October 21, 2013

CH Weekly questionnaire

By James Barrett

1. What is your strategy for improving reading scores and enhancing literacy among all students?
I want to see great follow-through on the plans laid out by Dr. Forcella. If we make all the improvements to instruction and focus on growth for all students, that will include a laser focus on literacy among our youngest students. We know that students MUST be good readers by third grade–this is essential for all future school and life success, as multiple, strong studies have shown. My job as a board member isn’t to parse out individual reading programs; it’s to oversee and ensure that solid implementation happens on the solid plans our superintendent has.

2. What are some ways the board could mitigate the impact of state funding cuts?
The ideologically-based attack on public education by our current state leaders ought to be a crime. It will hurt students across the state and in our district as well, especially through reduced resources–fewer adults in the building to lead our students. There are no easy ways to ease the pain of state cuts, but we are fortunate to have a supportive county board of commissioners. I expect we will need to ask them for additional funding next year, as the combination of no longer being able to spend from our savings and the state cuts already passed in the state biennial budget are not sufficient for our true needs. As we deal with cuts, I expect greater flexibility in schools to be one mechanism we need to ensure continued success. Principals must restructure teacher jobs to support more students within budgets, and I would prefer that we implement such changes to reach more students with our great teachers, and pay them more for that reach. We also have immediate issues with capital costs, especially in our older schools that need major repairs/partial replacement. I do expect that our community will insist that we prioritize the capital budget for schools that are safe and sufficient to meet our needs.

3. Please assess how well the district has done in integrating technology into the classroom and the curriculum. What more would you like to see happen? An iPad for every child?
Not necessarily an iPad. That’s following the latest (and costly) trendy tech thing without proof that this enhances and improves instruction and learning. Our students don’t need flash. They need equitable access to technology that makes it possible to do schoolwork and homework. We need to ensure that, as we move to expecting our students to do in many cases a majority of their schoolwork/homework online, ALL students have what they need to complete this work in an uncomplicated way. That may mean being sure that students who don’t have access to a computer or, preferably, laptop at home get one through the schools. It means putting our very scarce resources toward the most useful technology used in innovative ways for the benefit of all students. It is much more interesting and useful to talk about how technology should be used for effective teaching (individualized instruction, flipped classroom models, distance learning) than it is to focus on just the tools to get there.

4. What is the single biggest challenge facing the district? Why do you think this is the most critical issue, and what is your prescription for addressing it?
It’s nearly impossible to say there is one challenge above all others–each family in our district will see their student’s issues as the biggest challenge. But I believe that we must focus on getting at least a year’s worth of learning growth for ALL students, every year, with much more rapid growth for our students who start out behind. CHCCS obviously does a good job of educating many students, who achieve at levels higher than the rest of the state, but our achievement gaps demonstrate that there are other students who lag behind–students of color and poor students. We can be a great district only if we fix our achievement gap and educate ALL students equally–rather than just lucking into being a great district by virtue of our demographics. My top priorities to address this are improved instruction in each and every classroom that will allow every student to grow, and changing the cultural biases that lead to racially disparate outcomes in many areas, such as discipline.


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