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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Scary night at the Board of Ed

Plainfield's Board of Ed met in special session Tuesday evening, and I was most interested in Interim Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles' expected presentation on 'school reconfiguration'.

Her presentation, actually titled 'Grade Span Configuration' dealt with the shuffling around needed to accommodate the expected growth in 2012-13 student population. It called to mind the old nursery rhyme, 'There was an old woman who lived in a shoe' (see here).

Belin-Pyles highlighted items that have been a matter of concern for some time now: under-utilization of the middle school buildings (Maxson and Hubbard) and overcrowding in the elementary school buildings.

Without directly saying so, the shuffling that Belin-Pyles contemplates seems to undo the move of a couple years ago to expand the elementary schools' grade ranges and to eliminate the middle schools.

I am sympathetic to the move to dispense with middle schools, but it seems that not enough thought was initially given to planning this out in the Plainfield district, hence finding ourselves at the drawing board once again in a short period of time.

Enrollment prediction is not an exact science as any school administrator will tell you (a Google search turned up 859 results for that search term -- see here). But one thing is clear from Ms. Belin-Pyles' presentation: there is sharp pressure on the student population from the increasing enrollments at the Kindergarten and First Grade level.

Questions at the end of the presentation highlighted that the report does not, in fact, examine the entire school situation -- Plainfield High School, PAAAS and the Barack Obama High School were left out.

It dawned on me that a more accurate overall picture is of a school district stretched to the limits of its physical space. Moving kids back into the middle school buildings does not answer the long-term implications of continued sharp growth at the entry points -- Kindergarten and First Grade.

And if one considers that the Charter schools have drawn about a thousand kids out of the student pool for the District's buildings, it seems clear that the District is being faced with urgent construction needs, whether for new buildings entirely or the expansion of existing ones.

And the probability that the taxpayers are going to have to look at some serious construction costs in the next few years
makes the failure of the Schools Development Authority to fund any Plainfield projects flagrant to the point of criminality.

While I think a lot of consultants are just boondoggles, this would be one case where I think it would be justifiable to hire a consultant to examine the district's growth prospects, building capacities and alternate plans of configuration and help draw up a long-range plan.

It was a scary evening at the School Board.

FOOTNOTE: The use of the High School's 1300-seat auditorium for meetings with attendance of about 20-30 (besides the Board) still strikes me as bizarre and unfriendly toward the public. The lighting is atrocious, with the board in partial shadow, and the audience in the glare of lights reminiscent of a film noir police interrogation. The sound is uneven, with some board members not using the mikes well. The High School Library is much more conducive to being seen and heard, both the board and the public. Unless, of course, that is not the point.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Exactly that is not their POINT

Anonymous said...

Not happy with the gendered, ageist aspect of this particular nursery rhyme vis a vis the responsibility for our school system.


Dan said...

Rebecca -- Alas, I was only referencing the crowding, not gender or age. Have another comparison?

I'm remembering as my old English prof Dr. Reppert said, all metaphors are three-legged dogs....

Anonymous said...


I note the district is still reeling from the GALLON EFFECT, to Shut the middle schools was GALLONS vision, now we are stuck.

Dan board meetings should go go back to 1200 Myrtle Avene where there is a sound system etc.

Anonymous said...

While the kindergarten - first grades may be bustins, my hunch is that by the time they reach grade 6 they are out of the school system. Someone should do a study of how many kids go on through middle and high school.

And the BOE is a joke. They continue to ruin kids lives because of politics. How many of the members of the BOE sent their kids to Plainfield schools? If the answer is not all of them, what does that tell you?

Anonymous said...

I will try to find one, Dan--that one in particular seems to paint a picture of helplessness and incompetence, which i am sure was not your intention, since you know many strong and powerful women--lol.

Maria Pellum, Plainfield Resident said...


Thanks for this post, that is where I am heading next: the need to contemplate the expense of additional needed school buildings/space. I am glad you were there and that you blogged about it as sometimes it feels that I might just a be a "worry-rat" and see "ghosts" where there might be none. Yikes! Now I am even more worried! Thanks Dan!!!!

Anonymous said...

The phs library is under-going renovations, it reopens in feb.

Anonymous said...

A two year increase in entry level student population doesn't a trend make. Those children were born at the peak of the economic boom 5-6 years ago. I think schools may be facing a dearth of new students in a few years as the number of births declined with the economy. Enrollments should average out. But if you want to make projections, have a high school sociology class study the problem instead of hiring a consultant. Give them something meaningful to work on and the school district can save some money.