I have great sympathy for the Dist. 861 school board after Thursday’s meeting. We have all at one time or another served on a committee where we feel we are actually performing a service. But now and again we realize that we are on the committee not to give thoughtful input that will lead to action, but to simply rubber-stamp what the leader of the organization wants. It’s a bad feeling to be used in such a way, something school board members recently found out.
School board members have been hearing from the interim superintendent since last fall that a move to start school before Labor Day was afoot. A school start in August is not popular with parents of public school children, which school board members must take into account. But they were told many times during the fall and winter that the early start was a necessity if they want Dist. 861 students to do better on the state assessment tests. Ten more instructional days before the April tests are imperative, they were told. But state law prohibits a school start prior to Labor Day.
Then the consortium of Southeastern public schools that would have lobbied the state to be allowed to start before Labor Day fell apart as districts discarded the early start idea as unworkable for one reason or another. However, the districts held out hope that they could still collaborate on such issues as staff development and technology.
Now it is April, time for the school board to make a decision on a calendar for the 2011-2012 school year. Surprisingly, the school administration does not suggest foregoing the annual spring break to give the students the extra seat time the board was told was needed for better student achievement.
At least two school board members — Mohamed Elhindi and Ben Barratto — expressed their unhappiness that extra time in the classroom, of the utmost importance mere months ago, was suddenly of little or no importance. What was of greater importance, they were told by the interim superintendent, was that the employees of Dist. 861 preferred to have a spring break, and not to have extra instructional days before the April state tests.
That prompted Elhindi to ask the question that may well have been on the minds of other school board members: “But this board went through a lot of discussion about extra days. If those days have no value why are we wasting our time?”
Hannon countered that he would soon unveil to the board a plan to form professional “learning communities.” “That will have a far greater impact on student achievement than those five days,” Hannon said, referring to the five days of spring break.
Barratto finally said, seeming to send a message to the administration that wasting the board’s time was not to be taken lightly, “I’ll vote for number one. But if I do I don’t want to hear any more about that early start. That issue is dead with me.”
As a taxpayer, parent and grandparent, and one who is in a business that depends on a well-educated community, I also feel ill-used by the interim superintendent for holding out hope that our children can do better on the state achievement tests. A school start before Labor Day is not a choice I would make, and not one that school board members would make easily, but they seemed to genuinely want to take action that would mean a better education for Winona’s public school children.
Their frustration with the administration’s abrupt reversal of decision about what exactly would make a difference in test results could be a sign that the honeymoon might be over, and school board members — and parents and the general public — want to see improvement in student achievement. A quality product, to put it in manufacturing terms, cannot be sacrificed to make employees feel “heard.”
Book Club News
My friend Cynthia gave me a copy of Louise Murphy’s The True Story of Hansel and Gretel. It is a powerful story of the Nazi invasion of Poland, and the horrors and hardships the Polish people endured. I highly recommend it, even though it can be emotionally wrenching. It’s worth it. And the connection to the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale is interesting, too.