North Shore, South Shore, all around Long Island there’s talk of school closings to save district’s money in these dire economic times.
Several school systems, including West Islip, North Bellmore, and Smithtown, have already put school-chopping proposals on the table. And more are sure to follow in a weak economy with decreased state aid and a 2 percent budget cap on the horizon for 2012-2013.
Whenever school closings are proposed, parents get upset. For the most part, they are dedicated to their home schools and don’t want their children to be used as pawns in school-shuttering plans. They like their principals and their teachers and the familiarity of their neighborhood schools. But the financial burden is becoming almost insurmountable. So what are districts to do?
And just this week, New York State’s new education commissioner, Dr. John B. King, Jr., agreed with the idea for Long Island and Westchester.
Dr. Cantor, a former director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College, estimates that the 47 school districts in western Suffolk County could save $32 million a year by forming five town-wide systems.
Under his proposal, the merger of dozens of local districts would allow the elimination of the vast majority of school superintendents, business and personnel officials. And he would give principals the power to budget and hire. Although consolidation has been proposed many times in the past, Dr. Cantor believes the time may now be right if parents want to stop the trend of increased class sizes and reduced student services.
Dr. King, on the other hand, is in favor of a more sweeping countywide consolidation.
He points to county systems in similar suburbs, such as those in Maryland and Virginia, which have comfortable, well-educated residents.
Merging districts has always been a political hot potato and no one expects school boards and central office administrators to voluntarily give up their power. Yet Dr. Cantor says he is trying to raise awareness that there is an alternative to the yearly decimation of educational programs and services.
By the way, Newsday this week supported the concept of consolidation. It sided with Cantor’s proposal for town-wide district consolidation, saying the commissioner’s proposal was too severe for Long Island. The paper noted the historical hardcore resistance to mergers on Long Island, citing Elwood’s failed attempt last year to find merger partners. But it says the state could offer incentives to make the idea more palatable.
It is up to parents to lead the charge if consolidation is to become a reality. As Newsday put it, “The solution lies in making parents understand that as times get hard and the recently passed tax cap kicks in, the only way to save beloved programs threatened by tight budgets is efficiency. Taxpayers who really want to see kids get the best in education and activities may have to let go of their dedication to tiny schools and tiny districts.
“As money gets tighter, things change. If the other choice is a drop-off in educational offerings, parents and taxpayers should demand that districts look hard at consolidation rather than fight it. Once they do, the process will be halfway home — and everyone will be closer to a more efficient and equitable way to educate our children.”
Dr. Cantor offers some reassurance to parents who are frightened by the prospect of consolidation by emphasizing that it “gives parents control of their local schools; children remain in the schools that the parents moved into the neighborhoods for. Parents will have more say in education because their local principals will be in charge of the budget and student achievement, not isolated administrators. Classes would remain smaller and teachers preserved.”
He added that the factors that would change with consolidation would not impact the students’ school experience but rather are “budget items that have no role in the children’s education; in fact it directs more school budget dollars to the classroom.”
And, Dr. Cantor stressed, “the plan preserves the neighborhood school. Children are not transported to other schools and districts. Nothing changes but better education at lower costs.”
I urge all parents to read Dr. Cantor’s consolidation plan on his website, www.martincantor.com. Click the publication link; the paper is at the bottom of the list.
Become familiar with all of the issues related to this topic. Deep cuts are on the horizon in all districts. Be informed, and decide for yourself what’s best for your children’s education!
NY schools chief eyes consolidation plan http://www.newsday.com/long-island/ny-schools-chief-eyes-consolidation-plan-1.3352428
Albany joins school-consolidation chorus http://www.newsday.com/opinion/albany-joins-school-consolidation-chorus-1.3354740
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In a nationally televised news conference, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain denied sexual harassment allegations against him, claimed one accuser was “troubled,” and could not remember another complainant. Cain himself predicted that his political adversaries would solicit more accusers in the coming days.
It is no longer unusual to pick up a newspaper, go online, or turn on a TV and see politicians, celebrities, clergy – and educators too — being charged with sexual harassment.
Coincidentally, the allegations against Cain surfaced at the same time a national survey by the American Association of University Women found that 48 percent of 1,965 students said they had experienced verbal, physical, or online sexual harassment in the 2010-2011 school year.
But how do we define sexual harassment? It’s actually a little bit tricky. A simple definition of sexual harassment is that it’s any behavior of a sexual nature that’s offensive in the “eye of the beholder.” This means that if a person feels uncomfortable about a gesture, comment or action, it could be defined as sexual harassment.
