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Guest Column: Students need adequate planning guides
Posted By Brandon Reid On February 23, 2011 @ 5:55 am In Online Exclusives | No Comments
By Dawn Shirley
At the last school board meeting, Jude Makulec expressed frustration at the lack of communication between the district administration and school board members. Jeanne Westholder and other board members also spoke on the communication theme. I would add that it is not just a matter of communication, but also of respect. To illustrate, I’ll use my recent experiences with District 205.
On Jan. 12, I sent the following letter via e-mail to all of the school board members:
To whom it may concern:
I have three children in the Rockford Public Schools. One attends RESA, another Auburn Freshman Campus, and the third is at Auburn Main Campus.
I am troubled by the way registration for next year’s classes has been handled, particularly for the high-school students.
1) All three were required to sign up for classes without any parental involvement or even notification.
2) Those at Auburn were given only a list of classes to choose from, no course descriptions.
3) They felt “rushed” in choosing their classes for next year.
4) The Auburn students were told that many of the classes listed would not be available next year and that Band was on the list of classes likely to be cut.
5) It is their understanding that this is not a preliminary survey, but actual course sign-up.
6) The Auburn students were also required to sign a document falsely stating that they had gone over their class choices with their parents.
7) It is the understanding of the Auburn students that their counselors were required to handle class choice this way by the administration downtown.
This is troubling to me because I don’t understand why the administration would seek to circumvent parental involvement, particularly in something as important as course selection. This year, it is even more important since the existence of certain classes is dependent on enrollment.
Equally troubling is the precedent set by the students being required to sign their name to something they know isn’t true. After all, in a short amount of time their signatures will be legally binding.
In the past, the kids have been given a booklet with full course descriptions and time to go over the choices with their parents at home.
The way this course selection has been handled so far this year has done little to foster the atmosphere of trust and respect necessary for a quality education.
I am sure that I am not alone in asking the administration to please step back and start this process over.
I received a response from only one board member, Jude Makulec, who said that she had forwarded my concerns to the superintendent.
The next day, I received an e-mail from Earl Hernandez saying that the problem had been “addressed last week.” The letter not only didn’t answer any of my questions, but the tone of it made me feel as if I had been patted on my head and sent on my way.
Now if Mr. Hernandez had simply informed me that parents would be notified shortly of their child’s course selections, everything would have been fine.
As it was, his response was frustrating to me. I wrote again to Jude Makulec, who was also frustrated by the lack of information coming from the administration.
I sent an e-mail to Dr. Gaffey, principal of Auburn, who replied the same day, directly answering my questions. He said that band would not be cut and that he would be putting an announcement in February’s newsletter about course selection.
I spoke also to a number of other people employed or involved with the school district. I was told that the same instructions had been given to all of the high schools on how to handle course selection by the downtown administration. I was told that Auburn counselors followed these instructions, which did not include instructions for informing parents. Some counselors–like my daughter’s at Freshman Campus–sent a copy of the course selections home. Others didn’t.
I was still concerned about parents not being aware that course selection had taken place. Like me, they would be expecting something to be sent home closer to the end of the year. Given the late issue of the last Auburn newsletter, I was concerned that Dr. Gaffey’s announcement wouldn’t be published in time.
In hindsight, I should have spoken again to Dr. Gaffey, but I was viewing this as a district administrative issue, and I felt district administration was dismissive of my concerns.
I decided to e-mail my concern to every parent address I could get my hands on–those listed in the gifted program directory. Soon I began to get responses from other parents who were as upset as I was.
On Jan. 24, I received a copy of another e-mail from Earl Hernandez. The following is the portion pertaining to Auburn:
I wanted to send a message correcting some of the inaccuracies that have been conveyed via e-mail the past several days concerning the scheduling of classes for next school year. There is absolutely no truth to the statement that the administration changed course selection procedures this year. All of the high schools were directed to send home proposed schedules with a form of notice advising parents to sign approving the schedules or requesting changes to the schedule.
