This article originally appeared in Stamford Advocate
By David Rafferty
Our public schools are in the news so often for non-educational reasons that it’s hard to keep track of all the goings on. Some schools are overcrowded, others are not, but wait, don’t we have a racial imbalance problem? Let’s solve that with magnet schools. Or a new school. Or redistricting. But hold on, now let’s focus on what time the schools will start. Here’s a bunch of doctors on one side saying start school later. But here’s a bunch of parents saying phooey, you’re oversimplifying things.
Then this past week came more politics disguised as something good for our schools. The long-awaited school board charter change recommendation got its public hearing Wednesday. On the pro-change side, the idea of unbalancing the 4-4 political party split offers greater “choice,” and more “accountability.” Nice buzzwords that give cover to those wanting a full-time Republican school board majority, and who are annoyed the law doesn’t let them have one. Those against the change pointed out that the system ain’t broke, so you’re not really trying to fix it, just rig it. And you know what? For the time being at least, citizen engagement worked. After listening, the selectmen decided not to rush the recommendation to the Representative Town Meeting for approval. Sure it may only delay the inevitable, but for now hopefully bipartisan negotiation leads to a compromise everyone can live with.
Let’s talk about something genuinely positive and actually education related in our schools. When these unicorns of good news percolate up they shouldn’t go unnoticed. This current good idea is being called a “pacing pilot” and the basic idea is that at the elementary level, kids will learn and master certain skills at their own pace, rather than being boxed into fixed grade-level requirements. Details are still being worked out, and for now it will only be a test program, but as someone with first-hand experience with this kind of program, let me initially give it my full support.
See, years ago when my kids were still in elementary school, we had to move to Georgia for two years to accommodate my wife’s career. We really wanted to find an International Baccalaureate school near our new home outside Atlanta because we knew our kids would be returning to the International School at Dundee and we wanted to keep them in a similar environment. We ultimately put our kids in High Meadows School in Roswell, Ga., an IB school where they had already embraced the idea of “pacing” in learning.
It worked like this. Children spent two years in the same class: K/1st, 2nd/3rd, 4th/5th, with two teachers in each blended classroom. Sometimes the entire class would be working together, but other times, the class could be split with one teacher teaching a subject like math at one level, while the other teacher taught at a different level. And depending on skill and ability, any student could be in either level, moving up as he or she progressed. Additionally, sometimes the classroom could be split into three groups with the third leaving the room entirely for a specialized class such as art or music.
How did it work? Marvelously. Less stress, greater achievement, and happier kids. What else could you ask for?
This concept is not difficult to do and I applaud Superintendent Sal Corda for championing this idea. My grandmother was a groundbreaking public school principal in the 1960s, recognized by President Lyndon Johnson for the work she did with one of the first magnet schools in Harlem, and she had the opportunity to watch High Meadows School in action. To this day she continues to talk about what a wonderful place it is, and how “that’s the way school should be taught.”
Now, is this exactly how Greenwich might be planning on moving forward? Possibly. There are a lot of considerations and obstacles to be cleared first, but from a purely philosophical standpoint, this can be a fantastic step toward really making a difference in how our kids are going to learn. The great news is that with all parties from administrators to teachers to school board members supporting the program, everyone seems vested in its success.
Original article may be found: https://origin.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/David-Rafferty-A-school-issue-that-s-actually-11009930.php