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Thread: (Appropriately) valuing co-curricular activities

  1. #31
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    John, when I challenged your notion that the schools ignore overrides in the context of our ~$30M budget, you trotted out the exaggerated cases of $65M and $2M.

    When writing about an elementary school foreign language program, you floated the exaggerated five years or "tomorrow" as the time that it might take to put one in place.

    When commenting on my support for ski lift tickets to allow our racers to practice (the ski team numbered 43 athletes in FY2007, 12th most out of 25 teams at the HS), you went "what next?" with exaggerated scuba trips to the Galapogos or art trips to the Louvre.

    I'm curious, why the need to exaggerate everything in order to attempt to make a point?

    It's clear that we disagree on the funding of co-curricular activities. I think that the fee burden is already too high. If I understand you correctly, you'd like to add fees to all sports so that the publicly funded cost per athlete is no more than the ~$250 per ski racer that the public will be funding next year. For the record, that would increase fees from ~$10 to ~$650 per athlete on 18 of the 25 sports, ranging from girls soccer to football to girls basketball to swimming.

    John, you and I are old news on this topic. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say (especially those who have had children go to or through the HS; this thread has had almost 800 views--surely someone else has an opinion!): are athletic fees too low, too high, or just right?
    Last edited by Jeff Dieffenbach; 05-31-2008 at 06:32 PM. Reason: Addition parenthetical remark in last sentence.

  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    When you say we need to figure out if a FLES program would fit into our mission, I'm not sure what you mean.
    Are you saying that ski lift tickets do fit into our mission?
    What part of our mission would a FLES program not fit into?
    How much does it take to determine whether or not it fits?
    As written, the mission of the Wayland Public Schools is sufficiently broad to allow pretty much any imaginable curricular or co-curricular activity. So, the question regarding elementary school foreign language (FLES) is really whether if fits the leadership's vision of that mission. During the tenure of the current and most recent past Superintendents, a span of time measured in decades, there has been an acknowledged but unwritten understanding that Wayland delivers a "classical" rather than "comprehensive" education.

    I'm not aware of any firm definition, but the "flavor" of classical is English, math, science, social studies, foreign languages, and co-curricular athletics, arts, and activities. We haven't offered substantive strands in engineering, computer programming, or economics, for instance.

    It may well be that FLES fits the vision that accompanies our mission; I'm simply suggesting that it makes sense to make that part of the comprehensive conversation that I outlined earlier in this thread, and to do so with an understanding of what, if anything, FLES might replace.

  3. #33
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    Default perspective on value

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Things like ski lift tickets, Dr. Burton's town-provided car, a golf program all start to look questionable at best, if we're closing a school. Even if as you say these are not ski resorts, but a small training facility. Dr. Burton's car may not be a Cadillac. Maybe it's a Pinto. But that's not the point. It doesn't look good to be spending any amount of money on things that to some will seem like frills, in hard economic times.

    I wonder if there are folks who think keeping an elementary school open, with empty classrooms, might seem like frills in hard economic times? Maybe families with older kids (or no kids?) who have a broader perspective about what might be important in the big picture? I think we all come to the table valuing very different things and can advocate for them, while being mindful that they are no more "right" or important than those of others. It seems that in situations like these, when money is tight, there needs to be alot of agreeing to disagree. What one person may see as so obviously critical, may appear as an obvious frill to another. Doesn't mean either one is right or wrong.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 06-02-2008 at 07:41 AM. Reason: fix formatting of quote

  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by TracyScheidemantel View Post
    I wonder if there are folks who think keeping an elementary school open, with empty classrooms, might seem like frills in hard economic times? Maybe families with older kids (or no kids?) who have a broader perspective about what might be important in the big picture? I think we all come to the table valuing very different things and can advocate for them, while being mindful that they are no more "right" or important than those of others. It seems that in situations like these, when money is tight, there needs to be alot of agreeing to disagree. What one person may see as so obviously critical, may appear as an obvious frill to another. Doesn't mean either one is right or wrong.
    Thank you, Tracy.
    It's nice to hear from someone other than Jeff and me.
    I don't know about HH or CH, but there are no empty classrooms at Loker.

