Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Four

Before delving into the complicated relationship between the superintendent and the board of education members, let's have a look at the current philosophy in place for curriculum and learning.

Nikolai Vitti implemented two cycles of technology for the classroom. The first focused on the QEA schools; the second, middle schools.

Middle schools became a focus as the superintendent studied his data and realized that parents were leaving the system when their children were of middle school age and returning to participate in one of the many high school options the district offers.

He offered a middle school reform plan to the board, who after discussion, approved it. Based in a middle school at the time, I was interested in the plan and how it would work out. I followed its implementation. Changes crept in that were not run by the board. This dynamic illustrates how the relationship between the superintendent and the board was becoming troubled. The board believed he did not keep them informed.

Technology moved into classrooms: laptop carts for every teacher, enough so all the students in one class could be online at the same time, wireless access upgraded in every school to handle the load, technology packages consisting of a large display screen, webcam, USB hub, document camera, speaker, and clickers so teachers could present multiple choice quizzes and students could click an answer. Instant data! Hoo, boy.

(Yes, I don't like that feature as a math teacher. Students excel at teasing out the correct response, but when I discuss their choice with them, they don't understand the actual mathematics. I prefer other ways of assessment that tell me what they really know.)

Along with the technology came the programs for Competency-Based Education that many educational activists despise: Achieve 3000, iReady among them.

The superintendent, his supporting leadership, and district staff monitor usage of these programs. Principals are notified if the students are not spending enough time on these programs.

Textbooks have been abandoned in favor of online curriculum. Middle school math no longer has books; students work off a Pearson website for teacher-presented lessons and homework. The Engage New York curriculum has been placed in elementary schools, along with scripts for teachers, and is moving into the middle school level. High schools are probably using their last textbook as well.

We have not as a district solved the problem, however, of our families who do not have home internet access. They may not own a device capable of accessing these curriculums for home study. Not every child has a smartphone available to work on the apps; even that solution carries the cost of a data plan.

The superintendent defends his decisions with his data: the technology and related curriculums are improving student achievement. (As measured by testing data.)

He proposes to complete the outfitting of schools, as have and have-nots currently exist in the district, with a third fifty million dollar spending plan that would require a 15-year loan. That has received pushback from even his staunchest supporter on the board, who questions taking out a 15 year loan to purchase equipment that will not last beyond five years.

These latest moves have involved more community and teacher pushback. Teachers want discretion to adjust curriculum to meet the needs of their students and resent being handed a script to read. Parents want children to have actual books to read instead of photocopied pages or even worse, reading off the big screen in the front of the room.

The latest proposal has awakened fears that accompanied his first days in the district that, despite his statement that he will stay until his young children graduate from a Jacksonville high school, he will move on. A 15-year loan for 5 years of useful life works for someone who will leave the problem of the last 10 years to a successor. For the taxpayers, though, not so much.