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Archive for Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Opinion: Elementary school remarks clarified

October 24, 2012

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As the person quoted in Sunday’s Journal-World editorial, I need to respond with the context that the author omitted.

First off, I served on the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group. The editorial’s author fails to note that the group was unanimous in its recommendation that a bond be passed to improve elementary schools in Lawrence. He also fails to note that faster growth has occurred in the six east and central schools than in the rest of the district, and that this higher growth is projected to continue, especially if no programmatic changes are made.

Maintenance and improvements have been deferred at some of these schools for a decade or more on the premise of enrollment declines that are not occurring. It is past time to rectify the situation. On top of that, the bond will cover work and improvements that are needed at all of the other elementary schools as well. (It should be noted that the last bond, that ultimately provided funds for the construction of football stadiums, was restricted by state statute to improvements at secondary schools only.)

Relating more specifically to my quote in the editorial, the presentation at Pinckney from Gould Evans on behalf of the district covered some concepts of “21st Century Learner Models,” in particular the need for technology upgrades and flexibility in meeting the learning styles of students. But much of the focus was on the size of rooms in the building versus district averages (and finally, versus even larger “21st century best practices” room sizes) and framing this as an equity issue.

Not only is it arbitrary — just because a room is larger elsewhere doesn’t mean that students in a smaller room are being cheated — but there is no evidence that simply having the biggest possible room or gym makes the students perform better. On the contrary, the quality and methodology of instruction are the main drivers of student improvement. Even the video shown at the presentation of schools around the country implementing “21st Century Learner Models” made no mention of physical size of the rooms — and in fact one of the schools featured was an older urban school that resembled Pinckney in classroom size.

With the continued tight operational budgets the district faces, my quote used in the editorial reflected my concern that if we simply create an expensive, pie-in-the-sky template of “equitable” school size without looking at the budget that is available to hire staff, you will end up with an enormous bond that will have little chance of passing. As I was further quoted in the original Journal-World article, I believe this is letting the tail wag the dog.

Better to see how well these schools perform for the populations they serve, and make improvements to the physical plant that are most needed and will allow that school’s staff to best implement “21st Century Learner Models” within that environment. To their credit, the Gould Evans representatives did indicate that this is how the specific work that will ultimately be proposed for the east and central schools will be developed, and the presentation they are showing outlines some of the districtwide parameters they are working under.

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