Education

Education

Woodbridge Board of Education Explores Achievements and Infrastructure

Monday night, the Woodbridge Board of Education, at its regular monthly meeting explored several aspects of achievement as well as the state of the Beecher Road School building infrastructure.

The meeting started off with an executive session where the board conducted an exit interview with outgoing Principal Mary Lou Torres. Principal Torres has been an important part of the Beecher Road School administration and is moving on to a new position starting in October. While the primary focus of Beecher Road School is the success of the elementary school students, good educational programs recognize that we all remain students throughout our lives, and celebrates the successes of not only the young students, but also the students that are part of the staff.

Early on in the meeting, Principal Torres, assisted by sixth grade teacher Nancy White spoke to the board about the Tri-State Consortium.

The Tri-State Consortium is a learning organization devoted to assisting its member public school districts in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey in using student performance data to develop a rigorous framework for systemic planning, assessment, accreditation, and continuous improvement.

Last year, the Tri-State Consortium visited Beecher Road as part of the administration's ongoing effort to improve the quality of education at the school. The consortium recognizes the successes of the school and made recommendations about areas where the school could improve. A key area that they focus on is professional development and professional learning communities. Beecher Road School does well with its profession development, and Principal Torres' successes are a good example of this.

Following the discussion of the Tri-State Consortium report, there was a lengthy discussion of the results of last year's Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT). The test results are usually reported in the context of schools in similar districts, called a District Reference Group (DRG).

Woodbridge scored well in its DRG as well as compared against the state as a whole. In terms of the No Child Left Behind Act, Woodbridge made Adequate Yearly Progress. However, for a high performing school district like Woodbridge, adequate may not be enough, and the board discussed how the CMTs fit into a larger framework of student assessment and other methods of analyzing the CMT scores so that the district can continue to learn from its previous experiences and improve the quality of education that is provided.

The presentation of the CMT results was the last one that Principal Torres and Ms. White will give together as Principal Torres moves on. Her service to the school district was recognized and the board moved on to the next item on the agenda.

Beecher Road School was built in phases starting in 1960, with important parts of the infrastructure being nearly fifty years old. There are major concerns about the boiler, sections of the roof and the air quality in sections of the school. A building committee has been investigating what it would take to update the infrastructure, including getting sections of the school to meet new building code standards and be more energy efficient. Such a project will be expensive and the board sought to understand which parts are most urgent, and which parts might be deferrable until we are in a better economic time.

The long board meeting continued with addressing its regular business, including correspondence, approving financial reports and hearing reports from various committees. During public comment, one parent spoke up expressing his thoughts about the CMT scores. The meeting ended with the board settling in to its continued discussion about the long term goals of the board.

Woodbridge Board of Education meetings typically occur on the third Monday of each month and are open to the public to observe and comment. Citizens are encourage to attend and participate.

(Cross posted at the Woodbridge Citizen)

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A Mosque in Her Nose

Leading up to September 11th, there were various discussions about religious intolerance. Should Muslim's be allowed to cultural center a few blocks away from Ground Zero? Should people burn copies of the Quran? Can a school suspend a student for wearing a religious symbol? You may have heard about the first couple issues, but I believe the third is equally important.

So, what is the story about the student wearing a religious symbol? No, she was not suspended for wearing a crucifix in a city where Catholic Churches were burned. Instead, she wore a nose stud to school.

Ariana Iacono belongs to The Church of Body Modification, a federally recognized religion. Their statement of faith says,

We believe our bodies belong only to ourselves and are a whole and integrated entity: mind, body, and soul. We maintain we have the right to alter them for spiritual and other reasons.

Personally, I am not a big fan of piercings or tattoos. For that matter, I'm not a big fan of other forms of body modification that seem to be more socially accepted like face lifts, liposuction, breast implants or hair dieing. On the other hand, I know several people who have had body modifications like having stents placed in their arteries or hips or knees replaced who have greatly improved the quality of their lives as a result.

So, if Ariana has a better self image as a result of a peridot stud in her nose, then she should be encouraged to wear it.

My ancestors came to this country fleeing religious persecution. It is part of our American heritage as well as our constitution to protect people's freedom of religion. This does not mean only different denominations of Christian Protestantism. It does not mean only protecting religious beliefs that we can understand or don't feel threatened by. It applies to all religions.

As with other cases of students' rights, the underlying issue here is why are our schools failing? Ariana's nose stud is a great opportunity to explore religious toleration, both today, and throughout the history of our great country. It is an opportunity to study what contributes to self esteem.

What I find most striking is the Mission Statement and Vision of Clayton High School

Mission Statement

Empowering All Students to Become Successful in a Global Society

Vision

The vision of Clayton High School is to

* create an atmosphere of inclusion which will foster the acceptance of diverse students
...

I hope that Clayton High School will empower all its students, including those that wear nose studs, to become successful in a global society and that they will create an atmosphere of inclusion which will foster the acceptance of students as diverse as those that wear nose rings.

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Principal Torres to Leave Beecher Road School

Everyone year around one hundred students move on from Beecher Road School in Woodbridge, CT. Most of them continue on at Amity Middle School. Some move with their families to other towns, and a few are adult students who are moving on with their careers.

It is an important perspective and a sign of a successful educational system where a lifelong love of learning is taught and when everyone is viewed as a student. So, it is with mixed feelings that Beecher Road School prepares to say good bye to one of its star students, Principal Mary Lou Torres.

