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Potsdam to host town hall meetings with teachers to discuss Common Core

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POTSDAM - Since the idea of hosting town hall meetings for the district’s teachers to voice their concerns with the mandated Common Core curriculum first surfaced, Potsdam Central School Board of Education President Christopher C. Cowen said support for the sessions has been overwhelming.

“I have not heard of anybody who didn’t like the idea,” Mr. Cowen said, adding that in order to keep the meetings somewhat focused it would be best to focus on one or two topics.

Mr. Cowen suggested discussing the Common Core, as well as changes to the way special education services are offered.

Board of education member James Hubbard agreed.

“However we do it, it has to be focused,” he said.

Board member Rachel H. Wallace then suggested holding several smaller forums rather than one large one.

“You might have different concerns in kindergarten and first grade than you would in seventh and eighth grade,” she said, adding people might also feel more comfortable speaking in front of a smaller group.

Board member Frederick C. Stone Jr. also said that it will be important to quell expectations heading into the forums.

“If topics or concerns are brought up, we better follow up with them and that will take a lot of time,” Mr. Stone said.

One of the things Ms. Wallace said she has heard about the new curriculum is teachers are being given mixed messages about how much flexibility they have.

“The message isn’t really clear,” she said. “At the same time we are telling them to follow the modules, we want some leeway for teachers to be themselves. I’m not sure what we can do to alleviate that.”

The implementation of the Common Core has included scripted lesson plans, modules, that are being released to teachers as they become available. One frusturation that teachers have expressed is these plans aren’t arriving in time for the teachers to review them before they actually have to teach them. Another complaint commonly shared by teachers is the plans are taking much longer to teach than they’re supposed to, with some teachers reporting a 20 minute plan can take 45 minutes or more.

Concerns have also been raised about the age appropriateness of some of the material in the Common Core curriculum as well as its impact on teacher creativity.

Mr. Brady said nothing but time will be able to make all of the stress go away.

“I’m not sure if we can alleviate all the teacher’s anxiety,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”

Prior to the board’s discussion, Mr. Brady played a video clip for board members from NBC News’ “Education Nation” series about the education system in Massachusetts, where the state strengthened its education standards on its own 20 years ago.

“Massachusetts went down that road 20 years ago and now it’s starting to pay off,” said NBC Education Reporter Rheema Ellis in the piece, noting that is Massachusetts were a nation its eighth graders would rank sixth in math behind only South Korea, Singapore, Tawain, Hong Kong and Japan. In science, their results are even better, trailing only Singapore.

“There might be some hope in the future.” Mr. Brady said. “I thought it would be helpful to hear some perspective from people in a state that’s already been through it.”

Mr. Cowen though wasn’t entirely sold on the positive side of the piece.

“They’ve been at it for 20 years, and they’re just now starting to see the change,” he said, noting that’s essentially the equivalent of an entire generation of students not receiving the education they deserve.

While none of the forums have been scheduled, Mr. Cowen said he will work with Mr. Brady and the district’s other administrators to begin scheduling the meetings.

“Everything I’m hearing is they’re (teachers) are very happy that the board is showing an interest in this,” he said.

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