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Do something about quality of education

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The author of the following article, Susan L. Wright, is a business educator at the undergraduate and graduate level and has a doctorate in management/finance from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. She is the founder of the Northern New York Institute for the Development of Educational Awareness (IDEA) and is also the cofounder of the Morristown Coats for Kids Foundation. She lives in Morristown with her husband, Chuck Alford, and has two boys in the fifth and sixth grade.

The Opportunity Awaits

What are we doing? Are we so dug in that we continue to do the same things over and over again, even though the product of our efforts reveals our collective failure? Even when we are presented with the data, we don’t care enough about whatit really means to change what we do to educate our children. Are we so stuck in our ways, so marred in our thinking, that we can’t or won’t face the facts? The data doesn’t lie. There are 17 districts (17!), in our BOCES footprint. I have gathered the data for a group of schools that border our district (Morristown) or are part of the study currently in progress to merge Morristown, Heuvelton and Hermon Dekalb districts. The data comes from a study conducted by the New York Times (http://projects.nytimes.com/new-york-schools-test-scores/counties/st-lawrence/districts/).

Average student test scores reveal the following pass rates at grade level proficiency (level 3 or better) for Morristown, John F. Kennedy, Madill, Heuvelton, Hermon Dekalb, and Hammond for students in grades 3 through 8.

Morristown: third grade - 63 percent; fourth - 67 percent; fifth - 61 percent; sixth - 76 percent; seventh - 71 percent; eighth - 63 percent.

John F. Kennedy Elementary School, Ogdensburg: third grade - 43 percent; fourth - 66 percent; fifth - 45 percent; sixth - 51 percent.

Grant C. Madill Elementary School, Ogdensburg: third - 47 percent; fourth - 60 percent; fifth - 38 percent; sixth - 43 percent.

Ogdensburg Free Academy: seventh and eighth grades - 52 percent.

Heuvelton Central School: third - 52 percent; fourth - 50 percent; fifth - 46 percent; sixth - 59 percent; seventh - 57 percent; eighth - 30 percent.

Hermon-DeKalb Central School: third - 37 percent; fourth - 61 percent; fifth - 71 percent; sixth - 60 percent; seventh - 50 percent; eighth - 52 percent.

Hammond Central School: third - 39 percent; fourth - 59 percent; fifth - 52 percent; sixth - 81 percent; seventh - 52 percent; eighth - 42 percent.

Averages: third - 47 percent; fourth - 61; fifth - 52 percent; sixth - 62; seventh - 56 percent; eighth - 48 percent.

These scores are horrible! What are we doing about it? How can a fair number of our children attain a regents diploma if they haven’t reached grade-level proficiency in elementary? Wake up, people!

I recently had an experience in my classroom that shocked me. I have taught at multiple institutions in the state, at the undergraduate and graduate levels since 1999. Conversations with colleagues and my own experiences can attest to a rapid deterioration of student preparation. These are bright kids who are unprepared. Daily, I experience students struggling with basic math. I won’t get into the quality of the writing that I see, but the bottom line is these kids are unprepared and it’s getting worse. Why are we fighting about maintaining school districts when we should be engaged in a creative discussion about education? What can we do to instill confidence and develop the intellect to tackle the kinds of problems we face now, let alone in the future?

Those interested enough to follow the latest upheavalknow that Morristown, Heuvelton, and Hermon-Dekalb are engaged in a study to gather information related to a potential merger. Somehow we think that combining three small schools without making any meaningful change to the underlying problems that plague them is a step in the right direction. At the same time, we refuse to include Ogdensburg, a school that is also struggling to educate students. Yes, I do have two children attending Morristown, but I care about every child, not just my own.

I have been told by people that I respectthat this small merger is a necessary middle step and to be patient with the process. Let’s face it. These small mergers should have been done 30 years ago. It’s too little, too late. This small step won’t make a hill of beans difference in how our kids are educated. Meaningful change will continue to elude us.

I understand that the recent meeting held in Hermon-Dekalb was somewhat unruly. People said, among other things, that Heuvelton only wants Hermon-Dekalb to solve their financial woes. We must stop this bickering, stop degrading our neighbors’ motives, while simultaneously ignoring the quality of education we are offering our kids.I encourage those of you who care enough to show up at these meetings to set an example for the children so that they can model us as effective communicators and problem solvers.

I have been a member of the Morristown school board. I have experienced firsthand the wrath of community members. I have been personally attacked, belittled and berated by people who have never took the time to have a polite conversation with me about my views or perspectives. It’s almost like experiencing an execution without a fair trial. Most of the time, these folks had strong ideals, but refused to objectively look at the data and refused to change their minds when presented with the facts. These folks sure do know how to scream and yell, but it isn’t apparent that they care about what’s really happening inside of the classroom walls.

Friends ask me, “What can we do, Sue?” I tell them, “Tell your boards of education and your kid’s teachers that the state test score results are NOT acceptable. Demand that they address these issues.” These scores are objective, comparable, and a meaningful yardstick from which to assess our performance. We must stop wasting limited resources on merger studies that fail to directly address these problems. It’s foolish to drive change based on economics rather than change based on educational outcomes. The future of our educational system depends on us. We have been driven to fighting amongst ourselves by creating lines in the sand, territories, rather than by excellence. We must open our minds to the opportunities that await our children.

For those of you that like to show up at these meetings to scream and yell, especially at people who are trying to do what’s best for kids, spend some time reflecting on your motives and find a polite way to express your concerns. Recognize that other people have ideas that are just as right as your own and respect the facts and the information that reflects school performance. I am confident that we can find a solution that is superior, far better, than what we have now, if only we are willing to open our minds and put kids first.

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