    I believe that class size, has been the rationalization for closing Loker - by putting more kids in each class, (the SC believes) we can close a school and save some money.

    But according to various studies, smaller class sizes are better for learning and better for meeting emotional and social needs:

    "The optimal class size where most of the research has been done, in class sizes in grades K-3," Ernst goes on, "is 20 or fewer students."
    Shari Elmer, who teaches kindergarten at Loyola Elementary School in Los Altos, California, says in the September 1998 Instructor magazine that the new 20-student-cap has made a huge difference in her classroom.
    "The extra time got me inspired to try new things -- things I could never have done before," Elmer said. "I played word games with students. I used hand puppets. I never got the chance or had the time to do those kinds of things before."
    (http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/issues044.shtml)

    One thing that I believe we can all agree to agree on, is that what we want is what is best for our kids.
    Saving money might seem best for our taxpayers, but that is not the same as what is best for our kids.
    Even some of the elderly taxpayers that I've spoken with who no longer have children in the schools, recognize the value and the benefit of keeping our schools great and not cutting corners, and will vote for an override just on principle.

    I can't consider a comfortable class size a frill.
    Just because we can consolidate and save a few bucks, doesn't mean we should.
    A little elbow room is not a bad thing.
    And for the amount of money this reconfiguration will cost to implement, the savings may be negligible.
    The fact that they didn't fully know what the savings would be going into this is inexcusable, and by itself indicates a hastily made decision, with an absence of appropriate planning.
    We still have a number of K-5 students enrolled that is 132 more than we had when we re-opened Loker in 1992.
    And with Special Ed and computers and keyboarding, our need for space today is greater than it was in 1992.

    If cutting Ultimate Frisbee and any other extraneous programs would mean that we could maintain a reasonable class size, I think it's a no-brainer.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  5. #35
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    Default co curriculars

    I think we are getting away from the global issue here. I think a lot of people would agree that if $10,000--give or take, the cost of your two favorite examples, ultimate frisbee and skiing--would have kept a full school open, we would have found the money. The bigger question here is what would we lose overall in its place.
    I'm assuming that you are an elementary school parent and are rightly fighting for what you think your kids need. My youngest is in high school and the older ones are out. We have all had to take some hits somewhere along the way. My oldest was in the last class that went through Happy Hollow with two sections in a grade. She had 27 in her fifth-grade class--30 in her math class, since they grouped for math then--and arguably the worst teacher we have encountered in Wayland. The parents and kids weren't happy about it, but we all survived. At the time, would I have suggested that they cut three or four or five high school sports teams to give an extra section to the elementary school? It never occurred to me. I don't know what I would have thought if someone had suggested it.

    What I do know is that in this economic climate, once something is gone, it's gone altogether. What I also know is that as kids get older in our school system, and academic pressure mounts, it's very important for kids to find their niche. Disclaimer here: I am incoming president of CAPA and speak for myself, not the organization, and my kids are musicians rather than athletes. One of my children had a very tough year in middle school. The guidance counselor once mentioned to me that she had walked through the orchestra rehearsal one day and noticed that my son looked like a different child while he was participating. It was a haven for him in a difficult time. I can't believe that my child is the only one with this sort of experience, or that the arts groups are the only place that it happens. Wayland overall does a very good job with the kids who have an academic bent. Many of the rest of the kids need the outlet for the stress, and the reward of doing something they love at the end of a long day to keep them focused during class. Since the amount of phys ed in the high school is very limited, and not everyone who wants to participate can play a "real" sport, I think the ultimate frisbee is a good way to get more kids to be active. And as far as the "real" sports go, I do wonder how many kids don't participate as it is because of the cost, since families can pay as much as $600 per year per child if a kid plays three sports--none of the sports teams is getting a free ride. Also, having a wide variety of co-curricular activities available is important in the current competitive college admissions climate.
    I guess what it amounts to is that I think it's our job to educate the whole child, and the co-curricular activites play a very large role in doing that--and a greater and greater role as the kids get older and it becomes more clear what their individual strengths and needs are.

