Let’s focus on education for a bit

With the election fast approaching, there’s on issue I care about more than any other: education. I want to know what each of the candidates will do to ensure proper funding of our schools and how they’ll maintain the quality programs offered to our students.

I want to hear what they’d do differently than the current occupants of the Board of Education and Town Council, if anything, and where their priorities lie. That includes knowing whether they will give the education budget the money it needs not just to maintain what we have, but to make our schools better than ever.

Will they restore Middle School Quest? Keep foreign language for all elementary school children? Scale back or at least not raise the fees that students pay to participate in activities?

Tell all, candidates. And for everyone else, feel free to leap into the fray with your own questions and comments. 

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17 Comments

Filed under Board of Education, education, election, Schools, town council

17 responses to “Let’s focus on education for a bit

  1. By the way, if anyone knows links to candidate websites that would help us learn more about them, please post the links. I’ll try to add them to the sidebar here to make it easy to find for the election.

  2. Diane Mudge

    Here’s a link to the Republican Team. You will find out some of the basic information on Elliot Check and myself and how to contact us.

    Channel 5 has been airing the debates with the BOE candidates until election day as well.

    http://www.whgop.org/candidates.htm

  3. Is this really the best the Democrats can do? It’s a year out of date!http://www.westhartforddemocrats.org/

  4. Why should Dems change their strategy or website, if they don’t feel any real pressure to alter course. The debates I saw pretty much showed them supporting their record and towing the status quo.

    Whdad, the real challenge here for Elliot and Diane, and John Joyce – is to make the case that there needs to be change. My challenge to these folks is to sell me why we should put Republicans in charge of the BOE!

  5. Gary Reger

    WHDad —

    Clare Kindall, Bruce Putterman, and Terry Schmitt have a website for this election at http://www.ed-dems.com/.

  6. Gary Reger

    Quest was on the agenda at the Board of Education meeting last Tuesday night. Several Board members expressed support for a gifted and talented program, which has long been a feature of the West Hartford school system. The question was whether Quest is the program best suited to our needs.

    I hope that, before the Board makes its final decision and as part of its process of gathering information, it arrange to speak privately with a randomly selected group of students at all levels who participated in Quest to see what they think of the program.

    Too often we make policy decisions without talking to the people most affected by those decisions.

  7. Gary Reger

    I apologize to Diane Mudge for repeatedly misspelling her last name in earlier postings. I regret the mistake.

  8. turtle

    Hello, Ms. Mudge! I had a bunch of questions for you on another thread, but I’ll keep it brief here.

    Thank you for the link to the GOP candidates. I was interested to read that you would promote “programs that directly support academic goals and work on closing the achievement gap.” That sounds great; what programs did you have in mind?

    Your campaign slogan is:

    “Let’s focus our Board of Education on Education, not Administration”

    To followers of last year’s budget battle the canard that the current Board of Ed is unduly devoted to administration is quite familiar. But as Terry Schmitt noted, West Hartford is 137th out of the State’s 162 school districts on per-capita administrative expenses.* Do you consider that fact to reflect a BoE that is too focused on administration? If closing the achievement gap might involve retaining or even adding administrators, how would you reconcile the conflict?

    Thank you.

    *Thanks, Gary.

  9. Gary Reger

    Turtle —

    Good, smart questions.

  10. Diane Mudge

    Turtle:

    For the last three years the board has had discussion about issues that have limited impact on achievement: Late start times, block schedules and most recently Veteran’s day closure. These took up an inordinate amount of time and deflected from the real issue -education and the widening achievement gap. These issues are administrative in my mind and why I got involved. I found basic business principles to be missing in the discussion. Simple posting of agendas, communication of decisions, follow up on action items and answering questions that the public raised.

    In any organization there are programs that work well and those that do not. Programs on both the education and administrative side need to be considered. Student achievement goals should be clearly established and directly related to measurable outcomes. Does Quest produce top students through the school career? Can the whole language program provide the right outcomes for learning foreign language? Do the wide variety of course and multiple tracks- Basic, Honors and AP dilute or expand the learning opportunity? Do computers enhance or impact the learning experience?

    The same types of questions are not all academically based. Can we build regional buying consortiums? How do we handle some of our service contracts and can we enhance them? Is there an ability to share services with other towns? Can we improve our strategy on student out placement? Can we reduce the travel budget and have teacher enrichment opportunities brought to the district instead of going to them? Do we serve food at internal meetings?

    The other aspect comes from operating efficiently. As educators there is very little understanding of efficiency, budgets, and the real impact to everyone’s job. It might be time to educate the educators on principles of operational efficiency. It’s sort of like recycling- use fewer resources and maximize their use. Decisions need to be made at the lowest level in an organization. Not everything should go to a principal and yet that is the first avenue many parents take. So right now we may be at number 137 in terms of administrators in our schools, but is it wrong to want to do better? It’s what we ask our kids to do every day, why not our school?

    I have a background working with a knowledge organization- where we deliver technical training to customers- and we look for ways to streamline administrative and operation processes to support the people who teach. I’m willing to do the hard work to help identify opportunities that will support those who teach.

