Lawrence school board members have reason to be upset over the lack of information and input they were given in regard to a major change in class groupings at Riverside School.
Plans to eliminate letter grades at the school next fall and regroup students into classes for children in grades one through three or four through six may or may not be a sound educational move. That is not the point. The issue that should concern school board members is that such a move was attempted with little notification of the public or the board, which the public elects for the purpose of setting school policy.
The principal of Riverside school said she didn't feel it was necessary to present the school's plans to the board. She also pointed out that about 20 parents, who had served on a special school committee, had been aware of Riverside's new direction for months. Other parents were informed at a meeting Thursday night, basically after the plan was a done deal.
School administrators are quick to criticize the lack of involvement by parents in their children's educations. Yet they apparently feel free to make a major change in school organization with the input of only 20 parents and no approval from the school board. School board members have reason to be concerned.
School board member Tom Murray is risking being labeled as old-fashioned because of his opposition to the new plan, but he is right to draw attention to the process -- or lack thereof -- by which the school regrouping was approved. The changes proposed at Riverside -- as well as New York School -- may have advantages or deserve a trial period in the Lawrence schools. But the action of eliminating letter grades is another example of stressing mediocrity over excellence, competition and achievement in the Lawrence schools, a trend that is bad for the community. At the very least, before the plan is implemented, there should be ample discussion about the pros and cons of the move and input from both the board and other parents.
School board members are often criticized for not keeping a close enough eye on administrative matters in the district. The current issue involving Riverside and New York schools points out some of the obstacles these elected officials face.
Granted, teachers and principals are the education professionals; their opinions on how schools should be organized and how children should be taught deserve respect. But school board members are elected by the public to oversee school policy and school expenditures; their opinions also count because they represent the entire community, which supports and depends on local schools.
The change at Riverside and New York schools is not a minor matter. It may be a good idea, but even it if is, school administrators handled it in an arrogant manner that doesn't encourage public support for school officials. The school board has every right to ask school administrators to back up and allow their plan to be scrutinized by both the board and other school district patrons.