Constructive criticism and the M-W School Board

| 22 Feb 2012 | 01:50

    As a long-time Monroe-Woodbury resident and as someone with a doctorate in curriculum and teaching from Columbia, I want to offer some constructive criticism to the district. I’m very concerned that Monroe-Woodbury is not keeping up with comparable suburban districts throughout the state and that our district leadership, lacking experience and knowledge in curriculum and instruction, cannot imagine the possibilities for improvement in our schools. How can we start to improve? First, we should spend less time trying to psych out state tests. In 2009-2010, our only academic goal was to: “Improve student achievement on State Assessments.” We failed. Now, our new improvement goal will: “increase the proficiency of students in each level by 5 percent each testing period.” This reflects what my advisor called the field of dreams theory of education— “Build a test and they will learn.” It is not that easy as any teacher or parent will tell you. Last year, Levittown stated in its goals that state standards were watered-down and inadequate for its students; Saratoga Springs beefed up its goals by looking to national and international standards, while having a stated goal of hiring and keeping the best teachers possible. Second, I think the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction is an essential position because this person is responsible for making sure subjects, such as mathematics, the sciences, and social studies, meet standards and flow together K-12, as well as for helping teachers become more effective. This is the key position for improving student performance in the district. The work cannot be split up easily. Saying five other administrators can handle this job as well as the jobs for which they have been hired suggests to me that they just don’t have enough to do. There are other ways of getting around the salary cap so we could find a person able to take charge, instead of just letting our schools tread water or decline. We need a reality check. But will there be one? I don’t think so, because the board hasn’t shown an interest in encouraging and debating constructive criticism, especially in public. Like most people, I dislike going to meetings, but I’ve been going to those of our school board. When I did, I wanted to see people hard at work on school improvement, not acting out public relations displays, but that is what I saw. Going to meetings, I felt like I was in the middle of a mutual admiration society. It was similar to watching the old TV show “Family Feud.” No matter how absurd the answer, each team member applauded the response of another member as if his answer was a great one. At the last meeting, I heard things that set off alarm bells in my head. One board member said that when constructing policy, there was no need to pay attention to what other districts were doing; another thinks that the intent of retirement incentives is primarily to reward employees for their work; at least two members seem to think that having five people doing the work of an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction is much better than having just one person. (Would they also say that about the Superintendent’s position?) These statements deserved to be challenged, but they weren’t. To me, the only board member asking serious questions was Theresa Budich. What do I want to see at board meetings? I want to see members and administrators well prepared with ideas and constructive criticism — ready to discuss important issues concerning our schools. In the long run, we would educate better and more efficiently. John MacDonald, Ed.D Monroe