  6. #36
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    Default Co Curriculars

    As the parent of a recent CHS graduate, an eigth grader and a sophomore, I echo Mary Beth's sentiments on all points. Several years ago, I had a child (who was coming off a couple of difficult years) land in a class of 25 at CHS because the SC had to prioritize resources and upstream FTEs to the HS. I voiced my displeasure to a couple of SC members who (a) explained that they were up against the wall financially and (b) assured me that academically my child would have his needs met (they were right on this point). As my children have grown older, I have come to realize that co curriculars are as important as what goes on in the classroom. The skills learned in the theatre, in the orchestra, and on the playing field directly translate into other areas, and are crucial to the kids' social, emotional and character development. Someone (John?) recently asked whether these programs are more important than, for example, foreign language in elementary school. Having had a child study foreign language in elementary school (before we moved to Wayland), I would say, emphatically, that YES co curriculars are more important. Jeff earlier asked whether the sports fees should be raised. Well, in a vaccuum the sports fees are not too high, but when combined with all the other fees that families of older kids get hit with - the Cape trip (close to $300), the DC trip (close to $900), and combining school sports with club sports (which individually cost $650 per season), I would be surprised if these fees were not already causing a hardship on some families, and should not be increased further. Even when families are eligible for financial aid, people don't always ask for it because it can be embarrassing and feels like an invasion of privacy.

  7. #37
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    Mary Beth,

    Thank you for posting.
    Again, it is nice to see a new name on here.

    I donít disagree with you.
    In spite of my rants about co-curriculars, I agree that there is tremendous value in having them and hope we can continue to do so.

    What Iím trying to do is stir up a dialogue about our priorities.
    As much as I value sports, music and arts, I also value academics AND having enough elbow room so that our students donít feel like sardines.

    The reason I got into this is not because I have some vendetta against co-curriculars. It is only because the SC decided to close a school.

    I appreciate the perspective youíve provided from having experienced some bumps in the past and I agree with your conclusion that it all works out in the end, however I donít believe that that is a reason to accept illogical and poorly conceived plans on the magnitude of closing a school. If every decision our school committee makes is as obtuse and mysterious as this one, we really need to worry whoís steering the ship. The problem here is so much more than just the closure of Loker School, itís the rationalizations for it and the crazy way they went about it.

    My whole premise is that IF they are taking such drastic measures as closing a school, then EVERYTHING ought to be on the table to be compared and prioritized to decide what we can afford and what is really important because clearly a measure so extreme requires intense scrutiny of the entire school budget. This is no small thing theyíve done. And youíre right. Itís not the end of the world. But on a scale of drastic things this board is empowered to do, this it pretty high up there on the list, and the implications of their decision will impact hundreds of families for years to come.

    My personal preference is that they NOT eliminate sports, music or arts, NOT close Loker, and that they DO institute a foreign language program for the elementary schools.
    This will cost more money. So, where should the money come from?
    Two sources Ė by eliminating every penny of waste that can be found through a line item detailed accounting of the budget and, if still necessary after Step One, go to Step Two and ask for a bigger budget.

    If the level of detail to which the SC examines the Schoolís annual budget has not uncovered an annually recurring $9000 expense for ski lift tickets, then it leads to the obvious line of questioning Ė what else has escaped their watchful eyes? How many of these $9000 expenses are still not known? Is this the largest unknown or could there be $20, 30, 40 thousand or more in individual or recurring items in our budget that are unknown to the School Committee and to taxpayers?

    This doesnít automatically mean that ski lift would be eliminated. Maybe when all the cards are on the table and a fair comparison is done and waste is truly eliminated, it could be that ski lift tickets would seem reasonable. But weíll never know that until we better understand where all of our $30 million dollars is going.

    And if we're closing schools to stay afloat, packing the two remaining schools to capacity, while pointing to dubious enrollment declines, then we'd damned well better know where our money is going.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  8. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    ...

    I appreciate the perspective youíve provided from having experienced some bumps in the past and I agree with your conclusion that it all works out in the end, however I donít believe that that is a reason to accept illogical and poorly conceived plans on the magnitude of closing a school. If every decision our school committee makes is as obtuse and mysterious as this one, we really need to worry whoís steering the ship. The problem here is so much more than just the closure of Loker School, itís the rationalizations for it and the crazy way they went about it.

