By: J.L. Rebeor
FULTON – The Fulton School District Board of Education’s first Saturday (Jan. 25) morning coffee meeting brought a handful of parents who used the open-forum to discuss a lack of textbooks, online teaching and bettering the district’s sports program.
Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch, Executive Director of Instruction and Assessment Elizabeth Connor, Director of Personnel Thomas Greer and several BOE members were on hand to hear and discuss openly anything the parents wanted to talk about.
“The reason that we’re meeting this morning is that the Board of Education’s communication committee is looking for avenues … to engage the community, or give the community the opportunity to share thoughts on the school district; program services that we offer; where we are; where we may be heading,” Lynch said.
The superintendent noted that there are formal opportunities for members of the public to speak during board meetings, but one mother present said she felt more comfortable talking one-to-one with administrators over coffee.
There were note cards available for people to write down anything that might be sensitive, for example concerns about a specific student, faculty or staff member, or for anyone who did not want to speak to the open group.
“If there are specific issues that you want us to follow up on, certainly you can catch us to talk to us after the meeting or you can take a card,” Lynch said.
He added that district employees are bound by some policies and laws relative to personnel matters.
“It’s not that we don’t follow up and deal with (issues), it’s just that we have to work within certain parameters that we have,” he explained.
BOE Vice President Dan Pawlewicz, also a communication committee member, said the board is trying to clear misunderstandings that arise in the community and sometimes go unheard, or get misconstrued.
“A lot of time people have questions or issues. Things get spread around,” he said.
One attempt by the BOE to keep the community grapevine focused is to move its monthly board meetings to different schools within the district in order to encourage people to attend and hear firsthand what is going on.
“This Tuesday (Jan. 28) we have one at the junior high school,” Pawlewicz said. “We’re just trying to open it up, trying to get some input, trying to communicate and get people involved.”
But he said getting that kind of participation from the community has been difficult.
“I got here this morning and wondered if anyone was going to show up,” the board member said. “We’re doing everything in our power to get some help, some information, to express ourselves and get people involved.”
With the ground rules set, the parents and administrators engaged in a frank discussion about issues such as a lack of textbooks in the classroom.
“(Some students) were in seven or eight classes and had two books, and one of those was shared,” said parent Laurie Sugar-Compson.
When it came time for science or social studies homework assignments, she said the available reference material was lacking.
“I know everything is going toward computers but (teachers) need to know that they need to reference books, too,” she said.
Lynch said one of the issues the district is facing right now is a lack of textbooks to meet the new common core standards.
“The textbook companies have not caught up,” he said. “The state, in 2010, started to have curricula – the how of common core standards – and vendors and the state education department have not delivered on time.”
A current method of providing students with the materials is to photocopy the suggested materials. “(NYSED) put it up online, so it’s either your kids go online, or we make copies and distribute them,” Lynch said, adding that this was likely to be the stop-gap solution for some time to come.
Connor noted for students, parents and teachers the lack of textbooks for the module part of common core remains a frustration.
“The junior high with their seventh and eighth-grade social studies program … have pulled excerpts of materials and sent them out to BOCES to be bound,” she said. “Fifteen years ago they were doing it then. … Because document based questions … you have to go back and cite from the resource. They chose to copy those materials in a legitimate format.”
“The one thing that SED has done, and changed in the last two years, is they have allowed (us) to use textbook money for copying because the resources are not out in textbook format,” Connors said.
The group discussion moved through the need to be sure all students – even those who do not have computers and online access at home – have the tools available to succeed, including soft skills.
“People need to be able to show up for work on time, and can work a full shift,” Connors said.
The group talked about parents expectations that their children to be able to outline, write and cite an essay paper by the time they graduate.
Lynch noted the district engages with colleges to learn what skills students need to possess for entry.
“You can hide behind a test score,” he said. “(Colleges can) tell us what the kid has to do in English as a twelfth-grader so we know they can make the next step as a (college) freshman instead of taking a remedial course that you have to pay for. That should be something that’s on our dime.”
A significant part of the 90-minute discussion turned to the district athletic program, whether the athletic budget was being spent to its best use, and how to make sports work better for students as a springboard to get into college.
District parent Dia Borrow said, “I know education is key – we stress that to our kids, that comes before sports. But, there are kids who their only way out may be athletics. … A kid, instead of going to CCC can go to a Division 3 school, but because we can’t compete at his sport, he’ll never get looked at.”
“How much money do you want us to invest in this program?” Lynch said. “To do some things different will cost money.”