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Monday, June 26, 2017

Tuesday Board of Ed meeting could be contentious

There's a lot going on that may make
Tuesday's business meeting contentious.

With all the progress that Plainfield is making in economic development and quality of life issues, the Queen City is becoming an attractive proposition for those looking for reasonably priced housing in a state that has far too little of it.

The public schools are attracting attention because of the perception they are lagging the rest of the community in making Plainfield a more desirable place to live, work, shop and raise a family.

We desperately need to get beyond the current patch of rough road the school district is trying to navigate. Will Tuesday's business meeting bring any progress?

With two special meetings as well as the regular work/study session already this month, it seems the Board is trying. According to the Plainfield Education Association (PEA) Facebook page, tonight's special, closed meeting (June 26) is to interview six internal candidates for the Acting Superintendent position (see the page here).

Among concerns that the PEA is sharing with the public are --
  • The union is "devastated" that Dr. Sheard has not been rehired;

  • There are 120 employees anxiously waiting to be rehired; this is supposed to be a walk-on item at Tuesday's regular business meeting;

  • Concerns over Maxson Middle School if the Board does not support 'Project Lead The Way', a school-wide STEM program; and lastly,

  • Why is the Board seeking waivers for "background clearances/criminal checks" for substitute teachers?
Here are some thoughts and questions I have about the concerns the PEA raises --

In the first place, every resolution that comes before the Board begins with this statement: "The Acting Superintendent of Schools recommends and I (i.e., the Board President) move, adoption of the following:..."

It is the Superintendent's (or Acting Superintendent's) job to put forth the resolutions, so why blame the Board if the Superintendent does (or does not) put forth expected resolutions?

In the case of the 120 employees awaiting reappointment, it should be noted that the Acting Superintendent HAS PUT FORWARD 966 appointments and the hiring of 370 substitute teachers on Tuesday's agenda. Has she some reason for not putting forward the other 120? If so, it is the Acting Superintendent who should be asked the question -- not the Board.

The question of criminal background checks for substitute teachers is only part of the problem in that area. Plainfield, like many other cash-strapped districts, relies heavily on substitute teachers to fill out its teaching staff. Subs are paid on a per diem basis and are much less expensive to the district than full-time teachers. It would be a good thing to have a thorough public discussion of the reasons for using subs and what that does to leave our children shortchanged in the educational process.

As for the proposal to make Maxson Middle School the District's STEM school, I was somewhat mystified by the discussion at the June work/study session, where the Principal was pretty thoroughly questioned by some board members on the proposal.

I sat behind the Principal as she answered the Board's questions, and she seemed quite uncomfortable. Why wouldn't the question of Maxson becoming a STEM school have been worked out before this?

And certainly such a plan would need to be strategized, with a minimum three-to-five year plan laid out. There was no talk of a plan; it all seemed to be stitched together rather hastily.

Is Maxson under special pressure because of the State's view of its performance? Who gets to decide a school's focus will be on STEM? The principal? The Superintendent? The Board? Or some combination of all three?

There is no doubt the charter schools have focused in on a STEM approach (specifically UC TEAMS, Barack Obama Green HS and the College Achieve charter school), and they have been eating the Plainfield District's lunch for years now. I was not persuaded by the discussion that the District has a plan for recovering the initiative from the charter schools on this front. Am I wrong?

All stakeholders will want to come out for the Board of Ed business meeting at 8:00 PM, Tuesday, June 27, at the PHS cafeteria. The agenda (minus any walk-on resolution(s) is online here).

Best parking is the Kenyon Avenue lot, where you can enter the Cafeteria directly.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]
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