The legal definition of sexual harassment in schools can be traced to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This federal law made it illegal to discriminate against students on the basis of their sex, and to forbid unwelcome flirtations, sexual advances, propositions, continual or repeated verbal abuse of a sexual nature, use of sexually degrading words or actions, and the display of sexually suggestive pictures.
Every school district assigns one administrator to be the Title IX Officer. As the Title IX Officer in a large New York school district for more than a decade, it was my responsibility to investigate allegations of sexual harassment brought to my attention by administrators, teachers and parents. I wish I could say that there were no complaints, but each year there were several, involving both students and staff.
Before Title IX came into effect, there was no recourse for individuals – students and staff — who felt uncomfortable with unsolicited sexual behavior or comments. But today we live in a very different world. It’s critically important that parents, students, and staff familiarize themselves with the latest policies and make sure that they are followed.
Sexual harassment may occur from student to student, from teacher to student, from administrator to teacher, from administrator to student, or administrator to administrator. There are two types of sexual harassment that particularly concern us in schools. The first kind is “quid pro quo.” That means that if you do something for me, I’ll repay you with such things as grades, promotion or job advancement. This usually has to do with an unequal power relationship between harasser and the target of harassment, or teacher and student. This is clearly against the law.
The other form of sexual harassment is that of a hostile or offensive environment. This is an environment that allows or encourages repetitive patterns of teasing, innuendoes or jokes of a sexual nature, and interferes with someone’s work or academic performance. This may or may not have to do with an unequal power arrangement, and may be employee to employee, student to student or student to teacher. This is also illegal.
The key with hostile environment complaints is that educators are responsible for this state of affairs whether they see the alleged behavior or not. If they pretend they do not see it and ignore it, they are still responsible. If they brush off or minimize complaints, they can also be held accountable. The most important thing for school personnel to remember is that they are held responsible for behaviors they permit as well as for behaviors they commit.
Parents, students, teachers, and administrators should keep the following points in mind:
• Know Your District Policies and Procedures.
• Sexual harassment is not defined by intention. It is defined by the impact on the target.
• Silence does not imply consent.
• Anything that takes place on e-mail or the Internet is easily traceable and can also form the basis for a sexual harassment complaint.
• Teachers should not be alone with students.
• Teachers and administrators are responsible for what goes on in the school. It is the responsibility of the adults in charge to address behaviors that may contribute to a hostile environment.
• Should you observe something you believe is sexual harassment, report it to a school administrator or the District Title IX Officer. All complaints must be investigated thoroughly and promptly.
This week the news has been full of education stories of interest to parents. So many, that instead of giving my opinion on one topic, I’ve compiled a list for you of six of the most provocative issues. I’d love to hear your opinion on any or all of these. Please leave your comments on the bottom of the page or tweet me @DrMerylAin.
1. The Today Show reported that French schools have banned ketchup in an effort to promote healthy eating and combat childhood obesity. As anchor Savannah Guthrie pointed out, “First they give us French fries, and then they take away the ketchup!”
Q: How healthy is your child’s lunch program? Is there anything you would like to see banned?
2. For parents who are worried about their children’s whereabouts, there’s a new app that makes checking in a game. “Our view is that what makes kids safer is communication and being close to their folks,” said the new iPhone app’s co-creator Matthew Bromberg, “And I don’t want to know where my kid is on the map every single moment. I just want to know what’s going on.”
Q: Do you agree or is this too much control for parents to exert over their children? http://mashable.com/2011/10/19/imok/
3. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon repealed teacher-student Facebook restrictions. The controversial law had limited online chats between teachers and students and some alleged that it threatened free-speech rights.
Q: Do you think students and teachers should be Facebook friends?
Q: Do your kids have too much, too little, or the right amount of homework? http://nyti.ms/oWpCn1
5. Idaho schools will tie merit pay to factors such as parent involvement. In some south-central Idaho schools, teacher bonuses will be based on parent participation, including attendance at parent-teacher conferences.
Q: Will this promote or stifle parent-teacher relationships? http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/10/24/464180idteachersmeritpay_ap.html
6. Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned educator and creativity expert, discusses changing education paradigms in a must-see provocative video. He takes on the education establishment, arguing that today’s students are not being properly educated.
Q: Do you agree or disagree? Let’s discuss.
It’s the season for parent-teacher conferences and I urge every parent to embrace this opportunity to sit down with your children’s teachers, no matter if your kids are in kindergarten or high school.
This is your opportunity to find out specifically how your children are doing, and generally what’s going on in their classrooms and in their schools. I have to admit I was a bit disheartened when I recently came across a NEA (National Education Association) article advising teachers of tactics that they might want to use to “lure” parents into attending parent-teacher conferences. I’d be interested in knowing whether you think the parents in your school need to be cajoled into meeting with their children’s teachers, or whether they understand communicating with them is one of the best things they can do to help their kids succeed.
