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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Budget: What Matters?

Citizens will focus on the school budget in the next few weeks.

The budget essentially tells the story of priorities.

As I looked over the budget, I had a number of questions.

Bridge the Opportunity Gap
First, I'm wondering if money should be spent on a language immersion program. While it's an exciting program, it's a program that will only serve a few. I'd rather spend the money on giving every child a computer, and introducing students to how they can use a computer to learn languages. I'd also rather use this money to better bridge the opportunity gap so that our students who are more distanced from academic and social/emotional success get what they need in this regard.

Math Specialists
I also would like to see our math coaches become math specialists like our reading specialists. Our reading specialists are dedicated to supporting reading in multiple ways. They serve our most challenged readers with expertise and also offer coaching advice to teachers. They're essentially in the game with educators every day teaching and learning while our math coaches only work with teachers and do not work with students. We have a very experienced staff, and I think we can work with math specialists to co-coach each other and gain their support for our most challenged math students. I believe this model makes more sense and will help all students.

Elementary School Campus
I think the budget should take into account the aging elementary school buildings. In time, those buildings will need to be replaced, and I think that it's important to consider this long range need. For the long term, I'd like to see a centrally located elementary school campus with modern buildings, furniture, and spaces. I think this could be a signature event for the town and one that could support quality education well into the future. So with regard to current budgeting, perhaps we should put off updates and money spent for old buildings to save it for new construction ahead.

A Computer for Every Child
I believe we're at an age where every student should have a computer. Whether the town buys a computer for each child or whether parents are asked to buy one is a decision I think citizens should make, but I think that technology holds so much promise for education that's an issue we should not ignore.

Facilities Decisions
I'd like to see a more inclusive decision process for facilities' decisions--a process that involves all stakeholders since, at times, decisions are made that don't necessarily serve the teachers or students well. Money could actually be saved, I believe, if a more inclusive process was developed.

Purchasing Agent and Process
I believe a central purchasing agent for the school community could save money and make purchases more equitable and cost effective. It's possible that a purchasing agent could take over a lot of the tech purchasing efforts too now that technology is a staple like other products in the school district. Also similar to facilities, I believe that purchasing should be a more inclusive process as sometimes money is spent and the materials are rarely to never used since stakeholders were not apart of the decision process in a meaningful, profitable way.

Use Technology to Streamline Systems and Efforts
I think good tech use can buy us time. For example if parents could pay for field trips and other special events via technology, it would save a lot of people a lot of time, and that time could be used for better teaching and learning.

Role Review and Support
Some roles have a lot of free time and some don't. I think it's important to re-look at roles to see where we can better maximize effect. I think it's also important to look at support to see where we can provide support to prevent needs later on. For example first grade teachers would profit from having a full-time teaching assistant. When students move up from kindergarten to first grade they move from a two-teacher (teacher and assistant) model with less learning expectations to a one-teacher model with far more expectations for traditional academic learning. I believe that every first grade teacher should have a teaching assistant. It's possible that we could find that time by looking carefully at roles and determining roles that have less time on task with students to buy more teaching assistant time-on-task for first grade teachers.

Teacher Leadership
I believe that more distributive models of leadership could take the place of adding more administrative staff. By re-looking at models of teacher leadership as well as re-looking at the ways we use Wednesday in-service time we could actually provide more leadership for teachers by teachers without added costs of more administrators.

Streamlining the Evaluation System
By streamlining the evaluation system, we may be able to buy administrators and educators more time for teaching and learning. It could be that each educator is responsible for writing a one-page description of his/her work at the end of the year that includes links or reference to a few points of evidence, and then administrators could simply respond to the letter with a paragraph. That might lessen the somewhat cumbersome system that's in place now. I really like the intent of the evaluation system and the standards, but feel it could be streamlined since we have a very dedicated and professional teaching staff.

Parent/Family Conferences
I believe that this process can be better planned and executed to for a number of reasons which would result in added collaborative teacher leadership, planning, and preparation time, and a more targeted, responsive, and timely approach to conferences.

Compensation
Of course, as an educator, I believe money should be set aside to provide educators with fair compensation since we are such a dedicated and committed staff. I do believe that educators in our system bring tremendous professionalism and care to our work, and I believe we work together to maintain a strong school system which results in a town that's desirable to buy homes in and live in.

A budget, whether it be a family, school, town, or other budget, mirrors the priorities of a group. Where you spend your money depicts what you value and where your priorities are? As citizens gather to review the budget, what lens will they see the budget with; what will they value and prioritize; and what will they choose to support?

As I look at a school system budget, I see it with the lens of a school teacher. Since my son attends school in the system where I teach, I see it as a parent too. I value the good work educators do with me and for my students and son. I value streamlined, targeted, inclusive processes that choose well with all stakeholders in mind. I recognize that technology can serve us well with regard to teaching and learning as well as streamlining onerous tasks so that we have more time to teach well and work together. I know that some students suffer from the opportunity gap,and by bridging that gap, we not only serve students well, but we serve our communities well today and into the future. Well educated and well served students mostly make good future citizens that continue to support the communities and citizens where they live.

I know there are hard choices to make. I will watch and listen carefully as citizens debate the potential that exists as they decide how to spend their common dollars. I will be interested in the outcome.