Columbia High School Principal Elizabeth Aaron shared practical advice, words of wisdom — and some evolving implementation concerning the new Access & Equity policy — in her address to parents and family of students at Back-to-School Night on Sept. 22.
Aaron reminded all to make sure that students had obtained their student I.D.s. She noted that family conversation time — without electronics — was key, and she advised guardians and parents to “only answer the questions they ask. Usually, that is all you need to get started on the road toward a good conversation.” Aaron asked parents to support and get involved with organizations like the HSA and Boosters, and she encouraged parents to talk to other parents.
The principal, now beginning her third year at the helm of the high school, also shared this thought to broad applause: …”our teachers are ready to welcome you into what I truly believe is one of the most sacred spaces in American democracy – the hallways and classrooms of our public schools.”
Aaron delved into policy issues by providing some clarification of the new South Orange-Maplewood School District Access & Equity Policy, which is being implemented for the first time during the 2016-17 school year.
“Our full commitment to our Board of Education’s recently passed Access and Equity policy means that we want every student in the courses for which they are ready and in which they will be successful, and that we are committed to supporting them,” said Aaron. She noted that study halls — which all students are scheduled for this year — will be a time “to receive support” as well as do homework, receive counseling or intervention, work on college essays, work on PSAT, ACT, or SAT practice, etc.
Although Access & Equity was designed to help students move up levels, Aaron also addressed the obvious counterpoint: What happens when students feel that they are unable to achieve at a higher level and want to move down?
“We are in the process of establishing guidelines that would allow a student to discuss the advantages and/or disadvantages of moving down a level after the first marking period,” said Aaron, who asked parents to “[p]lease realize that just as budgeting, staffing, teacher certification, classroom size and facilities all impacted scheduling, the same holds true when we explore possible options of moving down a level. Resources are limited.”
She assured the assembled, “If a student is unable to move down a level, additional supports will be provided within the classroom setting. These guidelines will be reviewed, modified and updated on a regular basis as we continue to move forward with the implementation of the new Access and Equity Policy.
“Do we have all of this in place right now? We do not. But it is the work underway this year. Our shift to a unified bell schedule was the first and key step into being able to put some of those things in place for all students this year and going forward.”
(Editor’s Note: A district spokeswoman said that the district should be able to provide information on the number of students who opted for a higher level sometime this week, as well as answer questions about how many students have subsequently asked to move down a level, and what supports and accommodations are in place or in the works for students opting up or down.)
Read Aaron’s full remarks below: