U-CF board votes down adding Hillendale teacher, says goodbye to one member and appoints another
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
In a meeting that stretched almost four hours, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board took some big steps on Nov. 16 and said goodbye to one member who has served for the past four years.
In voting to appoint a new school director to take the place of retired member Keith Knauss, the board chose Elise Anderson out of a field of three candidates who were interviewed by the board last week. The final vote was five for Anderson, three for Jeanne Best and two for Albert M. Iacocca.
Board president Victor Dupuis swore in Anderson and she took a seat at the table. “Welcome to the board,” he said as the audience applauded.
Leading up to a much-discussed vote regarding adding an additional language arts teacher to ease what parents call overcrowding in Hillendale Elementary School's third grade, there was a lengthy presentation by board member Robert Sage about class sizes and policy throughout the district. He summed up his points by saying that, “The board should not rewrite or override policy 'on the fly,' and that the 'special circumstances' at Hillendale are not, in fact unusual. Our local data, albeit limited, does not indicate that reducing class size will make any difference in student outcomes in the district.”
Board member Kathleen Do said, “While I appreciate the time you spent on that study, the issue is about the day-to-day experience of a child in the classroom, not just PSSA results.”
Board member Gregg Lindner added, “There's no perfect solution, so what's on the table today is a solution for one particular class, at one of our elementary schools.”
Board member Jeff Hellrung commented that, “as a district, we made a choice for neighborhood schools. One of the bad characteristics of that is that there will be more variations in class sizes. It's troubling, as a parent of a child who is part of that 20 percent in a relatively larger class size, but that variability will not change. That's one of the features of neighborhood schools.”
In a lengthy statement to the board, Dupuis said, “This is not an endpoint to this discussion. It's really, in many ways, a starting point for the district as a whole as we look at class sizes. I have parented through class sizes with my own children that have been equal or greater to the ones we're currently discussing. My family has experienced that at three different elementary schools.
“I can appreciate your concerns,” Dupuis said to the Hillendale parents in the audience. “It's been suggested that this advocacy group deserves a vote. I respectfully disagree. You deserve a decision, not a vote. Sometimes votes are necessary, but when we already know the outcome, they are merely points of inflammation that add no value to the continuing discussion.
“As to the proposal to force the administration to add a section, I have to say we have still not heard any tangible, irrefutable reason from any board member as to why this is necessary,” Dupuis said. “Perhaps more frustrating is that none of the board members proposing a change have visited the actual classes in action for extended periods of time. ... Finally, when pressed on their concerns, the parents of this advocacy group aren't advocating that class sizes be reduced by one or two students. They are advocating the reduction of four, five or six students. That's not a solution we're prepared to deal with as a board.”
Dupuis pointed out that the district's administrators have studied the class sizes in person throughout the district, “and for us to question their judgment on this represents, at best, a vote of no confidence. At worst, and my greatest fear, is that this becomes a wedge that encourages ongoing division between parents and teachers, teachers and administrators, the district and the community. Responsible board governance demands better behavior from us.”
Do clarified that, “the parents are not asking for a third section. They understand that cannot happen. They are requesting that an additional language arts teacher be brought in so that these students will have a third language arts teacher, so each teacher would have fewer students to work with. That is the only thing we're voting on tonight.”
In the voting, Michael Rock, Carolyn Daniels, Kathleen Do and Gregg Lindner voted in favor of adding a .4 position at Hillendale. Voting against the motion was new member Elise Anderson, Robert Sage, Steve Simonson, Victor Dupuis and Jeff Hellrung.
“The motion does not carry,” Dupuis said. There was no further comment on the vote.
Sanville introduced the board's farewell to Do by saying, “Being a board member is a thankless job in many ways. It's not a paid position. It's something you put hours and hours of work into. I remember four years ago we had new board member orientation, and the pride that you had in following in the footsteps of your father as an elected official, and the dedication that you have brought to your position. You have made your mark on the board, and you should be proud of the legacy you are leaving behind.”
Other board members echoed the thanks. In her final statement, Do thanked the board, administration, families and students. “My first message is to my fellow board members,” she said. “You were elected or appointed to serve all the people. The best way to do that is to always do what you know to be the right thing in your own heart. I believe in the wisdom and experience of our administration, and the overwhelming majority of the time I have supported their recommendations. However, I do not believe that the voters want us to be a rubber stamp for the administration. When we disagree, we have a responsibility to say so. These last four years, I voted my conscience. I have loved serving with you on the school board. We have had our good days and bad days, but in the end, we served this district well.”
Addressing the district administrators and principals, Do said, “I ask you to listen a little harder to the things that are not said. Sometimes you might need to read between the lines and recognize the possibility that employees might be telling you what they think you want to hear.”
To the teachers, Do said, “Be more candid about the challenges you face, and about challenges that directly impact the quality of the education you are able to provide.”
To the district's students, Do said, “Challenge yourselves to be the best you can be. Do not ever be intimated by fear you cannot keep up with the next student. Above all, be kind. Care about each other. Stand up for each other. I will never stop rooting for you and the wonderful adults you will become. If you want to dance, then dance.”
Do left the room as the board and audience stood to applaud her.
About an hour of the meeting was devoted to presenting the District Achievement Report, which featured principals Jim Conley, Tim Hoffman, Clif Beaver, Steve Dissinger and Shawn Dutkiewicz speaking about 2014-15 PSSA results, and their goals going forward. The full report is posted on the district's website (www.ucfsd.org, under the Board Docs link).
While there were some declines in test scores scattered throughout grades 3 to 8, Rock was quick to come to the defense of the schools. “I am not alarmed by the decline in proficiency results as seen in these test scores,” he said. “They reflect the fact that the Pennsylvania PSSA like almost every other standardized test that came into being under No Child Left Behind. They were initially designed with a low bar and a low proficiency standard. It was done deliberately so that schools and states would look good. When Pennsylvania started, it had a really low bar. And what it's been doing over time is raising that bar. And that was raised partly by Common Core.
“The states deliberately gamed the system to make us all look good,” Rock said. “Now they're fixing it. It's OK -- if you're a proponent of high-stakes tests, you should be pleased by these results. Those of us who have followed No Child Left Behind know that those tests were never meant for us. They were meant to provide negative and positive incentives to low-performing schools and districts. As far as I know, we don't have any low performing schools. As a result, our teachers are trapped in a testing system that was never designed for us. I also know there's nothing we can do right away. Given the fads in education, this too shall pass.
“My fear is that we do less with engaging kids in creative stuff because we're trapped in a testing system that pushes us in a direction that was never designed for us,” Rock said. “And it takes up an enormous amount of energy. My hope is that we, the school board, can take the same time and energy that we did this evening to explore the great things that our students and teachers do that don't have a damn thing to do with standardized tests.”
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.