Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Letter to Editor: Public School Accountability

There was an excellent letter to the editor published in the News-Leader last week. Two A+ students from Hillcrest High School, who tutor at Fremont Elementary School, penned the piece as part of a journalism class assignment. They may not have expected it to be published, and they almost assuredly couldn't have expected the kind of reaction it sparked.

The letter was well-written and thought provoking, especially on the heels of the district's big bond win last week. In that context, the letter was also cautionary. You see, Fremont Elementary is the one pilot school that reflects the superintendent's unwavering desire to innovate - tech integration, large classes, flexible seating, co-teaching, the works. Yet these young A+ tutors expressed criticism of the school's design, actually saying what many teachers at Fremont have been thinking for quite a while. The manner in which this school was designed actually detracts from student learning. Or, as they put it in the letter:

"This classroom is one long room and is packed with 40 students. This is a challenge in and of itself. Combining two classes for lack of room is hurting the students’ learning."

Based on my experience with this administration (and school board) as a teacher union rep, I can tell you that it won't sit well to interrupt the bond victory lap. Rather than praise the students for writing a civic-minded opinion piece, it's more likely they'll be ignored or worse. Their high school principal may face a formal reprimand, perhaps the journalism teacher, too. The principal at Fremont will be questioned.
(Possibly by coincidence, HHS principal, Gary Moore, was non-renewed at the next board of education meeting. Moore had been principal at Hillcrest since 2012.)

This is the SPS culture I came to know. Now in it's fourth year, the current SPS administration is like a fine wine. Bold yet incredibly sensitive with subtle hints of compliance.

If there is school board discussion about whether building design, along with multiple simultaneous integrations, could have possibly caused Fremont to finish last among 37 SPS elementary schools in Math/English scores, it won't be public.

The fact that Fremont was redesigned to exactly fit the superintendent's vision - a vision that was unilaterally pushed with zero input from community or teachers - seems like a valid point to discuss with huge district wide implications.

The fact that a teaching staff and building leadership have worked their tails off for three years to make this grand experiment work will not be recognized. In fact, they may face benign penalties in the form of denied transfers or promotions. 

The one decision maker responsible for this sparkling educational disaster will not be held accountable. Accountability will be dished out, make no mistake. It just won't touch the responsible party.

The letter to the editor from the A+ tutors expressed real concerns from real young people who were legitimately expressing their opinion about working in an educational environment that doesn't work very well. The community of people who have daily interactions with students should be listened to, preferably before unworkable designs and initiatives become a forced reality. And we should certainly listen to the students. 

It's all about them, right?

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