Once again, this meeting started with thoughtful public comment from Steve Rivkin, who expressed concern about the brevity of the trimester report (now available on the district homepage) as well as the incomplete nature of the 9th grade science evaluation (also available on the district homepage). He expressed the view that if this district is really committed to data analysis and program evaluation, we need to be doing a more careful and thorough job. School Committee member Elaine Brighty expressed the view that it is not the responsibility of the School Committee to conduct such reviews, or to insist that such reviews are done. Steve then noted that he thought this was really unfortunate, given that the School Committee ultimately hires and monitors the Superintendent, and that one of the key jobs of the Superintendent is to make sure that programs and curricula in the district are working well -- thus, it seems as if the School Committee should in fact have an interest in and ability to oversee such evaluation work. I then echoed that point, noting that when all nine members of the School Committee voted unanimously for the new 9th grade science program in January, they assured concerned members of the public that of course a thorough review of this program would occur, and yet the review as it stands now, is incomplete and will make it impossible to tell whether this new program is working (and this review only occurred because following my election to School Committee, I insisted that an evaluation was done).
School Committee Chair Michael Hussin then expressed frustration with these comments, noting that it would be impossible to evaluate a program that has not yet occurred (given that the new 9th grade course is only in its first few weeks) and that of course such an evaluation would be done. I raised my hand to explain that one could not actually evaluate this new course without having good baseline data - meaning how 9th graders in biology versus earth science (the two courses previously offered to 9th graders) experienced those courses in particular — so that we could then see whether students experience the new ecology/ environmental science course as better, the same as, or worse than biology and earth sciences. This is the crucial issue that must be examined, and the report in its current form does not allow one to do this. However, Michael Hussin noted that as Chair, it is his prerogative to move the discussion along, and he chose not to call on me.
The meeting then focused on a review of the MCAS data for the district, a report on the tragic bus accident, and some voting on policies. We postponed a discussion on the "How are We Doing Committee." The last portion of the meeting focused on a retreat of the School Committee. As I've noted before, I'm not in favor of such a retreat, if the public will not be able to see the discussion during the retreat (which is what the other committee members have requested). However, the retreat will happen, and it will be private.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.