GET THE STARS OUT OF YOUR EYES!
Having stars in your eyes may be a very romantic concept if you're falling in love but if you want to provide good education for children it's better to just know what the heck you're talking about. As pointed out on this blog earlier no one knows what the "21st century" is going to be, not even these real smart superintendents that they are looking for in this Superintendent search. Belonging to the Association of School Superintendents (is this acronym what it looks like?) anyway going on, and going to the national meetings in Denver, does not make them an expert, a genius or a soothsayer of the future. Running after every Federal grant thought up by greedy insiders who want to become the consultant (good money and less work- you get paid travel too) does not make them a "21st century educator" either.
I went to the superintendent search meetings against my better judgment because I know this is a farce, if the board doesn't have the person they want picked out I would guess they have some candidates. But I found the public comment interesting and enlightening. The usual cast of liberals got their email alert and showed up. The union had their spokesperson, Peak (gifted and talented) had many spokespersons (they're worried about the public support they're losing), the health department was represented (they're educators like Planned Parenthood is now), The "Explore" program (preschool for the handicapped) was represented, a couple of old school board members, one guy who wants suicide education (Heaven help us- this works like all the drug programs and sex programs- you talk to young people about the whole thing until they're depressed and start thinking about it!! If you want to know how this has played out in other states I have a book for you.), and so it went- there were a few parents who had some insights and maybe no axe to grind.
At the first meeting on January 9th one man had an astounding piece of information. He addressed the group as working in technology and having that background. He explained to us that our district is lacking in technology expertise and that when the Power School program (the one that tracks little kids behavior and every other thing) first came out anyone and everyone had access to all the information!! That's right - your kids attendance record and behavior record in class, in the school, on the playground and on the bus was available to anyone who went on the internet and looked at Power School. I wonder how long this went on?
The first two questions posed were about how wonderful our schools are and how wonderful Helena is. Well I love Helena period- but I wouldn't say I stay here for the art!!It was interesting to note that these liberals who just love the "whole child" concept ( where schools are basically the family, providing daycare, food, health care, mental health care and so on) think that Helena is such a great town because we are a "family" town and we are great parents because we are all so educated. How does this jive with Bryant where all kids (irregardless of family income) are given free food all day long "because their parents just won't feed them?" Anyway, on to how all the other towns admire Helena Schools. Where do they get this stuff? We're below state average in math at every grade level, 25% of our kids at Helena High don't make it to graduation, and out of 138 middle schools in the state Helena Middle school is ranked 101st by the Office of Public Instruction! That's where the stars come in. Do these people do any research at all? Do they think? Do they really think (I think some of them do) that going after every grant makes our district innovative and successful? They need to get the stars out of their eyes and do some research. They need to look at what is really happening in our schools.
The third question was about characteristics for a new superintendent. More stars in the eyes. He has to be a "21st century educator". He needs to prepare our children for the 21st century and beyond. Do they really think this guy is going to know what the future is, or do they just think if he gets on the bandwagon for every grant out of Washington that he knows what the future will be? He has to work with the union implicitly because we have a heavily unionized workforce and this is the face to our children. REALLY? We are heavily unionized, but I thought this was just job security, retirement and wage increases . How is the union involved in good education for kids? They'd take away the education of our students in a heart beat if someone tried to cut their wages and benefits. This superhero needs to be a lobbyist for the legislature, do community service, and belong to most of the civic organizations in town too! He needs to be open, accessible, a good leader and manager as well (This makes sense but did we have to pay a firm to find this person from out of state? There are people like that right here in little old Helena.) It was really amazing to hear people say (some of whom apparently had not even lived in Helena that long) that we need a superintendent from out of state because so many of our educators are so backward and we need an out of stater to bring us into the 21st century!! Keep in mind that though Montana has gone from 5th in the nation to 20th in the nation in academic rankings since school reform started, they are still way ahead of Washington D.C. , California and most of the other states these people so admire.
Finally someone suggested maybe he should have common sense. AMEN TO THAT!! Just think of it-common sense and the character to back it up. What a dream that would be- it almost makes me get stars in MY eyes. Someone who would actually demand accountability in these programs and THROW OUT PROGRAMS THAT ARE NOT WORKING!! I don't mean those silly little forms that the federal grant people require. Teachers are pressured to fill those out positively. I mean like- did the DARE program after 30 years of operation in the district actually decrease drug and alcohol use? That answer I believe would be no since as reported by Youth Connections 25% of our youth are on MARIJUANA!! Have our gifted and talented students become more proficient because of the PEAK program which takes them out of school for one fifth of their education? Are all these teacher training programs that leave our children at home for four of their school days resulting in better scores? We were never below state average in math at every grade level before. Not only should this dream superintendent with common sense look at whether programs are working, he should look at how new programs affect the total school environment. For example, should curriculum time be used for redundant programs like the four programs we have to supposedly eliminate drug abuse? Maybe one would suffice- pick Health Enhancement Curriculum , or Youth Connections, or Resource Officers or the Dare Program.
Finally we got to the question about deficits in the school district with 5 minutes to go before the end of the meeting. This was eye opening. One mother complained about how her gifted student was bored in class. Another mother said her gifted honor student who went off to college this year called home crying because she was not prepared to do college level work. Over and over it came out that too much time is spent without an academic focus and that lower level students are catered to while the gifted and more capable students are ignored.
This brings up a final point. It is difficult to serve every student. BUT WOULDN'T THE TEACHER HAVE A CHANCE IF THERE WAS TRACKING? Tracking has a very evil name in schools these days but the simple truth is that if you want our best students to excel you need to provide a curriculum just for them- and I don't mean cooking and rafting on one day a week. I mean math , reading, writing, science , social studies- every single day all day long. Students in the middle need a competitive education as well and struggling students deserve remedial help. If schools were allowed to track this could all be accomplished and our scores would go through the roof. Instead of going to this common sense approach our district is doing the opposite. Our district is putting kids in Academies at our high schools (Helena High has 77% of freshman in according to the principal). Academies are all ability levels in the same 4 core classes (30 kids follow each other like in middle school). It doesn't take a genius to forecast the result of this little experiment. We can only hope these people get the stars out of there eyes before our schools sink to their lowest ever. Let's stop "WHOLE CHILDING"our kids and start giving them the education they need and deserve!!