Brewster Cental Schools Supertinendent Dr. Jane Sandbank delivered the following address at the most recent board of education meeting (Nov. 13):
The economic, political and social collisions of the last two weeks— including a presidential election, the most destructive hurricane to hit our region, a nor’easter, the celebration of our veterans, the return to spending lots of time on a gas line and as well as lining up to get an estimate for a generator—as the new normal have far reaching short and long-term impact on our daily lives as well as on our educational agenda this year. Specifically, we will tonight be passing a resolution requesting a waiver of the 180 day attendance requirement. We have already missed five days of school and turned a superintendent's conference day into an instructional day to recapture some of the lost time. When the butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, there is a tidal wave in Staten Island. We are more connected to each other today than we have even been.
So too, not only in New York State but also throughout the country the demands of new and more rigorous standards, the economic crises, recession and high unemployment rates have led to drastic cuts in spending for public education and perhaps even more dangerously opened the door to private and corporate funding of schooling. The requirements and scramble for states to get federal Race to the Top money has led to increased student testing, new intensive and questionable test driven teacher and principal evaluation systems, implementation of Common Core Standards that require intense teacher professional development while federal and state funding cuts for education have already led to and will continue to result in massive teacher lay-offs. Additionally, the emphasis on testing in English Language Arts and math and the costs connected to that in many places are resulting in reductions in broad course offerings in the arts, career training through BOCES, athletic programs, kindergarten time and most recently the ramping up of support for school district consolidation. There is a bill before this year’s legislature authored by Sen. John Flanagan from Long Island to encourage the formation of regional secondary schools.
While we all believe in some aspects of these broad sweeping mandates, such as the need to ensure high quality teaching and teacher evaluation, rigorous and important curriculum that will enable our students to be globally competitive, college and career ready, we also cherish the necessity for students to enjoy the fullness and rewards of a broad array of educational, curricular and co-curricular opportunities. We fear as well that many of these regulations will turn our schools into test-prep machines where economies of scale and efficiencies replace attention to the needs of children; the encouragement of their talents and creativity, their social, emotional and health needs and well-being, and the narrowing of their opportunities to explore and pursue a wide variety of interests. We see the potential for the deterioration of our facilities, public funds being drained for the growing number of charter schools and the further bifurcation of an increasingly divided state and nation. Sandy depicted this schism graphically on our TV sets if we were lucky enough to have some power. By now we have all seen the pictures and heard the stories.
So what is the answer and why am I optimistic? I believe that together we can correct this course, and continue to advance Thomas Jefferson’s vision:
“No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free and good government.” – May 6, 1810
Now is the time for parents, school boards, unions, administrators, communities, business to all ban together and tell our legislators, our governor, our departments of education that we need a course correction and not to throw the babies out with the bath water.
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