    As for the achievement gap, is adding more administrators the answer? Do we add more teachers? I don’t have all the answers but let’s look at some of the schools that have made progress and what have they done to be successful. Why should we reinvent the wheel? I’d like to see what others have done. I know how to research, how to evaluate other practices, and I will communicate what we have learned.
    We’ve had a few public forums, all poorly attended, but I’d prefer to talk directly with people rather than through pseudonyms. I invite you to talk with me directly or email with any additional concerns.

  11. turtle

    Ms. Mudge,

    Thank you for responding so generously to my questions.

    To address your last point first, there have been many complaints about how little in-depth discussion takes place at the forums, and not everyone is able to attend. Anyway, this blog is also a forum, with the advantage of being open-ended and readily accessible.

    Given all the accusations flung at the BoE last year about administrative fat, it’s natural to associate your vow to focus on “Education, not Administration” with that unfair rhetoric. Of course we should always try to do better, but I don’t think becoming 140th instead of 137th should be an overarching goal, and although I don’t think anyone would disagree with the necessity of ferreting out inefficiencies, education isn’t a business.

    The interest in late start times and block scheduling had precisely to do with creating better conditions for student achievement. You may disagree that such programs actually benefit students, but why should such inquiries be considered any more frivolous than whether Quest produces top students forever or whether computers enhance learning? All your questions are well worth asking, but they sidestep the central issue: addressing the achievement gap requires personnel, including the kind of specialists–parent outreach, social workers, reading tutors–that were cut from the budget last year, and personnel costs money.

  12. Gary Reger

    In responding to Diane, Turtle writes, “Education isn’t a business.” I’d like to expand on that remark.

    While I certainly approve of saving money, I am troubled by the application of the business model to education. Business is about making a profit. “Measurable outcomes” in education strikes me as the same concept adapted to an educational environment. Just as in business we seek to measure success by the balance sheet, so in education we seek to measure the outcome — hence CAPTs, CMTs, SATs, etc. etc.

    But I don’t think that’s the purpose of education. In a free, liberal, democratic society like ours, I see education as having two principle goals: (1) to prepare people to live in that kind of society, direct it, preserve it, and better it; (2) to help people as adults enjoy rich, rewarding, deep lives.

    I don’t think these goals are easily susceptible to quantifiable measurement at some set time. Sokrates famously refused to pronounce anyone happy till he was dead because happiness was the work of a lifetime; I think that’s true of education too, and success of an education may not be apparent till many years after a person leaves the educational system.

    That is not to say that you can’t tell whether students are benefitting from the education they are getting — teachers in the classrooms know. And we know too — around the dinner table, when our children ask why the image projected on the retina is inverted; when we see them choosing more challenging books on their own; when we discover them doing exercises they learned in PE while watching TV.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying we needn’t worry about preparing students for “jobs,” just that that isn’t the basic purpose of education in our country. If it were, we’d have a system like Germany’s, where kids are tested at 14 and then directed either into a technical high school where they are prepared for a trade or an academic high school.

    From our “president with an MBA” on down, our society is saturated with the notion that the business model can and should be applied everywhere. I disagree. The most important things in life are diminished when that model is applied — shall we seek “measurable outcomes” in love?Love is a good-in-itself, and so I think is education.

    Okay, I’m ready to be slammed now as a blind idealist and naive fool.

  13. Phil K

    A business perspective on the subject can lead us in another direction besides cost cutting: Education is central to West Hartford’s Brand. More than the fancy center, more than the convenience to downtown, people move here because of the reputation of the schools.

    The purpose of a business is not to cut costs, it’s to grow. Invest in our brand.

  14. West Hartford SEPTA is pleased to invite everyone to one more opportunity to meet the Board of Education Candidates.

    Don’t be complacent; show your interest in our schools!

    BOARD OF EDUCATION – MEET THE CANDIDATES NIGHT

    Tuesday October 30, 7-9 PM
    Duffy School Auditorium
    95 Westminster Dr

    Sponsored by West Hartford SEPTA (Special Education PTA), this event is for everyone in the community – not just those interested in special education.

    You are invited to submit questions for the candidates to info@whsepta.org prior to the meeting or bring them with you.

  15. eponymous

    Just watched the candidate forum on channel 5 and you know what blows my mind? Only two of the candidates (Putterman and Joyce) could define “alternative education.” A few others talked around the term, and Mudge at least owned up to what she didn’t know, but the rest? I’d challenge the fearsome six to name each of the alternative programs at the middle and high school levels in WH (and if you could talk about them a bit in depth, so much the better).

    Putterman and Joyce won my vote. Patiently waiting for a third person I can vote in “on probation” …

  16. whmom

    I really believe that there are some who are running for the BOE who are not realistic. They are soooo happy with everything in town. Are you? They do not represent what is really happening in our schools, with our children. I feel like they don’t have any idea what my family is dealing with. We see them on TV. They look “right” pretty, look into the camera… and say things that people may see as NICE.
    But really they are looking out for there own children. Don’t you think?

    Does it seem fair that Clare Kindall and Bruce Putterman are running their agenda on our dime. I am sure they are happy, they seem it. Are your kids happy every day?

    Just a thought. And Please don’t vote for these people.

    Thanks

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