Friday, August 30, 2013

School Reconfiguration: My Thoughts

A dedicated, diverse team of community and family members, educators, and leaders have been meeting to discuss a potential elementary school reconfiguration in the town I work for.  In small towns, matters like this one are emotional, impacting events since this matter will affect the every day life and learning of families with children in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.

I have listened to the thoughts of colleagues and parents, read the updates from the committee, and thought about my own experience and tenure in Wayland in this regard.

First, I am delighted with the care and thought that has gone into the committee work from the start. Whatever decision is made will be a thoughtful decision based on research, discussion, and many points of view.  That's positive.

Next, I urge the committee to include the one voice that is missing and that is the student voice.  At some time, I believe the committee should meet with a diverse group of children from grades K-5 to discuss this issue.  All other members of the learning community have been included to date, and including the children will add the one missing dimension.

After that, I know that whatever decision is made will work if the adults involved support it--children are much more flexible than adults and quickly follow our lead when it comes to any change.  That's one reason why I enjoy working with children--they're facile, flexible, positive learners.

And with respect to my thoughts, here's what I think based on my reading and experience.

I believe we live in a fast paced, fractured culture in the United States and the world.  I also believe that we have to work hard to preserve childhood as a happy, safe, joyful time for all children.  Our schools should be "homes away from home" for children--a place where they want to be and where they thrive. I have worked in Wayland for 28 years and the reason I initially stayed with this job rather than move throughout the world as I originally planned was that colleagues, families, and children are dedicated to learning and supporting one another in Wayland.  I do believe it is a school system that in so many ways exemplifies what it means to educate children well.  Further, my own three sons have profited from the community dedication, professional skill, and student care that Wayland offers.  For me, Wayland is a "home away from home."

So my leaning with regard to this decision is to reestablish three K-5 schools in Wayland. I am in favor of this model because I believe this is the best model for establishing a "home away from home" for every child.  With the K-5 model, children are known well by all the educators, families, students, and leaders in the school.  Being in the same school for six years creates a sense of commitment on behalf of all students and staff to each other.  As teachers in these schools, we work together to develop the whole child. My leaning is probably influenced from growing up as the oldest of six children--the K-5 school replicates that positive, and sometimes real-world challenging, older-younger sibling experience through buddy programs, playground interactions, and service to others.  This is an experience many children today don't have due to smaller family sizes.  And as a mom, I think it's nice to be able to connect to one school while your children are young. Also, schools profit from the dedication of parents who know a school well and contribute to that school.

I also believe that the re-establishment of three schools will provide more space for the children--more room for special classes, innovative learning, and student needs.  I see the re-establishment of three schools as a chance to re-look at the roles and responsibilities related to school structure too. Since I'm a proponent of moving from the concept of "school" to "learning community," I think the restructure would be an opportunity to think about issues such as time-on-task with direct service, dedicated responsibility to one school, and collaborative leadership.

The closing of Loker is an issue that still pains many.  Way back when this decision was being made, I supported the change to two schools if the financial situation was accurate in order to preserve important programs at the high school.  I didn't want to see our terrific high school program demolished.  After living through the change, reading all the related editorials, information, and outcomes, and a very difficult first year, the end result is that children in Wayland continue to thrive and do well while parents and teachers work well together, yet spaces are bit tight and we would profit from more room with which to innovate and teach well. Also, in hindsight and as a former Loker and Happy Hollow teacher, I realize how difficult the change was for the tight Loker community that had been created since it's reopening so many years ago, a thoughtful reopening I experienced as a Loker first grade teacher.

I will support whatever decision is made by the dedicated committee with my best work and effort because I realize I am only one point of view and once voice, and that through this dedicated process there has been a chance for many voices and outlooks to come together and decide well.  I encourage all Wayland residents who are interested in this decision to read the literature, attend related meetings, voice their opinions, and in the end, accept the final, thoughtful, collaborative decision with support, contribution, and positivity.  Wayland is lucky to be such a successful community that values education and puts children first.  I look forward to seeing how this decision plays out, and in the meantime I'll focus my attention on children's experience this year.