- The State doesn't have the capacity to finish processing the scores
- A school in Waterbury was caught cheating and the whole District has to retake the test, so the final state results can't be processed without the retake results
- Other states are starting to "not participate" in No Child Left Behind because of disagreement over benchmark levels. CT has asked for a change in the regulations because now 81% of the districts in CT are on the NCLB list because the federal benchmarks were increased. If left at 80% proficiency (meaning 80% of kids are at or above proficiency on the test), all Middletown schools would be off the list.
Several interesting threads came out of this "I can't talk about scores" stance. First, on top of being identified as a school needing improvement, Bielefield Elementary School also has an overcrowding issue in its two Kindergarten classes. Principal Jeff Fournier was asked to describe to the board how this situation is being handled, and he described the 6 certified teachers, 2 intervention teachers and 2 paras who have been brought in to assist the two classes. (More on this subject in a separate story - still waiting for some additional information.)
Second, during the (first) public session, MacDonough parent (and BOE Candidate) Ed McKeon told the BOE that he had called the Freedom of Information Agency and was told there was no such thing as an "embargo" of public information. Once information is in the hands of a State Agency, it becomes public information and has to be released. McKeon also questioned how only Title I families could be offered the choice to attend a new school (since 2 Middletown schools have to offer choice after not meeting adequate yearly progress two years in a row) when the policy states choice has to be offered to Title I schools. This would mean that ALL the families at a particular school would have to be offered choice, not just singled out families. McKeon had a list of questions for BOE members and he chided them for not being more concerned about policies being made in the Superintendent's office without BOE oversight (since the scores can't be talked about...).
Finally, several BOE members repeatedly questioned Superintendent Frechette about what would happen if Middletown "violated" the embargo, and if Frechette knew when the embargo would be lifted. "I don't know, and I'm frustrated too...you have as much information as I do," commented Frechette to BOE member Sheila Daniels. BOE member Corinne Gill couldn't see how principals and parents being offered school choice could know what was going on if the scores were embargoed, and Frechette replied that he was allowed to give info to those two groups but no one else. "I find this unacceptable, " Gill finished. Frechette just shrugged and replied it wasn't his rule. BOE member Ryan Kennedy asked BOE Chairman Ted Raczka to send a letter to the State Board of Ed, asking why there was an embargo, what the penalty for violating the embargo would be, and when it would end. Raczka agreed, but also commented, "If you aggravate the State Board of Ed, they can find any number of subtle ways to remind you of the proper relationship and the children will suffer..."
After this comment, BOE member Sally Boske told the board that she knows other districts have sent letters, but haven't had any luck with responses. "I don't think we're going to get a response, but we should be on record anyway." Boske went on to comment, "Don't forget we're also in between Commissioners, so there's no help going that route either." Corinne Gill then asked where the embargo is authorized in state statutes, and stated that "It really scares me that we are allowing ourselves to be held hostage by the State BOE." Boske replied, "I have confidence that Michael Frechette is going what he's supposed to do."
The meeting then turned to other subjects, like how long it would take to start a rehab of Keigwin Middle School. Director of Facilities Ken Jackson said it's about a 4 year process to have a feasibility study, to get the grant from the state, and to set up a building committee. BOE member Ryan Kennedy asked whether there was going to be a Facilities Committee established (as part of one of the recommendations from the re-districting process) to create a 20 - 25 year facilities plan. BOE Chairman Raczka said yes, but that nothing would be done until after the election in November.
None of the committees (Budget, Communications, Curriculum, Policy) have met, and most alluded to not meeting until after the election. BOE Member Sheila Daniels commented, "It's not OK that committees aren't meeting just because there's an election coming up. School has started regardless of elections, and there's work to be done."
The only happy news of the whole evening was that none of the Middletown school properties sustained any direct damage from Hurricane Irene. Several branches or trees come down, but nothing that damaged a building. There were other minor leaks or cases of minor flooding, but nothing significant.
I didn't think that politics were supposed to play an overt role in how education operates in a town, but that was clearly the case last night. First, there was the drama between BOE Candidate Ed McKeon and BOE Chairman Ted Raczka. Members of the public have 3 minutes to address the board, and McKeon clearly wasn't finished speaking when Raczka informed him time was up. McKeon kept talking, saying he was almost finished, and Raczka quickly called the meeting into recess and then jumped up and turned the TV feed off. In all the BOE meetings I've seen, I've never seen the TV turned off when someone tries to keep talking past the time limit. Raczka usually bangs his gavel and tells the person he or she is out of order, but I've never seen such a quick move from "Your time's up" to an immediate recess, and the TV has never been off. In fact, BOE member Corinne Gill questioned Raczka's actions later in the meeting, saying, "When did we decide it was our policy to turn the TV off if someone exceeds their time?" Raczka could have told McKeon he was free to continue his comments for another 3 minutes at the 2nd public session, but he didn't mention that at all.
Secondly, to hear that no committee work is going on because there's an election in two months and the membership of the board is changing or might change is just insanity. Add to that the fact that the Superintendent is making changes, based on CMT scores, to how the system is running, but he can't tell the board what he's doing or why. There is an overwhelming force being brought to bear on the 2 overcrowded kindergartens at Bielefield, yet it is unclear that the same approach is being done for the overcrowded 4th grade at Moody. Furthermore, BOE Chairman Raczka commented that he wanted to make sure that "Bielefield was up to the level of quality at all of our other schools, " and this left me pondering some math and its implications: two teachers require the assistance of 10 other individuals for about 50 kids...
Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that our kids aren't worth it. I'm suggesting, and I fully admit I don't have the class size numbers in front of me yet, that the effort seems out of proportion to the resources available to every other class in town. This puzzles me, and either there's an answer that will be revealed once the mysterious embargo is released, or I've got some digging to do.
In the end, this is supposed to be about doing our best for our kids, and it seems like there's a mix of "enforced" non-supervision and election "hide-and-seek" going on (BOE members are hiding from their responsibilities while voters are seeking answers and results). Even if the state did succeed in lowering the CMT benchmark, that's just a paper result. It doesn't change the fact that we should be working toward EVERY child meeting the benchmark, and this effort has to continue whether there are elections or not.