Among the strategies recommended in the article are student-led conferences, in which students actually prepare and participate in the conference. The article said that feedback on this type of conference was “overwhelmingly positive,” and that there is a growing trend to encourage parents to bring their children to conferences. Other teachers had students prepare and present Power Point presentations to show their parents what they were learning. This tactic reportedly ensured record attendance.
Not that there’s anything wrong with involving students and giving them a chance to be present, but I’m not sure that quite fits the definition of a parent-teacher conference. It seems to me the parent-teacher conference is one of the few chances you get to sit down with your kid’s teacher — adult to adult — and discuss what’s best for your child.
Then there were the “bribes” to entice parents to meet with the teachers. These included: extra credit for students whose parents showed up, personal invitations, raffle tickets, a dessert bar, and goody bags. Finally, it was reported that some teachers go on home visits to meet parents who cannot get to the school.
It’s commendable that some teachers go to such lengths to accommodate parents, but I would think parents would prefer to see the teachers’ creative energies going instead to inspiring the students.
The article didn’t mention adjusted hours for working parents, which should be pro forma nowadays in all schools and something that parents should insist upon. Similarly, if your work schedule does not allow you to get to school on a particular day, request an alternate date or a phone conference.
Here are 7 tips for a successful parent-teacher conference:
- Come prepared with questions and take notes. Always ask how you can support your child’s learning at home.
- Don’t be passive. If you have a particular question or concern, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Be specific.
- Discuss your child’s social and emotional development as well as academic performance. Be sure to let the teacher know if there is anything going on at home that may impact your child’s behavior and performance in school, such as divorce, illness in the family, or a new baby.
- If there is a problem, describe how it makes you or your child feel without being defensive or negative. Actively listen to what the teacher says. Come to an agreement about what is best for your child.
- Schedule follow-up meetings or telephone calls to be sure the plan is working.
- Find out how the teacher communicates with parents, e.g., online, newsletters, agendas, etc.
- If you are not satisfied with the conference, you may ask to meet with an administrator.
Try This: The New Parent-Teacher Conference
About 15 percent of American households were living in poverty last year and that number is increasing as the median household income drops, according to newly released statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
That means the official poverty rate has reached its highest level since 1993. That translates to a total of 46.2 million people – the largest number since the government began tracking poverty in the 1950s. And because the poverty level for a family of four begins with an annual income of less than $22,314, many experts believe that a family of four needs to make twice that to feel secure.
Unemployment is predicted to remain above 9 percent for the foreseeable future, and parents are increasingly concerned about expenses and inflation. In last May’s school budget vote, most districts mindful of taxpayers’ pocketbooks scaled back programs and cut staff to keep tax increases low.
But is public education really free? Just because parents pay taxes doesn’t mean they do not have to contribute to their children’s education. Here are some of the extras parents are typically paying for:
- School Supplies: The average parent spent $600 this year equipping their children with back to school clothing and supplies. Most schools prepared lists of essential school supplies that parents were required to furnish. Depending on the grade of the student, these ranged from notebooks to laptops.
- Tissues: To save district funds, many elementary schools ask parents to send in boxes of tissues and other supplies for use by the entire class.
- School Spirit garments: T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, etc., are popular items at all levels. Students may be asked to wear these for special events at school.
- Musical instruments: purchase or rental
- Sports equipment and uniforms
- Field Trips
- Fundraising: School, PTA, Special Interest, e.g. sports, music, theater.
- Celebrations: birthdays, holidays, special events
What Can Parents Do?
- For back to school, PTAs can contract to provide boxed sets of school supplies by grade at a cost less than shopping for supplies on your own. The school will supply a list of school supplies by grade. For example, Staples does this through http://www.schoolkidz.com. Ask your PTA to investigate this money-saving option.
- Parents can lobby the principal or superintendent of schools and request that fundraising activities be reduced and consolidated. Parents may prefer to write one check for a set amount instead of being compelled into participating in a perpetual round of sales and fundraisers.
- If parents believe that the cost and incidence of field trips are excessive, parents have the right to question school’s field trip practices and ask that guidelines be established to limit frequency, distance, and cost per field trip, e.g. two per grade with a limit of $25. Also, parents should request that they be informed at the beginning of the school year of what their expenses will be for field trips.
- Request that your school limit expectations for children’s birthdays at school.
- Lobby to scale back spirit wear and unnecessary sports paraphernalia, such as sweatshirts and sweat pants. It’s hard to say no when everyone else is buying it and your child wants it too.
- Volunteer with your presence and skills at school and at special events and fundraisers instead of with your pocketbook.
- Parents should know that all schools provide help to families who cannot afford school-associated expenses. Don’t be afraid to ask your principal if you need financial assistance.
I cannot emphasize enough how much it benefits your child for you to be actively involved in his or her school. Over the years, I have attended countless PTA and Board of Education meetings as a parent, teacher, and administrator, and I will tell you that the prescription for power is knowledge and participation. I have come to understand the crucial role parents play not only in their own children’s education, but in determining the quality of the schools they attend. Indeed, research indicates that the more involved parents are, the better the schools. Conversely, when parents are uninvolved, uninformed – or worse – apathetic, their children and their schools suffer.
The current bus situation in the Smithtown School Districtis a perfect case in point of why parents have to be informed and involved. On May 17, 2011, a transportation referendum to reduce busing limits was passed by voters inSmithtown. The minute it was passed there was an outcry from parents that the proposition was confusing: they didn’t know what they were voting for and, worst of all, that they were unaware that a vote on transportation had been scheduled. Parents were up in arms that their children’s safety was being jeopardized and that their lives would be in danger because they would now have to walk to school on streets without sidewalks and cross large thoroughfares where numerous pedestrians have been injured and killed.
Clearly, this debate should have taken place before the vote. But not enough parents were aware – until it was almost too late. After the vote, large numbers of parents began to systematically lobby the Board of Education for a revote. They circulated petitions, discussed the topic at PTA meetings, wrote letters to the board and to the newspapers, and came to board meetings en masse. This impassioned and organized effort had the desired results, and the board scheduled a new vote for September 19. Stay tuned for the results.
There is no question that parents are their children’s best advocates, but parents can’t be effective unless they are informed; they need to play with a full deck. They need the facts, and they need tools and tactics. My mission is to empower parents to better understand and navigate their children’s schools with the insider information, unvarnished truth, and useful strategies I have acquired in the trenches and at the top levels in public and nonpublic schools. I fully understand that each child has only one chance to experience a particular grade in a school. My passion is caring. I wish that all schools would operate from an ethic of caring – understanding and meeting each child’s needs with respect and sensitivity. My goal is to help parents make the schools more accountable for the benefit of their children.
When my brother was in fifth grade, he had persistent nightmares about his teacher Mr. X. In his dreams, Mr. X. was a huge tiger that was attempting to devour him. Uncharacteristically, my mother made an appointment with the principal to discuss the matter. I don’t know what transpired during that meeting, but my brother was immediately transferred to another class – and the nightmares stopped.
It was unusual for my mother to complain – about anything. Indeed, 50 years ago it was rare for any parent to voice an opinion about what went on in their children’s schools. Most people had the attitude that the school was always right. This has changed somewhat over time. When my kids were in school, some parents spoke up, but the majority still implicitly trusted their schools. Conventional wisdom was that if you complained, you might be considered a nuisance and this would reflect poorly on your child.
Surprisingly, I still encounter parents who are afraid of retaliation against their child if they have a grievance. Actually, the opposite is true. In my official capacity, I have seen time and again, that the parent who advocates for his or her child gets better results than the parent who remains silent.
As we begin a new school year, the first thing to remember is that you need not be shy when it comes to advocating for your children. It is your right and your responsibility. You know better than anyone that this is your child’s only chance to experience kindergarten or sixth grade or 12th grade. You want your child to have the best possible experience in that particular grade despite budget woes, logistical problems, or personnel issues. Here’s a Parents’ Bill of Rights to help you be a better advocate for your children in school.
Parents’ Bill of Rights
- You have the right to be your children’s best advocate and to expect that their unique and special needs are met by the schools in a safe and supportive learning environment in each grade in each school year.
- You have the right to communicate with your children’s teachers, principal, and school nurse as often as you see fit.
- You have the right to easily access and understand information about your children’s schools, school district, teachers, administrators, facilities, policies, procedures, and programs.
- You have the right to have access to your children’s educational records, information regarding services offered by the schools, and expectations about your children’s instructional programs, grading criteria, attendance, and behavior.
- You have the right to be treated with respect, fairness, and understanding, free of discrimination and prejudice, by all staff, faculty, and administration in your children’s schools and school district.
- You have the right to attend all public meetings, including PTA, Board of Education, and committee meetings.
- You have the right to complain, without fear of retaliation, to teachers, building and district administrators, and Board of Education.
- You have the right to attend Board of Education meetings and address the board during the public audience part of the meeting.
- You have the right to know official complaint procedures within the school, school district, and outside agencies, and to pursue them if necessary, without fear of retaliation.
- You have the right to ensure that your children are learning in safe, healthy, and caring schools, free of discrimination, prejudice, bullying, and harassment, and that their physical, emotional, social, academic, and special needs are met on a daily basis.