Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

I had such high hopes that the RAS Board members and Administrators had gotten the voter's message loud and clear:
  • Be Conservative with our money
  • Ensure all the schools/students meet NCLB/AYP
  • Give the citizens back any extra money

I mean they had stated that any extra savings from the building closures would go into the rainy day fund, not more programs. (ie prepare for MN funding freezes) Also, they had announced the discontinuation of cross district bus routes and committed themselves to "community schools". It looked so promising....

Apparently old habits die hard... This week the district Administrators announced:

  • that direct bus routes to any special program will be reinstated. This means the students can choose Spanish Immersion, IB or pre-AP/AP, and the district will pick them up and deliver them to that school. (ie extra transportation cost)
  • that middle school Spanish Immersion classes will be offered if a full "class" of students sign up. (ie extra coordination & administration costs)

From what I understand, neither of these are in alignment with the Voter's wishes. One drives up transportation costs and defeats the concept of community schools. The other drives district costs up and further rewards a few folks who were lucky enough to be picked in a lottery in the first place. Neither helps the district's general education students to excel...

Here is what I propose:

  • discontinue IB or AP, and ensure the survivor is fully implemented and available at the community schools
  • limit bus routes to between homes and their community schools
  • limit Spanish immersion to K-5, or discontinue it entirely and use the transportation savings to offer some Spanish instruction in all the elementary schools.
  • discontinue Orchestra and use the savings to offer more general art and music in all the elementary schools.

As I have said before, maintaining unique and prestigious programs is a luxury that should be limited to school districts that are meeting the base requirements and still have discretionary funding. RAS has little money and students are still failing, therefore the perks need to be pruned and the focus must be on core education/programs for all the kids.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm always interested in what you have to say here, but I'm a little disappointed in the anti Spanish Immersion drumbeat. I understand that you're not personally involved, and I appreciate that, but it's a gold star in the district's portfolio, and something that keeps families here who otherwise may move away AND creates fantastic learners across the board. AP and IB are fantastic, rigorous programs--both of them--that prepare our students to succeed in college and in life. Discontinuing these programs would make our district as a whole more mediocre and encourage kids to open enroll elsewhere. HS is competitive--if families don't see programs that provide successful college prep, they most assuredly will go away.

Yes, the test scores need to improve, especially for students in poverty and minorities. But that can not, and in my opinion must not happen at the expense of the programs that challenge and engage the most talented and involved kids, or those who have the *potential* to succeed if given the opportunity. Agreed--some schools need to raise their test scores. But do we want to structure our entire district around that? I resent the whole idea of teaching to the test, and I especially disapprove of structuring a whole curriculum around it. It will most definitely suck the joy and creativity out of learning. Dislike the exclusivity of Spanish Immersion? Expand it, don't discontinue it! It produces some of the most successful students in our district, regardles of socioeconomic background. More of it, not less.

I don't consider programs that create engaged, well-rounded, high achieving kids to be 'luxuries'--I consider them to be the bread and butter that will allow Rdale to grown and succeed over the long run. If you have issues with transportation, address THOSE issues by all means, but don't cut the programs that make our district desirable and raise standards.

Dig into those test scores and you'll see that the vast majority of the kids in our district *DO* succeed--they don't need the programs that challenge them discontinued.

This isn't an either/or proposition (low achieving kids OR high achieving kids) this must be a both/and solution--give support to the kids who need to get up to grade level and provide enrichment opportunities for those who are already there. And that's not an issue of 'prestige'--it's a matter of common sense.

Keep up the interesting blog. I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

My daughter will be moving from PLE to Zachary next year. Thank goodness because we would have left the district if we had been drawn in to any of the other schools. This entire school closing has been devastating to the entire PLE community. We have since heard the Randy Moberg the principal from PLE will join Zachary next year. That news was the best news we've heard in months! Trust us ZLE parents and kids - you will love Mr. Moberg. My older children that are at PMS and AHS still talk about what a great principal he is. I do feel sorry for the PLE kids that are going to Sonnesyn. They're losing their beloved principal!
Second thought - I agree with you on your thoughts concerning the Spanish Immersion program. Actually many people in the district feel the same way. They should be closing RSI and moving Spanish into all the schools. The limited success of RSI is hurting the entire district! Bravo

John said...

Just a note... I think Spanish Immersion is an excellent program that turns out great students. And I don't mean to downgrade its success by mentioning that its success is inevitable since only highly interested kids/parents are enrolled there. The success rate would drop significantly if it were exanded district wide. Just want to remind the readers that there are 2 parts to this story.

I agree we need Gen Ed and Adv Ed in order to challenge kids at their level and entice parents to stay. I just don't think we need both AP & IB, especially given the cost it is adding with this recent decision. I think we just need one really good college prep curriculum that is offered throughout the district.

I guess my question is how do we simplify the curriculum, logistics and programs to get 75% of the tax dollars into the classroom? (ie not ~60%) This is where the learning occurs no matter what curriculum is used.

By the way a 15% productivity improvement would equate to an additional ~$20 million/yr in the classroom. That is a lot of smart boards and teachers.

Christine said...

http://www.mnsun.com/articles/2009/02/05/headlines/118rs12transition.txt

Above is a link to an online Sun Sailor article with some interesting remarks from Gayle Walkowiak in regards to the middle school busing. Transportation may be very, very important to a small, vocal group. But no one has told the public what else could have been done with the money, such as rehiring elementary art teachers or much needed high school guidance counselors. Perhaps MORE people would have thought that was more important, had they been asked.

John said...

I think cross district art, global language and HS counselors would have won also. See the following:

Here is a letter I recently sent to the Board members and Stan Mack regarding my views on priorities. The question we need to answer as a community is do we want to have a few "special choice programs that help specific groups of students", or do we want to drive "the best common" program across the district to consistent excellence. The first is supported by folks who value choice and the second is valued by people like me who value consistent efficient relentless execution. There isn't a right answer, however the district is currently being graded on the success of all kids by the state's report card.(ie this is what the citizen see)

Hi Tom,

Thank you for your response and thoughts. I agree with you that choice and alternatives are helpful in meeting the wants of different parents/students. However I disagree regarding their relative worth/cost.

From my perspective, every unique program that requires additional transportation, administration, logistical, training, etc expense is keeping dollars out of the general education classroom. I do agree that RAS needs General and Advanced Ed programs in order to meet different kid's needs/capabilities. Just not 2+ of them....

As for the foundation crumbling or not.... The reality is we had a really hard time getting the levy through this time. I think RAS best priortize the goals in more detail and spend to satisfy the general ed requirements. These are the results that the 80+% of the community's voters are are watching. (ie no kids in school) Planning

Thanks again for the response and have a great week !!!

John