Comparing ethical norms of public school communities

Under the influence of the current accountability trend, The New York State School Boards Association aligned its methodology of evaluating superintendents and school boards to the HEDI matrix (right, used by NYSED to evaluate the school staff). The 18-page evaluation guidelines are available on the association’s website. The guidelines evaluate more aspects than the HEDI matrix. There are fields dedicated to quality of the community-school board relationship and the ethics—culture—of the school board and the superintendent. But right at the opening, the guidelines mention they are not binding. Why?

evaluation-agreement-measure-teacher-practice-chart-hedi-matrixThe quality of the community-school board relationship and the ethics are difficult to quantify. People form their own opinions based on their personal beliefs and experiences. Collectively, the individuals set the ethical norms for their community, including the local schools. Community members learn the ethical norms that permeate the schools in various ways. They can attend school board meetings, work with board members on projects, and read opinions of school leaders. Also, the communications released by the school board (BOE), the governing body of the local public schools, reveal the established ethical norms. The school board meeting agendas and minutes exemplify the board’s communication with the public.

Every public school district maintains a website. One can easily locate a BOE meeting agenda and the corresponding meeting minutes. Ideally, both, the agenda and the minutes, are in sync. Meaning, the items reported in the minutes match the items actually discussed at the meeting. Of course, it seems logic, but it’s not always the case. For example, a review of the recent communication of Malverne public schools representatives reveals that some items were not discussed with the public, although they were were reported in the minutes.

Pictured below are parts of a school board meeting agenda and the minutes set next to each other. In the agenda, the communication with the public stopped after the item V (like Victor). But in the minutes, the “reporting” took place—adding items W, X, Y, and Z. The public was unable to review the items.

June-13-2017-agenda-minutes-comparisonAdding items to the agenda at the meetings—circumventing the public—has been a norm in Malverne UFSD community for a long time. It was documented, for example here and here. The fact that it became a norm can be attributed to the process how the school community has been selecting and preparing prospective candidates for the school board.

Several times per year, the school board members and administration invite few individuals to meetings and debrief them on policies and initiatives. All school board members who were elected in the past decade were recruited from this “by-invitation” group. Yet the process of getting the prospective school board members accustomed to circumventing the public is not the only negative impact. The private meetings also affect the community involvement. The regular, “public” BOE meetings are, usually, attended by 2 or 3 persons and in 11 out of 12 meetings the reported public participation is “none.” As can be noticed in the minutes.

At their BOE meeting in public on June 13th, the community representatives added another twist to the established norm. They announced they would go into an executive session. A fact the minutes completely omitted to report. The executive session creates an intermission, giving the public time to clear the air. Once safe, the board reconvened their meeting “in public” and added the items.

Is it against the regulations on open meetings? Maybe. Is it unethical? Absolutely. In school districts where BOE meetings are attended by 50-100 residents, or districts with functioning board committees and site-based committees, the representatives would not even attempt such an adverse act. The established ethical norms in those communities would not allow it.

It would be unfair to blame the current school board members. It takes the village to set the ethical norms and school policies. In Malverne public school community, circumventing the public has been going on for so long that it is perceived as something that is inherent to the system of public schools. So, it’s important for the school community to work on dissociating from this notion and relearn the meaning of public governance. I touched the notion of “public” involvement in public schools in a previous post and will present more examples in future posts.

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NYS ESSA Plan comments

On Saturday, June 10th, I attended a public hearing on the NYS ESSA plan. Next to the last of the 13 hearings scheduled across the state. Each state has to submit to the federal DOE how they envision to meet the federal requirements. The plans have to be submitted by September 18th. The NYSED worked out a 159-page draft. The first draft at this time.