    ...

    And if we're closing schools to stay afloat, packing the two remaining schools to capacity, while pointing to dubious enrollment declines, then we'd damned well better know where our money is going.
    John, your invective is frequently laced with insulting and disrespectful language. I've bolded just a few examples above. Your choice of words might be applicable had the Committee opted to make the significantly larger Claypit Hill the K-only building, but it certainly doesn't fit the much closer Happy Hollow versus Loker comparison.

    If anything is dubious, it's your continued insistence (here and in the declining enrollment thread) on mischaracterizing the enrollment and capacity reality.

    You repeatedly raise the point about technology and special education crowding children out of the classroom, yet the data (as I've spelled out in the aforementioned thread) refute that contention. And except for only one occasion out of many (in that thread and elsewhere), you fail to acknowledge the greater than 10% capacity that we've added since the last time enrollment triggered closure or reconfiguration of a building.

  9. #39
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    Default Empty classrooms....

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyScheidemantel View Post
    I wonder if there are folks who think keeping an elementary school open, with empty classrooms, might seem like frills in hard economic times?
    Hi Tracy,

    We are keeping an elementary school open with empty classrooms- Loker.
    The concern some of us have now is maxed class sizes. Stacey Adelman wrote about this on the override business blog.

  10. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    John, your invective is frequently laced with insulting and disrespectful language. I've bolded just a few examples above. Your choice of words might be applicable had the Committee opted to make the significantly larger Claypit Hill the K-only building, but it certainly doesn't fit the much closer Happy Hollow versus Loker comparison.
    Jeff, I have apologized to you in the past when I agreed that Iíd spoken out of line. Here, I do not agree.

    I am expressing my opinion, and my choice of the words illogical, poorly conceived, obtuse, mysterious and crazy are all apt in the context in which Iím using them.

    If you feel insulted, try to imagine for a moment how it would feel to be on the receiving end of such things. Talk about insulting!

    Iím not sure why you think a closer comparison between HH and Loker would make any difference. Youíre still comparing apples to oranges. You downplay, disregard or simply ignore the examples Iíve given that back up my position, but that doesnít make them go away. These things still exist. There are video tapes, photographs, documents and public records that illustrate exactly what I'm talking about.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

  11. #41
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    Default priorities

    As I understood it, Wayland sets it's own "max" class sizes which are below the norm. So I'd imagine that even at "max", our class sizes are still within reason. I'm not advocating for large classes, but in light of our tight economic situation, I'm thinking that it may be necessary. In my opinion, (also what I hear from those who have older kids), having larger ES classes is less detrimental OVERALL, than cutting PROGRAMS at the higher levels. Again, it would be great to have both, but I guess we can't have it all right now and need to prioritize what least affects the kids by looking at k-12. Thankfully, we have great teachers which makes all the difference when it comes to larger classes. (BTW, HH does have an empty classroom this year )

  12. #42
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    Default Class Sizes

    Kim R on another post mentioned concerns about class size.
    I understand your concerns about class size. I understand the 2nd and 4th grades will be pretty tight.

    To Jeff D. Could you please provide us with an updated spreadsheet showing us just how many children and how many sections will be at each grade level in each of the elementary schools. I assume they have changed since your presentation of the 2 1/2 model. I understand a number of people have asked to be moved from one school to another and that many of those requests were granted.

    As we look at class size issues, you might be interested in reading the following, put out by the NEA.
    Here's the URL: http://www.nea.org/classsize/index.html

    I've cut and pasted for your convenience.

    Class Size


    While many education reform proposals remain controversial, reducing class size to allow for more individualized attention for students is strongly supported by parents, teachers and education researchers.


    NEA Position: NEA supports a class size of 15 students in regular programs and even smaller in programs for students with exceptional needs.
    Teachers with small classes can spend time and energy helping each child succeed. Smaller classes also enhance safety, discipline and order in the classroom. When qualified teachers teach smaller classes in modern schools, kids learn more. It's common sense, and the research proves it works to increase student achievement.

