Friday, June 24, 2011

Parents must take a leadership role in a school turnaround program

What do you think is the appropriate way to structure parental and community involvement in a school turnaround program? Is it a meaningful role if parents just choose from the administration's preferred turnaround models?

Parents in low-income communities have seen “reform” after “reform” imposed on our schools, with little success. But it is wrong to assume that we—our students, our teachers, our communities—are the problem. Instead, we should be viewed as partners in reform. What is Peoria’s/District 150's plan to bring us to the table?
Recently Empowering Parents held the first annual dinner at Glen Oak School to honor parent volunteers. The District 150 website teases that "this year-end event to celebrate parental involvement, ...will also serve as the launch for the Empowering Parents organization’s “Million Parent Wake-up Challenge.”

While this organization (who I am assuming was hired by District 150) certainly gives good information to empower parents to take back their homes, it falls short of giving parents the information needed to take back their schools and to advocate for their children when the programming is not sufficient for their child, or when schools fail to do their jobs.

One way that the District is allowing parents to get involved, is the Peoria Council for Continuous Improvement ("PCCI"). Throughout the summer, parents will be selected to add up to six more members to the Council. According to the District 150 website:
"the PCCI will focus on changes that impact the individual school (Peoria High School) as well as systemic issues that impact the entire district. It will identify areas where learning from the School Improvement Grant schools can be shared across the school system. PCCI will also help identify ways for the district to sustain changes beyond the term of the intervention. The Consortium for Educational Change will facilitate efforts to link the work of the PCCI with school Universal Leadership Teams to expand the learning across the system beyond schools targeted for intensive interventions."
Parents run the risk of being disenfranchised, when they don't seek ways to be involved proactively.

The Elements of Sustainable School Transformation:
Families, students, communities and school staff, must play a meaningful role in designing and implementing a school transformation plan. The process of planning and implementing a school transformation is a key element in its success. The process of designing and guiding reform:

A school-based team of parents, educators, students (in high schools) and community representatives—the School Transformation Team—should be selected to undertake the development of a transformation plan. This team should be allowed a full school year to assess the school’s needs and challenges, and to develop a plan to meet them; The team’s assessment of school strengths and weaknesses should look specifically, for example, at such factors as:

o teacher-student ratio;
o teaching quality, the presence of experienced and effective teachers and conditions for quality teaching;
o feeder school programs and shortcomings that impact performance at the target school;
o how data is used to identify instructional strengths and weaknesses as well as student support needs;
o measures of school climate and discipline issues;
o the availability of wrap-around supports for students;
o measures of parent engagement.

A review of external obstacles that create barriers to school success should also be conducted. These might include district human resources or other structures that don’t work effectively to support schools; contractual agreements; inequitable state or district funding formulas; community characteristics, and more; A team of outside experts—like the State’s School Quality Review Team—should conduct a separate assessment of the school, and meet with the School Transformation Team to share and compare findings; Together, the school-based and state or district team should identify partnerships, agreements and structures that are needed in order to support a reform plan; The state and/or district should facilitate this process, and support it, making sure that the plan is accountable and fully resourced.

Most of the time, parents, teachers and even students know what the problems are in a school, and may have ideas for how to overcome them. And, when improvement plans are imposed on a school, rather than developed with the school community at the table, even the most dedicated teachers and parents may resist change—because they haven’t been involved or respected enough to help create the plan.Source

Thursday, June 9, 2011

School Board reviewing travel request violations


In April School Board members Martha Ross and Lynn Costic attended the National School Board Association annual conference, which was held at the Hilton San Fransisco, Union Square.

Controversy abounds, since the money came from the Education Fund before being approved by the full Board. Now the question is should Costic and Ross have to pay the $5,000 in travel expenses back to the District (i.e. taxpayer)?

Would the public be wrong in assuming that Ross should have known better, given that she has been on the Board continuously for what the pjstar terms "nearly a decade"? Shouldn't she be a wonderful mentor for the recently appointed Costic to learn from?

I must admit, it is somewhat surprising that after being on the Board for so long, that this makes Ross appear that she does not know the ins and outs of School Board Policy. Surely, they go over these type of things in School Board Training - right?

Does this decision mean that they will also review the recent approval by the Board to allow Butler and Wolfmeyer to travel to DC? Most believe they should have not been able to vote for their own travel request and should have abstained. I believe the vote should be revisited.

District 150 board will review travel policy after violation.
The Peoria District 150 School Board will review procedures this summer after technically violating its own travel policy earlier this year.

In April, board members Martha Ross and M. Lynne Costic went to the National School Board Association's annual conference in San Francisco without the travel request going to the board for approval.

The district made the travel arrangements, but other board members did not learn about the travel until about a week prior.

Ross, who has been on the School Board nearly a decade, maintained she believed the board did not need to vote on board travel that was specifically for School Board training, saying Tuesday that "normally, board travel never had to before."

Costic, who joined the board in January, said she was not aware of the policy.

School Board policy notes "board members should seek pre-approval of expenses, except in situations when the expense is diminutive."

Also, when nearly all the School Board traveled to Chicago in November for annual conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, the board voted on the travel request.

The cost of the trip to California for Ross and Costic was about $5,000.

The technicality resurfaced last month with a travel request. Board President Debbie Wolfmeyer and board Vice President Linda Butler brought to the board a request that they and Superintendent Grenita Lathan go to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria.

That travel request, at a cost of about $7,500 for all three, barely passed, by a 4-3 vote. Ross, Jim Stowell and Laura Petelle voted no.

