Parents call for curriculum changes

Testy exchanges at School Board meeting

Oct. 21, 2010

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

Two mothers used the public participation portion of last week’s Williston School Board meeting to criticize board members and the administration for the district’s below average scores on NECAP science exams.

Results released last month showed that 26 percent of Williston eighth graders scored proficient or higher on the New England Common Assessment Program tests, compared to the state average of 29 percent. Critical letters to the editor and guest columns — including a column from District Principal Walter Nardelli calling the results “unacceptable” — have appeared in the Observer since the scores became public. The Oct. 13 board meeting was the first chance for parents to publicly discuss the scores with School Board members.

Fourth graders in Williston fared better on the exams, with 66 percent of students scoring proficient or higher, compared to the state average of 54 percent.

The board is scheduled to hear a presentation on the NECAP science scores next month, but parents Abby Klein and Ann Smith made statements at the first board meeting since the release of the results.

“Obviously I was very disappointed in this board but not shocked,” Klein told board members, recalling that a group of parents called unsuccessfully for reform in the science curriculum two years ago. “This happened at my children’s expense.”

Klein said Williston Central School does not offer enough science instruction to students.

Smith spoke next, reading off a list of questions she wants answered at the November board meeting. Her requests included the following: a house-by-house comparison between academic teams to see if the curriculum from one house can help others, or if one house needs to undergo significant academic changes; whether any students are close to scoring at the highest level in science, Proficient with Distinction; scoring patterns to see where students are testing well and testing poorly; whether the school district follows the National Science Teacher Association standards of providing 80 percent of science instruction in the lab; and other data.

Chairwoman Holly Rouelle eventually stopped Smith and asked her to send the list to Nardelli.

The meeting escalated when Smith accused Nardelli of lying to parents two years ago about the amount of science instruction in Williston. The allegation caused Rouelle to interject and admonish Smith for getting personal.

“And rude,” added board member Darlene Worth, who said such an accusation should have been made behind the closed doors of a principal’s office rather than in a public forum.

Klein had also said earlier that she felt the administration hadn’t been honest with parents.

Rouelle told Smith to send an e-mail with her concerns and to return in November for the board’s meeting on the NECAP science scores.

“This can’t wait a month,” Smith said before stepping away.

Smith later told the Observer she sent a list of action items to the School Board. Her suggestions included putting a one-year moratorium on school plays, eliminating the remaining half-days for the 2010-2011 school year and mandating that all houses have one hour of science instruction each day.

She also requested that the November board meeting, which will cover the NECAP scores, be held in Williston instead of at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg.

“There is a science crisis at (Williston Central School) and it requires immediate action. We do not have time to study this to death and see what happens,” Smith wrote in an e-mail.