I did my part as a parent participating in the system of public education. I raised my issues during the 3-minute window allowed. My concern was that the NYS ESSA plan of teaching foreign languages/LOTE is stated in just two sentences. And one of them read that the state assessments would be translated to about five languages. So, not much vision shared how the NYS “measures” its part in the global arena. Continue reading

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School Board Committees—the “public” in public education

At the beginning of February, I reposted in our local FB group dedicated to schools a picture from a vigil held in Port Washington. Some time passed by until a couple of days ago I read an article entitled “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?,” published in the New York Times. The article enticed me to develop the facts I learned behind the picture into a story that can help a larger number of public school advocates. I anticipate that the public in public education will be a reoccurring theme in the media quite often.

On the confirmation day of B. DeVos, a senator launched a speech/plea in an attempt to change mind of at least one additional senator. The House was split 50-50. One more “nay” vote and she would not be confirmed as the new secretary of education. The senator’s speech was going long into the night. Continue reading

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Spotlight public and peers

The January SAC/BOE meeting brought two presentations. One informed about the school district facilities, the other depicted peer collaboration and work organization. The presentations are always welcome, as they cut the boredom of the sessions. Spiro Colaitis, the assistant superintendent, reported about facilities upkeep, bathroom upgrades, aerial (drone) surveillance, commemorative bricks, and the new fence in front of the high school. The fence was shown from different angles, including the aerial view. One picture showed a rendering of shrubs that will be planted in front of the fence in spring. Continue reading

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Funding charters in Malverne UFSD

When the president-elect-racist announced his list of possible education secretaries, articles started to pour in speculating on the effect each candidate would have on education in this country. Some authors concentrated on illustrating a collapse of public education, while others glorified the privatization, finally a green light.

If you haven’t read one, this reasonable article published by Education Week is worth your time. The authors say it straight: Continue reading

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Events, STEM, test refusal, mindset, bond publicity…discussed

Parents held a meeting at the Davison school library. In an informal atmosphere, we reflected on the past events and discussed upcoming events. The Family Craft Night this Friday, December 9, was one of them. No teacher was present at this meeting.

Mr. Benfante demonstrated, on a case of 15-year old student, what happens when the mind is set passionately on improving continually “your project.” Persistence pays off. (There are several video clips available of the same TED talk, but I think Mr. Benfante projected this one. -10 min.) The discussion transitioned into “failing forward”— a concept how to implement a failure to the learning process; how to learn from it to come up stronger. Basic explanation of “failing forward” is available here. Continue reading

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The MUFSD STEM family night

The Malverne UFSD held its first ever STEM family night and many families took advantage of the opportunity to tour the ground floor of the high school where all activities were concentrated. The STEM is popular. SDs are implementing variations of the STEM. Some SDs collaborate on its implementation. For example, I posted about it here and here. In recent years, the STEM was enriched by letters A and R, creating acronyms STEAM, and STREAM.

Parents could notice that all the three acronyms appear in various Malverne UFSD promo materials. They were displayed on a table right at the entrance. The students handed them to visitors while greeting them and inviting everybody to the upcoming bond vote taking place on Wednesday, November 16th. Continue reading

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Party first, substance later, …really?

Traditionally, the media have been framing issues to fit the two-party system with the emphasis on the frame. First, they create the red and blue frame, then try to fit issues in that frame. Let me illustrate my point on the recent article Control of New York State Senate. . ., published by WSJ on October 31st.

The frame

The article sets the frame—Republican vs. Democrat.

“. . .races in Nassau County on Long Island could help decide which party controls the New York state Senate, where Republicans wield control even though the Democrats hold a razor-thin majority.”

“. . .seat had been held for three decades by former Republican. . “

“if the Senate Democrats want to make up ground, this is crucial district for them to win.” [emphasis mine]

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Welcome to the transformation

Following the twitter feed on the first day of school was an exciting and energizing experience. It’s awesome that the Malverne #gomules team attracted few more twitter players this year. Twitter is a wealth of information. Searching for answers to a task? Go to Twitter and you’ll find out that the “wheel has been already invented.” Not only that. You’ll also discover that the “inventors” are willing to help you with your application.

The numerous tweet-wishes to a successful school year and the two Welcome letters I received—one for each kid (Davison and M.W. Downing schools)—enticed me to write the following welcome letter from a parent’s perspective. Continue reading

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