Woodbridge Superintendent, Outgoing Principal and incoming Interim Principal

Principal Torres has been at Beecher Road School for five years and has accepted a new position that furthers her career. Tuesday evening, the Woodbridge Board of Education regretfully accepted her resignation and shared many words of praise for Principal Torres. The board then moved on to appoint Dr. Len Tomasello as Interim Principal. Dr. Tomasello and Principal Torres made a brief appearance at the Board of Education meeting and additional commendations for Principal Torres were shared as well as some of the hopes that Superintendent Stella, Dr. Tomasello and the board all share for the transition period.

The Board of Education then continued on with its special meeting to address goals for the board of education over the coming year. There is an important need to address the aging infrastructure of the school building. The board hopes to further explore the quality of education at Beecher Road and the departure of Principal Torres provides a great opportunity for the Board of Education to reconsider the structure of the administration.

The next regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting on September 20th will address many of these issues and parents are encouraged to attend.

(Cross posted at the Woodbridge Citizen.)

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Beating The Heat with the BRSPTO Ice Cream Social

Wednesday evening, the Beecher Road School Parent Teacher Organization held its annual back to school Ice Cream Social. As with other years, it was a well attended event. Sen. Joe Crisco and State Rep. Themis Klarides were both on hand to help PTO members, Superintendent Guy Stella, and members of the staff serve ice cream to students, parents and community members.

Parents sat in lawn chairs and compared notes of summer vacations and hopes for the coming school year as children ran around with their friends or danced to the music of a DJ.

Wednesday was a particularly hot day and many enjoyed the cold ice cream. Others talked about the effect of the heat on education. The Horace Porter School in Columbia, CT closed early because of the heat on Wednesday and the Laurel School in Bloomfield, CT is closing early today because of the heat. While there are currently no plans to close Beecher Road School early because of the heat, such a move would create complications with bus routes.

Indoor air quality is an important issue at schools that is too often overlooked. The EPA has an IAQ Tools for Schools Program and Connecticut has An Act Concerning Indoor Air Quality in Schools.

Beecher Road School appears to be adequately handling the current heat wave. While there have been scattered reports of students heading to the nurse's office because of the heat, it has not been at such a level that the administration has needed to take action, and so far, there is only one report of a class having to be moved because of excessive heat.

Indoor air quality has a significant impact on education which needs to be carefully considered at Beecher Road School. Events like the BRSPTO Ice Cream Social provide an important opportunity for members of the community to gather for a fun social event, as well as to share concerns about what is best for long term education in our town.

(Cross posted in the Woodbridge Citizen.)

Social Media and Schools

A few years ago, Avery Doninger posted a message on her personal Livejournal account from home one evening criticizing the administration of the high school she was attending. As a result, she was barred from serving as class secretary in her senior year of high school. This raised many important issues about freedom of speech in the age of the internet which are being explored in a case proceeding through the Federal Courts.

Last night, the Windsor Locks Board of Education met to discuss a personnel matter. The agenda included an executive session to discuss the Superintendent’s position/contract. All of this comes in the wake of comments that Superintendent David Telesca posted on Facebook. According to the Hartford Courant, Superintendent Telesca commented online that “my first day on site involved counseling an administrator to retire or face termination”.

The Courant article goes on to say,

A spokesman for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education said Tuesday that he could not recall any instances in the state when social media usage was a problem for a school district.

Apparently, the spokesman is not aware of the Doninger case.

There are many interesting aspects to this. Policy and law often lag technology, and few, if any school boards seem to have policies on the use of social media. On the other hand, an underlying question is whether or not online communications are substantially different than other forms of communications. Online communications are often more persistent, easier to search, and may reach a broader audience, but is this a difference of magnitude or something more substantial? One board of education member observed that boards do not have policies on ballpoint pen usage.

It may even be that the difference of magnitude is fading. As ‘trackers’ become more common in the political sphere, what people say when they are talking to a politician in a coffee shop may become as persistent, searchable and broad reaching as anything else. The line between the personal and the public continues to blur.

In would be wrong for the Windsor Locks Board of Education to terminate their superintendent because he made his remarks on Facebook. If, however, the content of the remarks are deemed to have violated Board policy, for example, saying too much about personnel cases, that would be a different issue. I do not know what different school board polices are about a superintendent talking about the hiring or firing process without mentioning individuals involved. It would seem as if there is benefit to these sorts of discussions, such as letting it be widely known that a school is searching for certain types of employees or discouraging certain types of behaviors.

This is not to say that schools should not be paying close attention to social media. If anything, they are currently failing by not focusing enough on it. Social media is the new place for kids to hang out. Teachers and administrators need to understand what is going on in the lives of their students. They should be providing skills to help students make the best possible use of tools in the twenty first century, which includes social media.

Indeed, some of the best teachers and administrators I know are the ones that make ample and wise use of social media. Students are encouraged to share their work with the public online, in ways that protect the students’ privacy. Administrators are using social media to communicate with teachers, parents, tax payers and other stakeholders about what is going on in the school districts.

Social media, like any other tool, can be used wisely or stupidly. It can be used for good or for ill. Some people will have backlashes against any new tool since the tool could be misused or used for ill. It is better to understand new tools and help people learn to use them in the best possible ways.

(Cross posted at deliberateCT.)

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