Updated: Oct. 21, 6:30 p.m.: the district’s presentation on IB has been added to the article as a PDF.
Updated: October 21, 2014, 11:29 a.m. The story has been updated to correct comments attributed to Tia Swanson regarding Seth Boyden School.
In a standing room only crowd at Monday’s South Orange – Maplewood Board of Education meeting, there was no shortage of hot button issues up for discussion and debate.
Teachers attended in force to decry the delay in receiving the retroactive pay they are due from the agreement reached with SOMEA in July. The administration said the pay would be reflected in teachers’ paycheck this Friday.
Marshall School teacher Joanne Farrell said she understood the work of sorting out back pay had been challenging but said, “My job is hard and tedious [too], but I get it done.”
Another teacher asked whether leave replacement teachers would be entitled to back pay although they are not dues-paying members of SOMEA. District Administrator Cheryl Schneider said some would be eligible.
In other news, the board unanimously approved the new dress code.
Seth Boyden PTA co-president Tia Swanson, backed by a group of school parents, pleaded with the board for more funding for the school which has a disproportionately high number of free and reduced lunch students and which, wrote Swanson in a letter to the Board, is “ground zero for your oft-stated goals of equity and excellence, as well as healthy socio-economic and racial diversity.”
“We need help from you and we deserve it,” said Swanson, who said the success of Seth Boyden, which was originally formed to address the issue of racial segregation in the district elementary schools, “should matter to everyone in this room.”
But the biggest fireworks of the night surrounded the district’s update on the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP), which was rolled out in both middle schools in the 2013/14 school year.
The presentation can be found attached here as a PDF.
South Orange Middle School (SOMS) teachers have spoken out about the issue in previous board meetings. Tonight, it was Maplewood Middle School (MMS) teachers who took the floor.
Several teachers said that IB professional development had been inadequate, and that many were still unclear as to what the program is and how to effectively implement it in the classroom.
“For the past two years the IB training I have had has been non-existent by any standard,” said Bee Ospina Smith, a 7th grade MMS math teacher. She said the IB facilitators who ran teacher workshops were unable to explain how the program connects with the state Core Curriculum Standards and the upcoming PARCC assessments (which are replacing the NJASK).
“We are being asked to write our units according to the IB frameworks. However, we are being held accountable to the state core curriculum standards according to PARCC,” said Smith, who said the units were “useless” because no one explained how they would be woven into the curriculum.
Smith said she had “yet to speak to a teacher at MMS who learned anything” from the school’s IB coordinator. “After two years, many middle school colleagues do not know what encompasses writing an IB unit. The ones that do know…find it difficult to explain.”
She also charged that IB had cut down on time for physical education and art classes, as well as departmental meetings. “Another year wasted, more professional time down the drain,” said Smith. “Why is it so vague?”
Smith asked how much time and money had been spent, and asked the board members, “Are you all in the dark?…We wonder, do you care, do you hear us? Or will you dismiss us and continue in the same direction?”
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Susan Grierson admitted the district had “not done an adequate job in informing and preparing all teachers on implementation. We must and we will do better.”
Grierson said she and Acting Superintendent James Memoli recently met with groups of middle school teachers to gather feedback. She said the teachers’ sentiments were similar, and she offered a sampling of comments:
“IB is confusing. No one understands how IB will help the struggling learner. The planning tool is difficult to understand and use. IB is taking away from other professional development topics. Confusing directions from principals, supervisors and coaches have led to misunderstandings.”
“All new programs take time to grow and develop roots,” said Grierson. She explained that IB “develops creativity, imagination and curiosity to lead students to be deep, reflective thinkers and to make real world connections.”
She said the district had given teachers more time to collaborate and plan together. “I realize there are many competing initiatives and much to do. However, we must move forward.”
SOMS recently applied for IB authorization and MMS will do so in the spring, said Grierson.
Jerrill Adams, the new principal at Maplewood Middle School, said he was “delighted” and “excited” at how he had seen IB being incorporated into some classrooms.
As SOMS IB Coach Eve Kingsbury gave a power point presentation on the program, several teachers in the audience audibly disputed her summary. “That’s not happening,” said one. “They just don’t get it,” said another. “They’re not hearing us.”
SOMEA president and SOMS guidance counselor Paula Bethea turned to face the back of the room as Kingsbury spoke. “I’m sick of this,” she was heard to say.
“Some aspects of the program are still taking root,” said SOMS Principal Joseph Uglialoro. “These are seismic changes, and our teachers are managing them with professionalism.”
Board members offered varied opinions on and questions about the program.
Madhu Pai asked if the administration could make teacher training more “tangible” and less esoteric. “What can we do to help the teachers?”
Bill Gaudelli said IB is necessary in an increasingly global world, and he noted that hundreds of private schools in the country offered it. “I applaud the district for having the courage to take it on.” He said that IB has much to offer and that teachers had to commit to making it successful.
Johanna Wright said she was originally a proponent of IB but no longer was. “Teachers are saying it’s not working. If we don’t listen to teachers we are spiraling into the abyss. Let’s put on the brakes.”
“My ‘aha’ moment was [when I realized] IB is a process and we have to grow into it,” said Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad. “Don’t throw in the towel and walk away; let’s double down on our efforts.”
Wayne Eastman asked Grierson if IB might work for some teachers but not for others.” Grierson said no; “Good teachers are good teachers.”
Referring to the budget presented by Kingsbury, which showed the program’s current and projected costs (roughly $138,000 spent thus far; a total of roughly $106,000 projected for this school year and next), Eastman and BOE member Jeff Bennett asked about the program’s “opportunity costs.”
“How many hours have we put in,” asked Eastman. “I’m sure a lot of hours have been put in,” said Grierson. Bennett said the per day costs were high considering the district is in a “dreadful” budget crisis.
Referring to Gaudelli’s comments about IB being crucial to developing global citizenship among students, Bennett pointed out that while internationalism was important, there are other ways to incorporate that into the curriculum. “IB doesn’t hurt, but it’s no substitute for knowledge.”
Bennett also noted that the board had not received a single email from a parent praising IB.
BOE President Beth Daugherty said “This was a very different conversation on IB” and it was good to hear open and honest conversations on the program’s strengths and challenges. She asked teachers to work toward the goal of making IB a success.
Donna Smith, a candidate for the Board of Education, told the board they were forgetting an important stakeholder in the debate: parents. “Most don’t know what [IB] is,” she said. “If you want to get buy-in you have to get the message to parents.”