This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What do you think?

Some of you have been looking for a way to respond to this blogsite, so we wanted to create a place to post general ideas and questions, and get a dialogue going ahead of Tuesday night's meeting. Please use the comment function below, and try to keep your comments constructive. Consider that this is a Beverly issue, not the issue of any one school.

You can also always respond to any other particular post on here.

Go at it:


RWC said...

This will likely be an unpopular post, but it is heartfelt, and I hope respectful and logical, whether or not everyone agrees.

The situation of the Beverly schools is not unique. Grant money is drying up; fuel will not go down in price; SPED must be served; Health care costs continue to rise; buildings will continue to need to be renovated, etc. At the same time, the pressures and resultant expenses of state and federal mandates for testing, and the expectations of yearly improvements in scores continues.

The same economic strains that affect us all at home also affect our school budgets. Our teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals and administrators are part of our community; there is a face and a family and a career behind every freeze or layoff.

A major reorganization makes sense from a financial standpoint If no new funds are to be raised. Based upon what I've seen and read, this seems to be a given. I'm sure that there are some adjustments that can be made—and they should be made—but I doub't we will find $2.6 M. The discussion as to which schools close and what positions are lost is essentially moot—it is all painful.

The point that a reorganization fails to address, but of which so many parents are immediately aware, is that students are not inventory, they are children; schools are not just buildings, they are communities; and the gerrymandered lines on a map are not districts, they are, to a great extent, neighborhoods.

I maintain that this has value over and above whatever statistics may be discussed about the negligible effects of class size.

I understand the business logic of a reorganization, but wish to preserve the community identity that we currently enjoy. I do not see how this happens without more money. I have a good job, but I'm certainly not affluent. However, the additional few dollars per year that it would take to raise the shortfall is minuscule compared to the increases we roll with every day at the fuel pump and the grocery store. (I'm happy to eliminate from such increases those on fixed incomes, families below a certain income level, etc.) Anyone who is surprised at this situation has not fully appreciated the effect of our economy on a local level.

It's a matter of priorities. As a community, I think there is no more important thing we do than educate our children. That's local dollars I'm willing to spend on a local economy. That flat panel TV the congress hopes you will buy with the latest rebate won't help keep your schools inact. If this is not the majority opinion, then it seems we have a reorganization in our future of one sort or another.

kristine said...

Below you will find the email I sent to Dr Hayes and the School Committee members regarding class size and academic achievement. While I understand the point that parent involvement is the most important factor, I feel that we can no longer count on that for over 50% of our school poopulation and, therefore, must control the other factors that impact success in school, with class size being among the most important.

Dear School Committee Members and Dr. Hayes,

I will be the first to acknowledge that your positions in our community are currently among the most difficult to serve, and I would like to thank you all for your dedication to our schools. My background is in education with an undergraduate degree in early childhood education. Prior to the birth of my first child I was a lead teacher and director of a preschool in Honolulu, HI. I have been a substitute teacher in the Beverly Public Schools since the beginning of the current school year, and it is my privilege to work in all of our elementary schools and the high school. I sympathize with your dilemma.

My husband and I moved to Beverly from Honolulu in 1996 after the birth of our first child. One of the criteria on the top of our list for relocating was to find a quality public school system. Our family has grown and we now have 3 children attending Beverly's public schools, our oldest son is currently in 6th grade at Briscoe Middle School, and we have another son in 4th grade and a daughter in first grade, both at Centerville Elementary. Over the last 12 years our children have received a quality education, if not always tailored to meet their specific needs, I have always felt that what my children might be missing in school could easily be supplemented by me at home. After attending the meeting of the school committee on March 26th and listening to Dr. Hayes proposal for meeting the budget shortfall, I no longer feel this way. How do you supplement a child's education when said child is pending 6 hours a day in an overcrowded classroom? How do you justify all academic levels falling behind for all children?

My question is in response to the data Dr. Hayes presented on slide 12 regarding the three greatest influences on a student’s success in school. Yes, I know there is research out there to support his claim on class size, but there is also research that strongly opposes it. Please take the time to look at Project STAR. The Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio that was a four-year longitudinal class-size study funded by the Tennessee General Assembly and conducted by the State Department of Education. You will find a brief overview of the study with follow-up data at Project STAR found, “the effects of reduced-size classes were found on every achievement measure administered in Project STAR... To realize proformance gains as extensive as this through any combination of student grouping, individualized instruction, or tutoring would be both difficult and expensive, if it were even possible to implement or maintain such an approach". Class sizes for the research were - small class (13 to 17 students per teacher), regular class (22 to 25 students per teacher), and regular-with-aide class (22 to 25 students with a full-time teacher's aide) implemented in kindergarten and continuing through third grade. As you can see from these numbers, our schools are already out of range for considering optimal class sizes according to Project STAR.

As I have stated, there are studies on both sides and it is a thin line we walk in determining what is best for our children and our community, so I would like to direct your attention to one more article written by Gerald Bracey which cites findings in two papers from economists at Princeton University, In this article you will find there are issues with the studies used to deny the importance of class size, “Krueger then takes a look at the nine studies that generated the most estimates. The results are not pretty. Many studies have little to do at all with class size and many are methodologically problematic, to say the least. About one study that generated 11 estimates, Krueger declares, "Class size is just an ancillary variable in a kitchen-sink regression…." A mere nine of the 59 studies generated 122 or 44% of all estimates used. Two studies alone generated 48 estimates. These studies, both by the same authors, carry the titles, "The Merits of a Longer School Day" and "Classmates' Effects on Black Student Achievement in Public School Classrooms." Boy, they sure don't look like direct tests of the impact of class size on achievement to me.”
Dr. Hayes, I truly believe that you do not find any pleasure in recommending such drastic measures, and I also believe that there are opportunities to improve our school system in your plan, but an increase in class size is not among them. I do not have the answers to the budget shortfall, but I am willing to consider all possible solutions that maintain the integrity and quality of our schools. At this time, I strongly urge all of you to reject any proposal that would move our schools farther away from academic achievement for our children, and that includes any increase in class size.

Respectfully Submitted,

Kristine Miller
Grover Street

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