Over two weeks ago, when we became aware of the confusion over whether or not parents were given the opportunity to have input into their children’s course selections at Auburn, I directed principal Gaffey to personally make sure that the erroneous instructions were corrected, that every student be given a planning guide and a copy of a proposed schedule and that the students and their parents have time to look it over and accept the schedule or make recommended changes. I know that Dr. Gaffey issued planning guides to all of the students and provided them with the information for parents. In fact, when I copied him on one of the parents who sent Ms. Makulec an email saying, among other things, she had no input in her child’s scheduling, Dr. Gaffey told me he personally had spoken to this parent and when he asked how he could help with the child’s schedule the parent said, “…I don’t have a problem with my son’s schedule. I’m just talking about other parents I’m aware of.”
While I admit the major confusion at Auburn stemmed from errors made by the counselors in the freshman campus a little over two weeks ago as it relates to scheduling next year’s sophomores, that same day I had Dr. Gaffey deliver 350 planning guides to the freshman campus for distribution to the freshman students with the new instructions inviting parents to peruse the schedules and respond approving or requesting alterations. In addition, Dr. Gaffey was instructed to have the main campus counselors work with next year’s sophomores and their parents instead of having the freshman team handling it.
This response was infuriating. I’m not sure if he was trying to play Jedi mind tricks, or if he was actually so grossly misinformed. Obviously, the procedure had been changed if only in that a filled-in form was sent home instead of a blank one. Also, the information regarding the instructions to the schools ran counter to what I had been told by employees at Auburn and by what I and others had experienced.
My son had still not received anything. Other parents had still not received anything. Planning guides were made available via an announcement over the loudspeaker, not issued as Earl Hernandez says.
Then to blame the confusion on the counselors at Freshman Campus? When they were the ones who actually had taken it upon themselves to send their students’ course selections home?
I was also amazed at how he could take a parent’s concern for all students and parents, not just her own family, and somehow turn that into a bad thing.
To quote the words of another parent whom I shared the letter with, “I was really not over- the-edge angry about the scheduling–just a little upset? But this e-mail? Are you kidding me?”
The next morning, I received an announcement from the Parents for Gifted Education that a planning guide and the students’ course selections would be given to the students either today or tomorrow. Curious to be happening now since Mr. Hernandez was so sure that it had already.
At the school board meeting, I was struck by the huge effort which the downtown administration put into explaining how they had done everything right. Again, all that was needed was to say that parents would be receiving information in the near future and that changes would be allowed to the students’ selections. The impression I was left with was along the lines of methinks they doth protest too much. I’m not saying that I actually believe that there is some kind of conspiracy; it’s just that their response made me feel like their focus was on making themselves look good.
It was refreshing to hear Dr. Gaffey take responsibility not only for the problem, but for the solution, even suggesting they might mail information to parents. However, he still insisted that course selections were entered and then sent home with the students. I know this wasn’t true because I still had nothing in writing for my son.
In talking to Dr. Gaffey later, he seemed genuinely surprised to hear this was the case, but didn’t insult me by denying it the way Earl Hernadez had. He listened to what I had to say and answered my questions directly and completely without trying to make excuses, or trying to make himself look better. In short, he communicated. If parents and school board members had gotten this kind of answer at the beginning, things would have turned out much differently.
It is obvious that our district, like many others, is going to have to make a lot of changes. Change is never easy, but it is always more difficult when people feel that they aren’t respected. This was a small but important issue that could have been handled quickly and easily. However, the way the district administration and some school board members handled it made parents, kids, teachers, counselors, and even other school board members feel that District 205 lacks the respect it should have for the community it serves.
It is possible that the lack of respect was not intentional, but simply defensiveness in overdrive. Unfortunately, intentional or not, the result was the same. I hope that when District 205 deals with the really big issues coming up like school closings and budget shortfalls, everyone involved will remember the way such a simple issue ballooned into a huge production, stop posturing, and really communicate.
Dawn Shirley is a Rockford resident with students in Rockford District 205.
From the Feb. 23-March 1, 2011, issue
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
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