Yesterday, the district held a study session on elementary education. These meetings are an opportunity for the school board club members to gain insight into the district’s various programs and policies.

Yesterday’s session was titled, “Discussion of Elementary Instructional Practices.” Notice of the meeting was posted about 48 hours prior, which doesn’t give taxpayers a lot of time to re-arrange their schedules to attend, but perhaps that’s the goal. Here’s an idea for the administration to consider: At the same time you tell teachers and staff about the meeting, which is more than 48 hours prior, how about telling the taxpayers who pay the bills for all of this, too? Just a thought…

The study session was not even listed on the home page calendar. The only entry for Jan. 27 was “Sonora Elementary presents “Seussical the Musical.”

There were over 20 district people in attendance, which includes all seven school board club members. Five of those were teachers, who took turns explaining teaching methods.

The session opened with Supt. Frederick Navarro saying, “Some of our students are not reading at grade level,” and my first thought was his absurd challenge to district teachers in Nov., 2015 to achieve an “amazing breakthrough” and get struggling third graders to read at the fourth grade level in less than four months.

I guess it didn’t work.

The superintendent’s 30-second opening remarks would be the only thing he would say for the next 75 minutes. In fact, after the opening, he spoke only twice more, each time for about 90 seconds. The rest of the time he sat and listened and periodically checked his smartphone.

There was no opportunity given to the public for comments, despite its appearance on the agenda and despite its legal requirement.

My takeaways…

  1. The superintendent wasn’t needed at the meeting. He barely participated and when he did, he did not contribute anything of substance. If he is going to attend these events in the future, I suggest that he get out of his chair and walk around in the middle of the group and facilitate the discussion. That is what leaders do.
  2. We have outstanding teachers in the district.
  3. If I had a nickel for every bureaucratic phrase launched during this meeting, I would be writing this in-between runs at Aspen.
  4. There was no discussion of specific goals or timelines. I did not hear any specifics about the number or percentage improvement for which they were aiming, or when they hoped to achieve any specific goal. No specifics about benchmarks to measure progress. And none of the school board members pressed anyone for this important information.

Squishy is as squishy does.

Number five is the most important. There was barely a mention of parental involvement in the education process. You can have the finest teachers and teaching methods available but if parents are not engaged in the education of their children, there is a significant increase in the chance that academic goals will not be achieved.

According to the Center for Public Education, “Parent involvement can make a difference in a child’s education. Two-thirds of teachers surveyed (Public Agenda, 2003) believed that their students would perform better in school if their parents were more involved in their child’s education, while 72% of parents say children of uninvolved parents sometimes “fall through the cracks” in schools (Johnson & Duffett, 2003).”

It’s not easy. Statistically, half of the homes in which our students live have divorced parents. I know an adult whose parents were divorcing when he was in the third grade. “I cried every day,” he told me. For those kids, the difference between a syllable and a paragraph has no meaning and we cannot teach them the way we teach other kids.

Other students have other problems, but our solution cannot be to provide a one-size-fits-all approach to their education.

If the district were truly interested in getting any academic program across the goal line, the next study session would be on ways to increase parental involvement. This meeting would bring the best practices of other schools and districts in for review. It would analyze what is achievable here, and most important, it would invite certain parents in as part of a focus group to help determine what it would take to get them more involved.

That meeting would be held at night, too, so that those parents who work can attend, and it would be facilitated to improve efficiency, not left for anyone to jump in with any thought at any time.

Quite a radical concept for the squishy world, though.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD