Thursday, March 31, 2011

School Matters Update

For the 8 readers who have been waiting on tender hooks to find out if I ever followed through after receiving this letter from SnapDragon's school, I am happy to report that I did (skip to the last two paragraphs if you are easily bored).

First I talked to a friend who teaches at one of the two high school in our districts.  He said he understood why the wording was upsetting, but that since the letter had gone out they'd gone down to only 28 tardies a day--20 of them in first period--from over 100; this is really good.  We had a good conversation about the pressure on the district, the effect poverty has on student performance, and the challenges public schools face.  But he did think it would be reasonable for me to talk to the principal at SnapDragon's school.  

Then I talked to a friend who is a para-educator at SnapDragon's school.   Her children also attend SnapDragon's school.  She said she knew of other parents who were upset, but that she also knew of parents who were calling their child in sick because they didn't want the hassle of taking them to school (there are bus options for all in district).  She agreed I should talk to the principal if for no other reason to give him ammunition to present to the district office.

It turns out SnapDragon's principal did not write the letter.  He just sent it and signed it in obedience to a district wide policy decision.

So, I felt a little less disturbed about SnapDragon's school specifically; we already acknowledge it isn't the best district in the area, but it is 2nd best out of the 5 we can reach by driving.  Then there was mid-winter break and a new camera and stuff, so finally...

Last week I got a chance to meet with SnapDragon's principal.  We talked about how we purposely waiver our home district to attend SnapDragon's school (our home school district would be #4 on the list) and how SnapDragon's school specifically is such a great school with really caring teachers and wonderful diversity, but that some recent changes were making us (as in my husband and I) concerned.  SnapDragon has the same teachers for 1st grade as Huckleberry had 4 years ago, so I know we are blessed to be able to work with them again, but I didn't feel that SnapDragon was getting the full benefit of an excellent education that I felt Huckleberry had received.

He asked for specifics, and I gave them to him.  I asked a little more about the RTI (response to intervention) program.  Then I mentioned the concerns I had about SnapDragon being held back in math since they were no longer "walking to math" or even breaking into groups at all since average and below average students benefit from learning from their above average peers (I don't think I'm just proud Mama to say I think SnapDragon is above average.)  Then I mentioned the letter.

He explained the goals of RTI and how it allows children in the enrichment area to go deeper while others learn their core principles. They reevaluate children for each unit so no one is pigeon-holed.  He did admit that SnapDragon is always receiving enrichment, but he made the point that this is better than sitting around while teaching these core concepts to children who need it.

He also said that the teachers have been asking to go back to the "Walk to Math" method since he started in the fall.  His concern was the time wasted moving around and children being pigeon-holed (he used this term quite a few times.)  However, they had just presented him with a proposal that included evaluating children before and after each unit which would allow them to move up and down more freely.  They are going to start this in 2 weeks (after Spring Break).

He also said many parents had expressed anger about the letter and that the principals of the district had already gone to the administration stating the tone was not the tone they wanted to be sending to their parents.  They asked for the letter to be rewritten with more warmth focusing on offering help and mentioning that at 6 unexcused absences they are obligated to notify parents about the Truancy Law.  This letter has apparently been already sent, but as was supposed to be true of the first letter, it is only going to families with children who have 6 unexcused absences, so I won't see it.

So to sum up my long and boring story, I mentioned my concerns to SnapDragon's principal and found they had already made the changes I would want.  I also had a similar conversation with his teacher because I didn't want her to feel like I was complaining about her teaching or care for my child in any way.  How is that for service?

On the other hand, this whole situation really made me think about the lady in Ohio who got sent to prison (short sentence) for sending her children to the wrong school, the freedom of choices that my economic privileges offer me, and Beverly Tatum's essay "Connecting the Dots."  So be warned.  There will be more on that later.

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