Ross said she voted against the Washington, D.C., travel because she didn't see it as an instructional benefit for a School Board member. "I didn't necessarily see it as board training," Ross said, but added, "I'm sure it is educational to some degree."

Stowell said he didn't believe the money should come from the Education Fund and that another funding source should have been sought.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Parents Fret as Kids Seek 'Gifted' Status

The number of incoming kindergartners who took the test to qualify for gifted programs in New York public schools shot up 13% this year over last, according to data released by the Department of Education Thursday.

There was also a 13% increase in the number of soon-to-be kindergartners who scored in the 90th percentile or above, which guarantees them a seat in a district gifted and talented program, though not necessarily in the school of their choice.

Those scoring at the 97th percentile or above qualify for one of five citywide gifted programs, such as the Anderson School on the Upper West Side and TAG Young Scholars on the Upper East Side, though a spot is not guaranteed.

There was only a slight uptick over last year in kindergartners eligible for those programs.


The city didn't release the results by district, nor by ethnicity. The program is often criticized for not including a diverse group of children, in part because white and upper-class families often have the resources and wherewithal to prepare their children for the tests.

An Education Department spokesman said the city believes it did a better job this year reaching out to more varied types of families.

The scores, released to individual parents this week, sent a ripple of anxiety among some families grappling with figuring out where their children will start school in the fall.

"The amount of work and uncertainty to get into kindergarten has escalated dramatically in the last two years," said Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, which guides parents through private-school admissions.

Students who don't get into a private school, charter school or a gifted program can't necessarily rely on a spot in the top neighborhood schools, either. Population growth has led to waiting lists at some of the most popular schools—even for children who live in the immediate area.

"I used to say if private school doesn't work out, you can go to your neighborhood school," Ms. Glickman said. "Not any more."

The increase in children scoring in the gifted category in public schools matches a similar increase in kids taking private school tests, according to Ms. Glickman.

She said it's a clear sign of the "test-prep effect."

The arrival of the test scores in inboxes and mailboxes also kicks off a scramble of tours and applications for those who qualify.

"There's a real range of programs" across the city, said Pamela Wheaton, managing editor of Insideshcools.org, an independent website about New York City public schools and part of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

"It's kind of hard for parents. There's a rush now to go look at the programs because not every program is the same," Ms. Wheaton said.

Ms. Wheaton said some parents have their kids take the tests repeatedly, "just to see how their kids are doing on it."

Children going into grades kindergarten through third grade can take the test. Overall, there was a 3% increase in all students taking the test, but the jump was driven primarily by incoming kindergartners.

Just last week I heard another parent say that they haven't heard yet about entrance into Washington Gifted School.

The District website states that "selection process will be completed by May 27, 2011 and you will be notified if your child has or has not been selected for the program. An orientation meeting will be held for the parents of selected students in late May or early June.

Throughout the District parents are feeling anxious about what schools, what programs, what teachers and/or what principal they will encounter come the 2011-2012 school year.

The tightening of school boundaries has limited the options that parents who are seeking waivers have available. With the institution of the Choice Student Transfer program, waiting lists for schools will be built, while other schools are not even an option.

What if a parent finds out Washington Gifted is not an option; you aren't lucky enough to win the charter school lottery; your neighborhood school no longer exists; and the choice school available to you, is not the choice you would make for your child?

Does it make you feel better that parents in other cities are facing the same problems?

Parents Fret as Kids Seek 'Gifted' Status
The number of incoming kindergartners who took the test to qualify for gifted programs in New York public schools shot up 13% this year over last, according to data released by the Department of Education Thursday.


There was also a 13% increase in the number of soon-to-be kindergartners who scored in the 90th percentile or above, which guarantees them a seat in a district gifted and talented program, though not necessarily in the school of their choice.

Those scoring at the 97th percentile or above qualify for one of five citywide gifted programs, such as the Anderson School on the Upper West Side and TAG Young Scholars on the Upper East Side, though a spot is not guaranteed.

There was only a slight uptick over last year in kindergartners eligible for those programs.

The city didn't release the results by district, nor by ethnicity. The program is often criticized for not including a diverse group of children, in part because white and upper-class families often have the resources and wherewithal to prepare their children for the tests.

An Education Department spokesman said the city believes it did a better job this year reaching out to more varied types of families.

The scores, released to individual parents this week, sent a ripple of anxiety among some families grappling with figuring out where their children will start school in the fall.

"The amount of work and uncertainty to get into kindergarten has escalated dramatically in the last two years," said Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, which guides parents through private-school admissions.

Students who don't get into a private school, charter school or a gifted program can't necessarily rely on a spot in the top neighborhood schools, either. Population growth has led to waiting lists at some of the most popular schools—even for children who live in the immediate area.

"I used to say if private school doesn't work out, you can go to your neighborhood school," Ms. Glickman said. "Not any more."

The increase in children scoring in the gifted category in public schools matches a similar increase in kids taking private school tests, according to Ms. Glickman.

She said it's a clear sign of the "test-prep effect."

The arrival of the test scores in inboxes and mailboxes also kicks off a scramble of tours and applications for those who qualify.

"There's a real range of programs" across the city, said Pamela Wheaton, managing editor of Insideshcools.org, an independent website about New York City public schools and part of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

"It's kind of hard for parents. There's a rush now to go look at the programs because not every program is the same," Ms. Wheaton said.

Ms. Wheaton said some parents have their kids take the tests repeatedly, "just to see how their kids are doing on it."

Children going into grades kindergarten through third grade can take the test. Overall, there was a 3% increase in all students taking the test, but the jump was driven primarily by incoming kindergartners.