In case you missed it, recent actions of the New Berlin School District and School Board were discussed by a community columnist from New Berlin in her Journal Sentinel column, which was published last week
Here’s what it said:
Enact school change the right way
In the world of education, change is a constant. School districts reinvent themselves on a fairly regular basis to adapt to the ever-evolving tenets of best instructional practice, budgetary limitations and, most important, the dynamics of their student population.
Districts that have mastered the art of innovation recognize that sustainable change is a gradual process, one that requires substantial planning and professional development, clear communication and buy-in from stakeholders. They anticipate and plan for the stumbling blocks that may impede progress toward their goals.
These districts tend to start small, enlisting volunteers to pilot new initiatives prior to districtwide implementation. This allows them both to troubleshoot potential problems and to generate enough success to breed interest and bring staff on board.
Innovative districts realize that the more seismic the shift, the more critical it is for the administration to be forthcoming with information. District leaders poll parents and schedule listening sessions to ferret out and address negative perceptions.
My school district recently proposed a litany of changes that included adding a half-hour to the school day to accommodate an intervention block, allowing open campus (with parental permission) for high-performing upperclassmen and offering gym online.
This news was dropped on students in the context of a course-scheduling assembly. The information reached parents secondhand, creating consternation.
Three hundred parents descended upon the district's hastily scheduled question-and-answer session to voice their dismay. Their questions far outnumbered the district's answers.
The high school principals were unable to articulate a clear vision for the intervention block, much less describe how it would address individual needs and move all students forward in their learning. They couldn't even begin to guess at start and end times for the extended school day.
They had no explanation for why the district would seek to add a chunk of time to the school day while suggesting that certain students be permitted to leave during it, and couldn't provide evidence to indicate that open campus was anything other than an administrative attempt to ease the burden of supervision by sending a sizable number of kids out for lunch.
They didn't know how students who enrolled in online gym class would set goals or meet with instructors to monitor progress. None of the details had been fleshed out. The principals assured parents that their concerns would be taken back to the team for discussion.
A reasonable person might conclude that the district had bitten off more change than it could chew, more than its key stakeholders were ready to swallow. Surely the powers that be would consider the legitimate logistical questions raised by parents and rethink the speed and timing of their plans. Apparently not.
Last week, those half-baked proposals were approved by the School Board, effectively setting the district up for a stinging belly-flop from public grace. I hope it leaves a lasting mark.
Laura Schubert of New Berlin is a mother, teacher and two-time breast cancer survivor. Email email@example.com