Friday, March 10, 2006
Carlisle School Superintendent focuses on teacher morale Parents seek improved communication
Superintendent Marie Doyle says addressing teacher morale at the Carlisle School remains her top priority as she works in the wake of the resignations of principals Steve Goodwin and Michael Giurlando. Doyle said she has gone to teacher staff meetings and sat with teachers individually to hear their concerns.
By going to classrooms and talking with teachers, Doyle said she's gaining a greater understanding of what the staff is teaching. "What's most important now is how the staff is feeling, and letting them know I appreciate what they do." At last week's School Committee meeting, Doyle said that, though some have told her they are pleased with how things are going at the school, she will continue to address concerns.
From discussions with teachers she has learned that some are concerned with the speed of change they perceive Doyle is implementing since taking over the reins of the school system in 2004. Some teachers are used to a slower process of change at the school, the superintendent reported, and think she may be moving too fast with program changes.
World Language Task Force process and results
One sticking point for some is the World Language Task Force. The committee was formed this school year to evaluate how to add foreign language to the elementary school curriculum. Principal Steve Goodwin chairs the task force that includes the world language teachers, one teacher from each grade level, and one parent representative. Some teachers see the elementary language program, including adding Mandarin Chinese, as her own personal agenda, Doyle said. She pointed out that adding elementary language to the curriculum has been on the list of school district goals for years.
Teachers also questioned how the task force was implemented. Doyle explained Spanish was chosen for elementary students in grades kindergarten to four based on a parent survey last fall, with Spanish chosen by more than half of parents who responded to the survey. The administration is now looking at ways to better communicate with staff on the findings of committees like the task force, as the process is ongoing.
Doyle said she would have liked to add Chinese to the elementary curriculum but the task force determined that learning one language at a time is best for students, while teachers preferred scheduling one language into the curriculum.
In the middle school, based on the task force recommendation, fifth grade students will choose from one of three languages: Spanish, French or Mandarin Chinese. Starting this fall, middle school students will study the language they choose from grades five to eight.
The non-profit Carlisle Education Foundation jum-started elementary world language when it agreed to finance the program in a multi-year grant that began this year. "The generosity of the CEF made world language available to all children at the school," Doyle said. The grant allowed Spanish teacher Andrea Seddon to allocate planning time this year and elementary school students will begin learning Spanish this fall for the first time.
About a dozen parents attended the School Committee meeting. Since the principals gave their notices at the end of January, more parents are attending the meetings to learn more about internal school operations and to find answers to questions about the principal search and the curriculum.
One subject parents brought up is the school's math program, called Everyday Mathematics. The pre-kindergarten to 5th grade program, developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, is currently used by 2.8 million students according to its website.
The program is conceptual in nature and some think there is not enough emphasis on basic math skills, Doyle said. The program approaches typical math subjects such as addition, subtraction and multiplication with the idea that there are several ways to attack a problem. "For some kids this approach is confusing and it's hard to do."
As some math problems are presented in worksheets and books, some children are not clear on the correct answer expected. The superintendent said the school will look into how many children are getting outside tutoring in math, a possible indicator that the program may not be working for everyone. A full study of the math program is planned for next year.
The school math specialist, Liz Perry, recommends teachers spend about 50 minutes a day on the subject. Doyle acknowledged, "Everyday Math is tough to teach. It takes work." She pointed out that the school has hired 31 teachers in the last three years to replace teachers who retired. The newer teachers may need additional training to teach the math program optimally, she said, as they need professional development in all areas to perform at their best.
Carlisle Teachers' Association President Debbie Butts, a fifth grade teacher, said she supplements the program with problem solving and teaches math at least one hour a day. "Kids do understand it," she said, explaining how division is taught in four different ways in the grade. "The program is good and solid," she emphasized, "but it's always good to review the curriculum."
Carlisle students scored first in the MCAS statewide eighth grade math tests in the 2005, 2004 and 2002 school years, coming in third in 2003. The Everyday Math program was implemented at the school several years ago.
Open discussions scheduled
The Carlisle School Association will offer roundtable discussions of Everyday Math on March 27 at 7:30 p.m., and on March 28 at 9 a.m. The focused discussions will give parents the chance to talk about the math program with the administration and teaching staff in a smaller group setting.
School administrator Claire Wilcox explained why many parents didn't receive recent important e-mails from the school. One message contained the principal resignations and another gave notice of a public meeting on the principal search process. As the school moves to mass e-mails to notify parents, Wilcox said, the administration has encountered some problems. The school's Internet provider, the Merrimac Educational Consortium, had set the outgoing message size at 80 kilobytes rather than 80 megabytes, making many parent e-mails undeliverable. The problem is now resolved, but Wilcox thanked parents for their patience as the school transitions to e-mail notifications.
Parent Alex Krapf said he was impressed by what he saw as improved communication from the School Committee in response to parent requests. The school now includes minutes from previous School Committee meetings this year on the school's web site: www.carlisle.mec.edu. It's also posting the School Committee's agenda online two days before the Wednesday night meetings. Krapf further asked the School Committee members to publish their e-mail addresses, and to post agendas for additional meetings on the web site so parents can make plans to attend future meetings that interest them.
© 2006 The