Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My proposal to the board and community

Tonight the BOD meets to commence the process of determining of we should close a school. What follows is a handout I have prepared, followed by some remarks I will make.

The "Third Option"

from Lisa Cooley, MSAD 3 Board Member from Jackson

Tonight's meeting is being held begin the discussion of something that is unpleasant to all here: the possibility that MSAD 3 will have to close a school. We all know that schools are the heart of any community; it can never be agreeable do to such a thing. Financial constraints have dictated that we must have this discussion.

I would like to propose that we change the debate from, "Should we reconfigure our elementary schools?" to "how can we change the education we offer to something that is both more efficient and more effective?" If we have a building that is being underused and therefore bears a per-pupil cost that is becoming unsustainable, let's create something that uses our money more productively.

Traditional schooling has been handed down to us from educational philosophies many decades old. The world we are sending our kids into is very different. While our ideas on education have changed with the times, the basic school model is the same. It is not possible to be as effective as we can be in responding to the new needs of our children in the traditional model. So let's change it.

The world of education innovation has been generating school models that are exciting, have proven themselves to be effective in terms of an increase in student engagement and a high level of achievement, and are thoroughly attainable here in MSAD 3.

Let's decide not to close a school. Let's decide to open a pilot school that draws students from the whole district, created from one of these new models. Central to the school's structure would be the authentic learning experiences made possible through project-based learning. Also embedded in the structure could be online learning opportunities; "standards-based" measures of achievement; opportunities for a collaborative and rewarding environment for teachers; and based on a thorough respect for the needs and wishes of children.

In addition, a couple of the promising models I have researched have incorporated cost-savings into their structure, by utilizing flexible (and very imaginative) scheduling and incorporating online learning into the individualized learning plans for all students. (Online learning is effective, even at the elementary school level, not only in preparing kids for the online world, but making available many different forms of learning and new ways of exploring subject matter.)

All I ask tonight is that we consider this option as we move forward.

There are as many obstacles to doing this as there are reasons to take the plunge, but I believe in the collective intelligence and ability to innovate and create solutions that we have here in this district. I hope this will be the start of many discussions, arguments, collective chair-throwing.
and group hugs.

Thanks for coming tonight.

Further remarks:

The fact is that none of us in this room know the true costs of educating the students of MSAD 3. We do know that for the amount of money the state and our towns are pouring into it, this traditional model of schooling is yielding far greater failures than we should be comfortable with. I also believe that there are few school districts willing to face this head-on.

Here is the concept I'd like us all to consider: that by responding to the needs of today's kids by overlaying new educational necessities on top of this old, outmoded model, we are not only failing to serve our kids, but it is very likely that we are spending too much money.

I've been a student of the PBL model for almost ten years, and I'm a little mystified at how we can do PBL in an environment where the day is still divided into 42-minute periods segregated by content area. But we have to; we acknowledge the efficacy of PBL in engaging students and providing a rigorous learning experience, so we squeeze it into our model. The current model was designed for a teacher standing in front of the class delivering content to children like a mama bird feeds chicks -- disgorging her stored food and poking it into the anxious mouths of her babies. Certainly this is not true of some of our classrooms now, but that is the mode of education for which the traditional model was designed.

The more we distort the old model with needed innovations and necessary alterations, the farther from we get from a true idea of how much the education of children costs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Middle school schedule

I haven't posted in awhile...I'll just note today that the MS has changed its schedule. The periods are now 40 minutes long -- slightly shorter than last year -- to make room for "pride time." I'm not sure what "pride time" is. It just seems ridiculous to me. What the schedule needs is not "pride time" at the expense of class time. Not that I'm so enamoured of how the classes are run that I regret the cutting of a couple of minutes, but "pride time?" You want kids to have pride in their school? Engage them. Give them a voice. Don't tell them to be proud -- make them proud of themselves and others through their own accomplishments.

In the movie Good Will Hunting, Will gazes at the fruits of traditional education -- a shelf full of scholarly books -- and says, "You people fucking baffle me."