates fear, anxiety and stress as a child is placed into a four-year commitment that might not be a good match for her needs.

•    Fifth graders and eighth graders are socially, academically, developmentally, emotionally and physically worlds apart, with dramatically different needs and concerns.

•    Fifth and sixth graders are exposed to information and experiences they are not equipped to handle when grouped with seventh and eighth graders.

•    The house system supports the creation of social cliques with no opportunity for healthy dispersion from year to year.

•    Children enter high school not knowing a large number of their Williston classmates.

SYSTEMIC CONCERNS

•    The Williston School District provides no “options” beyond this unorthodox model of education.

•    There is no consistent grading system. Students advance to high school with “report cards” that cannot be compared within our own school or with other towns in Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

•    The house system amplifies the effects of imperfections in the education of our children four-fold.

•    The attempt to appease the four-year commitment by allowing a child to move one time during four years is not an acceptable solution. It’s inappropriate to single out the child with such a move. It can also create administrative nightmares when numerous changes are requested within a “weaker” house and there is nowhere for these children to go.

FINANCIAL CONCERNS

•    The house system is highly redundant and inefficient in sharing of resources, supplies and expertise, as each house operates as its own “mini-school” within the school.

As you view the school Web site you will see that several of the options involve natural, regular transitions for all students (every two years, for example). You’ll also see several options that group students in more appropriate age and grade level small learning communities.

Transitions that occur every two years still allow for strong, rich relationships between teachers, students and families while better addressing the other vital needs of our children. Such options will result in less competition, stress and dissatisfaction, less risk of children being left behind, less social isolation, fewer scheduling limitations, less struggle to meet the wide age and academic variances of the students, and will create a more equitable and rigorous education for Williston’s future.

It is time for change. The Frameworks Committee was formed out of recognized need for change. Please come prepared to the Community Forum on Monday night, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Williston Central School cafeteria, and voice your opinion.

 

Ann Smith has lived in Williston for 19 years, and is the parent of a fifth grader and seventh grader.