Thursday, October 15, 2009

Education Priorities for the Mayoral Candidates-- A Primer for Reading Between the Lines, Part 2

In today’s Daily News, the Mayoral Candidates discuss their priorities for the schools, and education in general. It might be helpful to consider what each candidate is offering as priorities. It might also be helpful to read between the lines to see what they aren’t saying. I’ll try to do both. You can read their responses here.

When you have finished this series of posts, I'd encourage you to head over to the website for each candidate, and explore their thoughts on schools and education. The format for the Daily News article was very confining; each candidate may have more information available at their sites. You can reach Donna Holaday here, and James Shanley is here.

Time on Learning

Time-on-learning is an important issue on a number of levels. Our ability to stay in compliance with the state regulations for teaching time is important. Linked to that will be our ability to retain our accreditation with the agency that accredits schools in the country; that accreditation will be critical to the state’s willingness to fund the school. No certificate, no funding. The candidate correctly identifies the problem, identifies one complication that is currently being considered- the present use of the block schedule. What is lacking is a basic acknowledgement that some this will take funding beyond that currently provided to reintroduce some electives and sections of curriculum.

That theme, funding, will haunt the rest of this assessment. That’s where, for the most part, dear reader, you have to go between the lines.


The Superintendent search is important. Hiring the strongest possible Superintendent should not be controversial; there is a very capable national search firm generating candidates, and a local search committee that will send three of the six applicants forward to the School Committee for their decision. The reputation of this search firm, and our own unfortunate experience with their recruiting Kevin Lyons away from Newburyport is a strong indication that if there is a great candidate out there, we’ll see them.

Perhaps a more telling response might be what one considers a “strong” superintendent; and what kind of a relationship each mayoral candidate feels they should have as mayor with the Superintendent.

Restoring Foreign (World) Language to the Middle School

An important issue. Eight years ago, Newburyport had a World Languages program that was considered a state model. It began in kindergarten, and flowed through high school. We did that because it is research-based conclusion that the younger a child is, the easier it is for a child to become proficient in another language.

Because of budget cuts, we are in the process of eliminating French as an option. We have also cut back our offering of World Languages significantly. For those students currently in the system, they will need to wait until 9th grade to start a language, and they will have very few choices of which language that will be. Of course, in a global economy, and with census projections that the United States will shift to a Hispanic majority well within the lifetime of our currently enrolled students, we are sending Newburyport students out to seek their fame and fortune in the world with a distinct communication disadvantage.

Some of this can be funded grants, and from the support of educational philanthropies. Twice in the last several years the community has turned down a debt exclusion and an override that would have generated funds that were specifically targeted towards restoring World Languages in the schools.

Based on my own experience over the last eight years, restoration of World Languages at a level that provides the minimal opportunity for the greatest number of students will require significant commitment of funds; greater than will be available through grants and philanthropies. But it is a high priority.

The next post will finish with candidate priorities, and offer some questions for readers to consider as they make their choices about which candidate will best address school issues.

No comments: