Archive for May 2012

Seven Points on School Choice

May 25, 2012

At a recent meeting of the Board of Education, the issue of School Choice was addressed. The Board of Education members discussed details that pertained to our application and answered questions that were posed by members of the community. I made a presentation that included seven key points relative to the option of becoming a Choice School District. The following is a summary of the seven points.

Point #1:

It is noted that the Board of Education made a proactive decision to approve going forward with our application to become a Choice School District. The deadline for submission of the application was April 30, 2012. The Board had discussed the option of school choice on multiple occasions during public finance committee meetings and Board meetings beginning in February. The decision to move forward with the application for school choice provided our school district with an excellent opportunity to respond to the realities of declining enrollment, budget caps, and unpredictable state aid. Additional options include reaching out to the families who send their children to private schools (brochures will be mailed to these families in late June), merging with another school district, and sharing services. The school choice option will provide for additional substantial revenue and can be in place for the 2013/14 school year.

Point #2:

It is important to note that the dialogue on school choice continues. There will be another opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions at the Board of Education meeting scheduled for June 27.

Point #3:

The Tewksbury Township School District is comprised of a high performing community of learners. The following is a list of some of some of the accomplishments that have been realized during the 2011/12 school year:

  • Blue Ribbon School Recognition
  • New State of the Art Website
  • OTS Schedule Improvements
  • Council of Instruction
  • Reciprocal Reading Pilot
  • Early Intervention Programs (Fast ForWord, Earobics, Visualization and Verbalization, Multi-Sensory Reading)
  • Teacher Quality Institute

Point #4:

There are multiple advantages to the school choice option. Specifically, school choice

  • addresses enrollment decline,
  •  responds to the realities of  a fiscal budget cap,
  •  addresses the uncertainty of state aid,
  • adds substantial revenue, and
  • stabilizes the programs at OTS.

How are programs affected by declining enrollment?  Programs may be affected due to reduction in staff. More teachers would have to teach multiple grade levels in their discipline, the expansion of future innovative programs may be curtailed, student opportunities in the related arts may be cut back, and a decline in the student population would affect our ability to field athletic teams that participate in the after school sports program.

Point #5: 

There are risks to consider as we embark on implementing the option of school choice. One risk is associated with the possibility that the state would discontinue the school choice program. This is unlikely; however, due to the fact that the program has been in existence for 10 years and is part of state law; Title 18A. The governor has also recently allocated an additional $14.2 million for the program.

The right of a parent to appeal the decision made by our administration in reference to the acceptance or rejection of a student is cited as a risk. This has not surfaced as a problem for the school districts that I have been in contact with. However, we will continue to investigate this point. It is important to note that most innovations and opportunities to move forward present risks. It is difficult to make progress without realizing some risk.

Point #6:

It is important to note that we are in control. We establish the number of seats that we are willing to make available at a given grade level. We can accept or reject students on the basis of financial and administrative impact.  We also have the option of exiting from the program each year. In essence, we have a great deal of control over the application process.

Point #7:

We will have to make a number of difficult choices, if we do not take part in the school choice program. The merger option involves a long and complex process while the shared services option does not serve to help move our programs forward.

It is a fact that the enrollment will decline by approximately 130 students within the next five years. This is a conservative estimate, if you look at the lower number of students that are attending TES to date. Essentially this means that we will need to consider eliminating teaching positions beginning in 2013/14. We estimate that approximately nine teaching positions would be eliminated by 2015/16. This loss of human resources equates to teachers teaching multiple grade levels in their discipline at OTS, possible cutbacks in related arts at both schools, and a limited after school athletic program at OTS.  The administrative structure of our school district that includes a Superintendent, two building principals, a Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, and a Supervisor of Special Education serves our learning community exceptionally well. Again, this structure requires our current enrollment base and resources to be maintained in the years ahead.

In summary; please know that I, along with the members of the Board of Education, care a great deal about the future of the Tewksbury Township School District and the educational opportunities that are provided to the students. As noted, we are a high achieving school district that flourishes in multiple areas. It is important to not only maintain this high status, but to also move forward and further enhance the overall educational programs. We have made excellent strides during the last few months and plan to continue in this direction. The bottom line is that declining enrollment in an environment of budget caps does not help us to achieve our goals. Becoming a Choice School District will certainly provide the human and financial resources necessary to continue our progress. We will learn in the latter part of July, if our application is accepted. If it is; we will be able to make a statement which I have observed on another school district’s web site; “Proud to be a Choice School.”

Jim Gamble

 

School Choice: An Update

May 8, 2012

The purpose of this post is to address our school community on the topic of school choice. At a recent meeting of the PTA, there were a number of people who voiced  opposition of the school district’s decision to move forward and apply to become a “Choice School.”

It is important to note that the Board of Education, at its meeting held on April 25, voted 8-0 to approve sending in an application to become a “Choice School District.”

As I indicated in a previous blog post; the “School Choice” program is designed to increase educational opportunities for students and their families. This is accomplished by providing students with the option of attending a public school outside their district of residence. There is no cost to the parents provided the student’s residence is within a 20 mile radius of the receiving school.

As you may know, our school district is experiencing a decline in enrollment and recently a decline in the local tax levy. These factors present challenges to our ongoing efforts to provide a variety of quality educational offerings to our students. The Tewksbury Township School District is noted as being a “high performing” school district, as indicated by the state monitoring guidelines, and we boast having a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

By becoming a “Choice School District” we will be able to determine the number of students that we will accept from the neighboring school districts. The advantages to Tewksbury are found in increased revenues, the maintenance of appropriate class sizes, an increase in the diversity of our student population, and the ability to maintain all of our current and future program offerings.

For example, this year we have initiated reading intervention pilot programs. Specifically, the Fast ForWord program is an intervention that helps students who are having difficulty reading due to an inability to process sounds efficiently. The pilot has been highly successful to date and we look forward to expanding the reach of the program to students both at TES and OTS. In addition to the Fast ForWord program we have introduced the Visualization and Verbalization Lindamood-Bell program to meet the needs of students who do not comprehend well due to issues with forming images. Also, we have initiated a parent volunteer pilot that utilized “Reciprocal Reading” strategies along with introducing the “Earobics” software application to serve as an additional intervention. All of these interventions require trained staff and resources, if we wish to move forward.

With the thought of training in mind, I have recently posted information in reference to our Teacher Quality Institute that will be held at OTS on June 18-22. Teachers will have an opportunity to further enhance their practice in the areas of reading, math, and technology integration. Ongoing professional development and Institutes similar to what I have described are necessary to sustain quality instruction for now and in the future.

As you may know, we are already exploring ways to further enhance the world language and math programs at OTS. We plan to hire a new part time math teacher for next year and begin to develop plans for adding even greater rigor and relevance into our excellent programs. The bottom line is that we cannot afford to stand still and rest on past accomplishments.

The OTS schedule has been improved this year and more improvements will take place next year. We are looking at ways to better meet the needs of all of our students by introducing additional electives in the years ahead.

The administrative structure in terms of the Superintendent and Principal, the full time Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, and the full time Supervisor of Special Services are strengths that serve the overall functioning of our school district very well. Our school community deserves a leadership team that provides exemplary programs, serves the community, and provides a vision for the future.

Everything that is mentioned above requires commitment and resources. A school district that is declining in enrollment finds it difficult to support programs and structures similar to what I have outlined. The Tewksbury Township School District will certainly look different five years from now. Will it be a school district that is declining in enrollment, teaching staff, administration, and program offerings? Or is the vision five years hence; a school district that is thriving due to a stabilized enrollment, increased diversity, innovative programs, initiatives, and a clear vision for the future?

The “choice” is clear. The Board of Education has decided to move forward with the application. Now, it is our community’s turn to either support the decision or voice its opposition.

In closing, I am doing my best to provide guidance and leadership to an outstanding learning community in my brief tenure as your Interim Superintendent. It has been a pleasure serving as Superintendent this past year and I look forward to working with you as we re-open the search for permanent leadership this fall. I sincerely wish the best for the community and its most valuable resource; the children!

Jim Gamble

Differentiation and the “Two Sigma Problem”

May 1, 2012

Differentiation of instruction is an important philosophical approach to teaching and learning. Meeting the needs of a diverse group of students is not an easy task for a teacher. Our teachers at both TES and OTS utilize multiple strategies to best meet the needs of our students and provide for a differentiated instructional program. Cooperative groups, anchor activities, exit card strategies, reciprocal teaching, and independent projects are a few examples.

The entire concept of differentiation is certainly not new to education. In fact, one of the most stimulating insights in contemporary educational theory is Benjamin Bloom’s (1984) discussion of solutions to what he calls the “two-sigma problem.” Bloom shows that students provided with exclusive access to individual tutors typically perform at a level about two standard deviations (two “sigmas”) above where they would perform with ordinary group instruction.

This means that a person who would score at the 50th percentile on a standardized test after regular group instruction would score at the 98th percentile if ongoing personalized tutoring replaced the group instruction. This improvement is not a wild dream. Bloom supports his claim with valid research, and numerous experts agree with his conclusion. However, how can we possibly achieve this end?

The good news is that at Tewksbury we are making progress toward a solution to the “two sigma problem.” Specifically, we are integrating into the curriculum technology applications that can serve to monitor student progress and provide teachers with ongoing feedback relative to the strengths and weaknesses of individual students. Study Island is an application that we are currently using in mathematics at OTS and Fast ForWord is a reading intervention that is being piloted at TES. Both programs are Internet-based and provide for the type of individualized learning that is very difficult to replicate in the traditional classroom.

Professional development is also critical to the success of any type of instructional program initiative. This summer many of our teachers will be participating in a “Teacher Quality Institute” that will provide them with the opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills in the above mentioned technology applications and much more. Authentic performance tasks, brain based instructional strategies, vocabulary instructional strategies, SMART board training, and Web 2.0 applications are examples of some of the sessions that will be delivered during the week-long Institute.

The bottom line is that at Tewksbury, we are moving forward with further enhancing our instructional skills and addressing the “two sigma problem.” It is the mission of the Tewksbury School District to continually develop each child’s academic, social, and emotional skills. The effective integration of technology helps a great deal and the passion and skills of our teachers serve to ensure that we achieve our goals.

Jim Gamble

Bloom, B. (1984). “The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring”, Educational Researcher, 13:6(4-16).