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by Colin Powell
Prompted by an idea from CSD Board member Skip Greenlaw, more than two dozen members of the public attended a budget hearing on Monday, January 10, with the specific purpose of informing the school board about parent and community concerns or advice for programming and its implications in the 2011-12 school budget.
Despite the wide-open format, discussion primarily circled around parental concerns with the 80-minute class periods, and what the school is doing to improve curriculum and transitions between schools.
The first suggestion came from a father who said his daughter, currently in her freshman year, did not take an English, science or math course in her first semester. She is also unlikely to have any in her second semester. “These are the basics of education and the high school is not providing them,” said the father. He asked the board to address the basics while juggling remedial efforts and special programs like CREST. Another parent agreed with the sentiment and added that class periods are too long as well.
The mother of two students and one recent graduate said that her daughter, now at the University of Maine, has struggled in her science classes. “It was obvious she was not prepared,” said the mother, adding that her daughter was up against students who had access to AP courses and had covered more material than her daughter. She argued that the 80-minute class periods tend to waste time instead of focusing on teaching new material, noting that it’s possible for students to go long stretches, sometimes as much as three semesters, in between math classes like Algebra I and II that are designed to build on one another.
“I’ve been around a long time, and have had many, many schedules,” said assistant high school principal Mike Wood. “None of them satisfies everyone.” He noted that some classes, such as art or shop, are made for longer blocks. On the other hand, he said the administration is working hard to make sure the system works best for the most people, and to that end has begun experimenting this year with half-block classes of 40 minutes. But he reiterated that it is very hard to please everybody all the time.
On the subject of the curriculum, high school principal Todd West said the school is hoping to add five AP classes in major content areas, and also noted that, in keeping with recommendations made during the school’s recent accreditation process, the school district has purchased curriculum mapping software and begun the process of documenting the various curricula throughout both the high school and elementary school right now. Once that is done, the schools will begin a comprehensive review process that will lead directly into an update process, which, because of the way the software works, will allow the curriculum to be kept up to date more easily.
West encouraged anyone with questions about the curriculum process or the high school’s general improvement plans to click on the link, School Improvement Action Plan, at www.dishs.org.
Also discussed at the meeting was preparing students for work in businesses on the Island. Linda Nelson commented that the Stonington Economic Development Committee has been working to help connect recent graduates with jobs and wanted to know why there are no basic economics or business classes offered at the high school. “We’re faced with high school graduates that don’t have the basics to do entry-level business work. I would like to hear how that can be addressed,” she said.
Superintendent Bob Webster said courses in both business basics and home economics have largely disappeared across the state over the past ten years. While he was unsure exactly why, he suspected one cause was the fact that those classes do little to boost a school’s standardized test scores. He also noted that schools by and large don’t offer certification in those areas anymore, and that the state math instructor organization has worked to get rid of business math courses because they are too easy.
The last issue of the night concerned the use of the high school’s science center. One person in attendance asked that the school make better use of the science center, specifically to do more marine-focused research. “Water quality would be a pretty neat thing for our schools to do on the Island,” she said as an example. Bill Shaw, one of the community members instrumental in getting the science center built, said senior exhibitions provide a great way for kids to do more with the science center, but they need more contact with experts outside the school.
He noted one example of Jim Foley having a problem with heavy metals coming off the hulls of boats when he power washes them at his boat yard. A student could do a research project about what metals in what quantities come off. “But the community has to be aware that the possibility exists and students have to want to do it,” said Shaw.