Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

BOE 'restructuring' presentation mystifies

Hubbard Middle School, along with Maxson, must be restructured.
My guess that there would be a large turnout at Tuesday's Plainfield Board of Ed meeting seemed to be confirmed when I arrived at the High School to find a sign taped to the door advising the meeting would be held in the Media Center instead of the Conference Room.

To my surprise, there never seemed to be more than about 15-20 people at the meeting, and I appeared to be the only non-staffer. (Given that 'restructuring Hubbard and Maxson' was on the agenda, I can see why staffers wanted to see and hear what was up.)

After Board of Ed President Renata Hernandez' remarks, the floor was given to Interim Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles to make the presentation.

With a team of district administrators taking the lead, the PowerPoint presentation eventually got under way.

(Advance preparation should have included knowing exactly how to control the room's lighting so that attendees could actually SEE the presentation. As it was, half the slides were so washed out they couldn't be read, until half way through the lighting was finally adjusted. Let's hope the presentation is made available online.)

The slides built up a picture of two Middle School buildings running at half of capacity (or less), and severe overcrowding in almost all of the ten elementary school buildings. There was a slide showing the 'negatives' of having 7th and 8th graders in the elementary buildings, and another proposing the 'positives' of having grades 6-8 together. Call it 'special pleading', since there were no counterbalancing views that I could see.

Mandated by the state to restructure the two Middle Schools on account of continuing failure to make AYP (adequate yearly progress), the proposal seemed milquetoastish, to say the least. Then it was pointed out that the elements are constrained: the principals have tenure and can't be simply tossed aside; the teachers are either at Hubbard or Maxson, and if they are moved (as the Trenton bureaucrats leave as an option), that would mean they would be shuffled from one situation needing restructuring to another situation needing restructuring. Does any of this sound like a recipe for real change?

To be fair, the presenters offered that there would be extra resources available to the teachers and that reporting and support would be reconfigured.

Nevertheless, I was recalling the phrase an old friend used to use: 'rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic'.

I was mystified because I expected to hear a clear plan about what is going to happen in September. What I heard was a list of the problems and issues ... with the unspoken possibility that the outcome will be to undo most of the shifts from the Middle Schools to the elementary buildings, returning these students to the Maxson and Hubbard facilities.

I think the plan to eliminate the Middle Schools had merit (for precisely the reasons it was badmouthed in the presentation), and was maybe one of the best ideas Dr. Gallon had. Too bad it seems on the way to the dustbin of history.

While easing the overcrowding at the elementary buildings can only be beneficial, the taxpayers, the Board and the administration are still left with the puzzle of what to do with the Middle Schools.

Board President Renata Hernandez, however, did offer some interesting ideas in her remarks at the beginning of the meeting, including developing a 'scorecard' for Board members that would include attendance, participation, training, community involvement and committee participation.

Hernandez also wants to institute 'Board Briefs' as a way of informing the public of issues resolved and pending (she noted that approval of minutes is a slow process, up to eight weeks or so).

She also advised that she and Interim Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles would be taping videos to be run on the city's Comcast and FiOS public access channels, as well as an email 'Ask The Board' feature, where questions can be emailed, to be answered at Board meetings (and maybe posted to the Web?).

Lastly, a very effective move -- Hernandez wants to have a podium in place for the 'privilege of the floor' segment, but off to the side, so that the public can address the board AND the public without having to turn backs on attendees.

Simple and brilliant. If only the rest of the District's problems were so easy.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Is this an example of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater"? The K-8 centers were created to address a very specific problem: parents were taking their children out of the district in order to avoid the 6-8 grade middle schools in Plainfield. The creation of these k-8 Centers were only meant to be the beginning of the overall process of grade and school restructuring. Unfortunately, due to all of the turmoil, that process was not able to unfold completely as hoped. Moving a significant number of students from the two 6-8 Middle Schools to the K-8 Centers or the 7-12 Grade Performing Arts School (PAAAS) helped alleviate the concentration of so many middle-schoolers in these two buildings (Maxon and Hubbard). The next question to be answered was, "what to do with the rest of the kids in the middle schools and the two buildings that are now under-utilized?". Moving all 6-8 students back into Hubbard and Maxon is not moving forward. In fact, it is moving backward. Just ask any parent of an elementary school student in Plainfield if they look forward to sending their children to either of these buildings full of 6-8th grade students. I am sure that they will be looking for the Charter School applications. Is going back to 6-8 grades at Hubbard and Maxon the best that this BOE can come up with? Have they spoken with the parents of middle-schoolers at any of the K-8 Centers? While these parents may be dissatisfied with the overall implementation of the K-8 Centers, I find it hard to believe that any of them would prefer to send them to either Hubbard or Maxon under the old conditions. The Plainfield BOE must look for creative alternatives to the old model. There are other options. One option would be to turn at least one of those schools into a larger K-8 Center. Can you imagine the Hubbard K-8 Center? The other school could be turned into another magnet high school that begins in the 7th Grade. Can you imagine the 7th-12th Grade Maxon Academy for Science and Engineering? Providing themes for these schools may help attract students who may not otherwise want to leave their community schools. There has to be a better way. I find it hard to believe that the only alternatives is the status quo or to throw away the progress that we have made so far just because it is not perfect. The Plainfield BOE should spend more time focusing on these substantive issues, than on where to put the podium at the board meeting. The style of the BOE meeting has no bearing on the education of my children. The configuration of our schools does.

-Concerned Parent

Anonymous said...

A list of "problems and issues"? LOL.

Arent these people paid and elected to solve these problems?

What a mess we made.

dr. e=mc2 said...

There are major problems with the K-8 plan of which logistics predominates the discussion. There simply is not enough space in the designated buildings. Unfortunately, the appeal of home school zones did not forecast how one would address the growing enrollment in the former elementary schools. Therefore, the ex-superintendents plan to keep the students in district did not include how the district would handle the enrollment explosion.