    NEA past presidents Helen Pate-Bain and Helen Wise are working to develop consistent state data to track progress in reducing class size nationwide. Your help is needed to convince states to report class sizes consistently.

    STAR Project Proves Long-term Gains


    The benefits of smaller classes are now widely acknowledged. Few education issues have been studied more than the effect of class size on student achievement. But until Tennessee’s longitudinal class-size study — Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) project — results were contradictory and inconclusive. The STAR project showed that those enrolled in small classes as youngsters were more likely to:

    Graduate on time — 72 percent of students, versus 66 percent from regular classes and 65 percent from classes with a paraprofessional
    Complete more advanced math and English courses
    Complete high school — 19 percent dropped out, versus 23 percent from regular classes and 26 percent from classes with a paraprofessional
    Graduate with honors.
    Goal Should Be Student-Teacher Ratio of 15 to 1


    According to Alan Krueger of Princeton University, who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in the Clinton administration, lowering class sizes in Tennessee narrowed the achievement gap between blacks and whites by 38 percent.

    In a four-point plan to ensure that all children are educated to their full potential, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching President Ernest L. Boyer called for reducing class size to "no more than 15 students per teacher" for the early elementary grades. The National Association of Elementary School Principals has revised its class size policy statement from a student-teacher ratio of 20 to 1 down to recommending a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1.

    According to the U.S. Department of Education, "A growing body of research demonstrates that students attending small classes in the early grades make more rapid educational progress than students in larger classes, and that these achievement gains persist well after students move on to larger classes in later grades."

    Given the strong support of parents and teachers — and the demonstrated effectiveness of smaller classes — Americans should urge their elected representatives at all levels to support continued class size reduction. It’s education reform that works!
    [/FONT]
    [/I]
    Last edited by Sheila Carel; 06-03-2008 at 06:00 PM.

  13. #43
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    Default class size

    Great info on class size Sheila- thanks.

    One thing I think most people support are smaller class sizes for many of the reasons given in your research. Given the economic crunch we are in, I wonder if the SC sees this as a realistic priority this/next year? And what else are we willing to give up if reducing class sizes?

    I'm seeing our (and most other towns) financial situation causing us to scale down in places we never imagined. Who ever thought gas prices would go where they have? This then impacts our choices and behaviors--I've heard of people riding bikes to work in pretty far away towns! Maybe compromising on ES space and class size, at least temporarily until the economy gains strength or enrollment continues to decline, isn't so unrealistic? Certainly not ideal, but I have a feeling a few years from now it will not seem like it was so bad.

  14. #44
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    Default Class sizes

    Tracy,

    Clearly, economic times are difficult and will put a strain on all of us.
    That is precisely why we must be careful and purposeful when prioritizing and when making such important decisions about our childrens' educational experiences.

    Rather than dismissing national trends and knowledge that is generated by sound research as necessary because of diffiucult times, we should look to the large body of literature to inform us as we make important decisions.

    Armed with knowledge about how students learn best and under what conditions, we will be better equipped to help our students succeed.


    I do believe I read a post by a Wayland parent who teaches in Natick.
    Despite difficult times, they have actually created new sections in order to see class size maintained at an acceptable level.

    It is a matter of priorities.

  15. #45
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    Default priorities

    Sheila,
    Not to beat a dead horse , but I don't think anyone is "dismissing national trends". We all agree that ultimately it would be best to have 1:15, but at what cost? It's easy to look at each facet of education alone, be it class size, extracurriculars, physical plant, technology, MCAS, arts, sciences, etc., and understand how the literature supports the "best" practice. In a perfect situation, without fiscal restraints, we'd follow them all. But to say that "students learn best" in small class sizes, without accounting for what other facet is diminished or eliminated, is not realistic.

    I think we agree it is about priorities. I'm just pointing out that when looking at priorities, it may not be enough to say that we should strive for a best practice, without discussing what is cut to account for it. I think Wayland does a good job of balancing decent (maybe not "best") class sizes without sacrificing too many cocurriculars and all the while, somehow maintaining what is in my opinion, the "best" teachers anywhere.

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