Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Board of Ed Settles In

Last night's regular Board of Education meeting was all about process and board members settling into their roles and responsibilities. The Board voted to approve committee assignments and Adopt-a-School responsibilities. If I followed the amendments correctly, the breakdown looks like this:
  • Budget Committee: Ted Raczka (chair), Ryan Kennedy, Ed McKeon
  • Communication Committee: Ryan Kennedy (chair), Ted Raczka, Mitchell Wynne
  • Policy Committee: Sheila Daniels (chair), Bill Grady, Ed McKeon
  • Curriculum Committee: Bill Grady (chair), Sheila Daniels, Mitchell Wynne
  • Transportation Committee: Bill Grady (chair), Ryan Kennedy, Mitchell Wynne
  • Feasibililty Committee: Ed McKeon (chair), Cheryl McClellan
  • MFT Negotiaitions: Sheila Daniels, Ava Hart
  • TEMS: Cheryl McCellan
  • ACES: Ava Hart
There was a bit of disagreement over whether the Feasibility Committee actually existed and what its role was supposed to be, but the objections of board members Ted Raczka and Bill Grady were overruled in the end. BOE Chairman Gene Nocera said he would plan to have the committee's responsibilities confirmed at the next BOE meeting.

In District Highlights, MHS Principal Robert Fontaine summarized the NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) visit and the high school's accreditation process. Every ten years the high school goes through a rigorous review process lasting almost 3 years: first the school does a self-study, and then it is visited by a "team" made up of school administrators from the six New England states. Winter Storm Alfred rearranged the originally scheduled visit, so 9 of the 13 original team members were able to return on November 30th and December 1st to complete the visit. Principal Fontaine shared that he was told the NEASC team was very impressed with the reception it received at MHS: "The Committee was very impressed with our students and their behavior and their intellectual engagement...our students were well behaved and represented themselves well." The official results will be published in May, and the school will have either two years or five years to implement any recommendations the committee has for improvement.

Assistant Superintendent Barbara Senges spent a considerable amount of time explaining the 2011 CMT (Connecticut Mastery Test) results to the board. While "miraculous" results have been made in the reading scores for Middletown students, math and writing score have lagged. Senges assured the board that the administration has already taken steps to address the problem: for example, the amount of time in math in 6th grade has doubled to 80 minutes from 40 minutes to address the drop in math scores between 6th and 7th grade. "Closing the achievement gap further means being more strategic since other sub-groups are not achieving at the same rate," Senges told the board. "What it really boils down to is that we've accomplished this with no additional increase in our budget in three years, and if you want this achievement to continue, we have to provide the resources in our budget to make it happen."

Board member Mitchell Wynn asked Senges for specific examples of what the district is doing to improve the gaps in CMT scores, and Senges replied, "We pretest before we teach anything. Then teachers get together to decide what the students need to learn first before anyone continues on. We're trying to teach missed material in a new way, and give more time for students to get it. We're also differentiating between students so not everyone is learning the same thing at the same time..." [Author's note: since I have been covering the Board of Ed, there has been a systematic attempt to get rid of tracking (this is the process of dividing students into groups by ability for teaching purposes). The argument against tracking was that honor students are always going to do well, and students at the other end would benefit by being in the same group with higher achievers. I'll apologize if I'm not understanding it correctly, but now it seems like pre-testing and differentiation is exactly the same process but just a new name...]

When a few board members asked if she was consulting other districts with problems similar to our own, Senges got very defensive: "I want to say this with all due respect: we're doing better than any other district our size with similar achievement gaps. Our teachers know what they have to do and they are doing it. Other districts are coming to us to see what to do, we don't need to go to them."

Not many individuals spoke at either of the public sessions, but significant among those who did were the Mayor, Dan Drew, and Common Council member Grady Faulkner. Mayor Drew commended the BOE for the positive working relationship between the two entities so far, noting that "we've resolved a potential dispute and I'm sure we can continue to make progress and work together to resolve any remaining issues." Drew went on to comment that he had an open door policy and that he appreciated the open communication that was starting to form between the BOE and the city. Councilman Faulkner asked the board to consider more visible events during Black History Month in February: "There's a large black population in Middletown and it's been kind of quiet for the last few years during Black History Month. I'd really like to see something more done."

Finally, it's December, and that means budget time. Superintendent Michael Frechette will present his budget to the Board of Ed at the December 20th meeting, with the first look coming at the December 19th Budget Committee meeting. Members of the public are welcome to attend the Budget Committee meeting, and I would encourage you to pay particular attention to how this new board works together in the coming months. It's one thing to play nice in the two-meeting honeymoon after the elections are over, but it's something entirely different to produce a budget! Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

why is ted the chair of the budget committee? his actions are the reason we are in a mess in the first place. he has been vocal in regard to not knowing what the budget is at all. he thinks mike is the best and his budget is gospel. very unhappy with new boe.
cant wait till november when we can kick ted off the island.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Same garbage in garbage out from Drew. Dispute?? Not paying cafe and janitors who worked during the storms should not have taken a month and never been a dispute to begin with! The public needs to see thru the sham Frechette created not paying the workers then Drew paying them- no pat on the back for dissolving a dispute the same people who control Frechette created in the first place!

Anonymous said...

"Tracking" students had students leveled into different classes. All the high kids in one , middle in another and the low in a third. Differentiation is having a mixed class of high , middle, low and the teacher meeting the needs of individuals by presenting the same concept differently and at various levels.

Anonymous said...

JAM-why do you apologize for not understanding something and then comment on it anyway-why not wait until you understand and then comment?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Faulkner-Come to Bielefield School during Black History month-the staff always celebrates this month with many engaging activities and projects that teach the students about this very important topic.