Parents raise concerns about equity (10/15/09)

Oct. 15, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

As the Williston school administration prepares for next year’s district reconfiguration, parents are expressing concerns about how the process would occur and how it would ensure complete equity within the school.

About 15 parents gathered before the School Board and members of the school administration Wednesday night at the board’s meeting. Parents raised concerns with the breakup of upper house teams in next year’s reconfiguration.

Parent Tracey Barth said that while she understood why some parents might prefer a change in the current academic house structure, she feared next year’s change would destroy houses that are already functioning well.

“Don’t disrupt the houses that are succeeding, please,” Barth said.

Also discussed was the administration’s ongoing work to improve equity between the houses. Many parents at the meeting apparently agreed that an online survey asking for input on equity was skewed to elicit only negative reactions to the current house system.

“I found that survey that went out was very disturbing,” parent Dale Hadley said.

Maira Newell, another parent who expressed reservations about the survey, said she hoped administrators would consider what’s best for the students in any equity decisions.

“Equity doesn’t necessarily mean quality,” Newell said. “You can be mediocre and have equity all around.”

When classes begin next summer, Williston will see a completely different school configuration: pre-kindergarten through second grade students will be housed at Allen Brook School, while students in grades three through eight will be at Williston Central School. The current four-year lower house structure will disappear, replaced by two-year houses. The upper houses, which include grades five through eight, will be a combination of four-year and two-year houses.

At the same time, the administration is developing ways to ensure there will be equity between all houses, which parents have stated in the past has been a problem.

Last school year, the Conceptual Frameworks Committee — made up of parents, students, teachers and community members — developed possible reconfigurations to address parent concerns with the school’s house structure. The administration is finishing the committee’s work with equity.

District Principal Walter Nardelli took time to alleviate some parent anxieties, saying the administration would attempt to make next year’s transition as smooth as possible.

“We can support different options within our school,” Nardelli said. “We can handle it.”

Kevin Mara, a parent and member of the Frameworks Committee, echoed Nardelli’s sentiment, saying that by allowing different upper house configurations, an equity issue could be solved.

“We would be doing a disservice to our students to not have that choice,” Mara said.

Another way to ensure equity would be a complete change of the upper houses, parent Ann Smith suggested. She said mixing up teaching teams and student populations would be the only way to have total equity in the configuration process.

“Fair’s got to be fair,” Smith said. “Let’s make it an equal playing ground and start fresh.”

Nardelli did not go into complete detail on how the upper houses would be restructured. Currently, the administration is asking parents if they would prefer to have their children in two-year or four-year houses. The results of the responses will help determine the look of next year’s upper houses, he said.

Results from the equity survey will also help with the reconfiguration process. At Wednesday’s meeting, Nardelli said the school had received more than 300 responses from the equity survey. The results will be sorted by topic and then investigated by members of the school community.

“Then we’ll come out and share (results) with parents,” he said.