Friday, November 26, 1999
Mavragis shares philosophies with Carlisle audience
On Thursday, November 19, the Carlisle School Association sponsored aninformativeevening of insights into educational philosophies at both the Concord-Carlisle HighSchool and Carlisle Public School. Ed Mavragis, who assumed the position of ConcordSchool superintendent this past spring, addressed educational issues at CCHS, and AlanTicotsky and Rob Quaden outlined the basics of systems thinking. About 25parents attended the meeting in the Carlisle School library, and the buzz over coffee wasthat Mavragis's visit was historic: for the first time in memory, a Concord Schoolsuperintendent had come to Carlisle to address the concerns of parents with studentsattending (or about to enter) CCHS.
Experience and enthusiasm
Mavragis began by pointing out that his previous position, as superintendent of aLongIsland middle school which sent students to a regional high school, had givenhimexperience with intra-regional communications and an understanding of Carlisle'sconcerns that "our kids are taken care of." He assured parents, "They're all our children," emphasizing that Carlisle students are treated no differently than those fromConcord. He invited parents to "access me as you would [Carlisle Superintendent] Davida [Fox-Melanson]" with any questions,concerns, or problems.
Mavragis immediately expressed his enthusiasm for CCHS and its students. "I'm pleasedwith the offerings, but most pleased with the kids. They are really good kids," he said,adding that just walking the hallways he noted the natural friendliness andkindness ofstudents to each other. He congratulated the parents present on the children they hadraised.
Changes in school day
Mavragis then detailed some changes he hoped to make at the high school, beginning with aproposal to move the starting time for the day up to 8:15 a.m.; it is now 7:30. Thisis part of a national trend toward later starting times for high school students in response tonew research on adolescent sleep cycles. So far, parents have been very supportive of thisinitiative, and the regional school committee will be examining its feasibility for nextyear.
Mavragis also emphasized his strong desire to increase the number of advancedplacement courses offered at the high school. Currently, a few AP courses are offered inmath and science, and none in English or social studies. While many current CCHScourses are as rigorous as AP courses, Mavragis said there are good reasons to conform to the APcurriculum, including competition with other school districts, college emphasis on APscores for admission and the possibility that students can bypass entry-levelcourse work in college. According to Mavragis, some teachers worry that conforming tothe AP curriculum would stifle creativity, but it is his belief that goodteachers can bringcreativity to an AP curriculum.
Students and sports
A question from the audience began a discussion on substance abuse and rules forplaying sports. Mavragis commented that students have always abused alcohol, but what has changed is that some parents now consider it okay to sponsor parties with alcohol forteenagers. "The school can't police what students do in their off-hours," he said, "but wecan ensure consistency and communication of the rules," even if that means havingparents sign off on the rules for students who want to play sports.
While on the subject of high school sports, Mavragis informed parents that he had,against some opposition from coaches, rescinded a long-standing policy of kickingstudents off sports teams if they missed practices during school vacation because theywere away with their families. "I love sports," he commented, pointing to hisstrongattendance at school sporting events, "but sometimes, the pressure on coaches towinmakes them forgetthese are just kids."
This led to a question about academic pressure from a mother concerned that thehomework burden had forced her ninth-grader to drop all sports. "We are a huge garlicpress here," Mavragis said, noting that while he is proud of the high school's strong collegeacceptance rates, it concerns him to see students still in the library at 7:30 p.m., 12hours after starting their school day. He suggested the pressure comes as much fromparents as from the teachers, noting that he once worked at a school whereparentspushed for class rank status starting in kindergarten. Mavragis also drew a laugh with adescription of students so overburdened they had to practice for band while eating lunch.On a serious note, Mavragis said he believes many of the symptoms associated with youth atrisk, including cheating, depression, and drug use, arise from such pressure.
That said, Mavragis emphasized that CCHS is "a really nice place to be a kid," and thatmost kids do very well. A new policy to promote civility, applauded by theparents present, is expected to add to an atmosphere in which friendliness and considerationgenerally rule.
Preparing for the future
A final question about preparing Carlisle students for the high school brought out more ofthe superintendent's philosophy. "Carlisle students are very well-prepared," Mavragis said, adding,"You parents have done your jobs if you've taught them three things: flexibility, compassion, and cooperation." Then, citing the need in corporations for peoplewho canget along with others, he continued, "If all we do is turn out academic achievers, we havefailed. In the long run, what language you took won't matter. What's importantis whatkind of person you become."
Mavragis concluded his talk by expressing surprise that a Concord Superintendenthadnever before come to Carlisle. He drew applause with a suggestion to make his visitsregular events, with one visit at the beginning of the school year and the other at the end.
Exploring systems thinking
Most parents know that the Carlisle Public School has a grant to incorporate "systemsthinking" into the curriculum. But not many adults have a clear understanding of whatsystems thinking means.
Program mentors Alan Ticotsky and Rob Quaden gave parents hands-on experience withsystems thinking by presenting some sample problems. Parents learned firsthand howoverlaying graphs can facilitate interpretation of multiple variables. Ticotskynoted thatgreat thinkers and inventors have historically shared a natural ability to view disparatedata points as a whole.
"By giving kids specific tools, we can help teach systems skills," said Ticotsky. Hepointed out that children exposed to systems thinking training can quickly graspadvanced concepts, such as the effect that two variables, "lift" and "drag," would have ona model.
Some of the systems thinking tools include behavior-over-time graphs, causal loopdiagrams, and computer Modeling. Ticotsky and Quaden work with Carlisleteachers toincorporate these tools into lesson plans. As systems thinking is not taught as a separatesubject, parents are sometimes unsure of what systems thinking concepts their childrenhave learned.
Quaden offered a quick tip, "If it has a graph, it's system thinking."
Anne Marie Brako contributed to this article
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito