Race To The Top Runs Into Debate At Oswego School Board Meeting

OSWEGO, NY – After hearing an update on the Race To The Top initiative for nearly an hour Tuesday night, members of the Oswego City School District’s board of education agreed with the plan in principle.

However, the part about pulling educators out of the classroom to be trained didn’t sit well with the board.

The purpose of RTTT is to spur educational innovation and reform, create performance based standards for teachers and principals, and comply with the national standards among other goals.

“We’ve got kids that are not being taught,” board member Fran Hoefer said. “They are failing everywhere; mainly, because they aren’t spending enough time in class with quality teachers, period. And, all I’m listening about is we got to pull our teachers out of class so they can collaborate with each other and figure out why their kids aren’t learning anything. We’re pulling our teachers out of class to teach them how to teach and we’re forgetting about the fact that our children don’t have (in the classroom.”

He pointed out the district calendar has 10 half days, two superintendent days, five snow days and “we’ve got every vacation known to God; we’ve got a seven-hour school day with lunch included. We are not giving our children enough time with quality teachers. That’s what’s wrong!”

I’m wondering what planet I live on. Is this The Twilight Zone or what? What is wrong?

The problem with education these days, according to Hoefer, is that the kids aren’t getting enough quality time in the classroom.

“We’re solving this problem by pulling our teachers out to teach them how to teach,” he lamented. “It’s giving me nightmares that we’ve got 10 half days and two superintendent days, five snow days and pull-outs everywhere we go. We are short-changing kids and we are failing because we are forgetting that we have to have our kids in class with teachers if we’re going to teach them anything!”

“Clearly, what you see here (the presentation) is just the tip of the iceberg of the changes that will be coming down. Addressing the issues that are near and dear to you, Fran, and I think everyone at this table and everybody in this room, our interest is to make sure that students are achieving at a very high level and are able to be competitive in society, now a global society,” noted Bill Crist, superintendent.

Having teachers be better trained and understanding who their students are and what the students’ needs are – having the “very best teachers in the classroom,” does require some re-training, the superintendent pointed out.

“I’d much rather have a teacher in the classroom for a shorter period of time who is very, very focused in the lesson and understands and delivers the lesson to children than someone who doesn’t understand the students as well as they need to this day and age and can’t deliver that lesson,” Crist said. “I hear your frustration on that, Fran.”

“If we need to train our teachers to be better teachers, we don’t need to pull them out of the classroom,” Hoefer argued. “I’m sorry. If a teacher is supposed to be teaching kids 2+2 and their ABCs, multiplication tables, pulling them out for a collaborative meeting with a bunch of other teachers is not going to give those kids the time to recite their ABCs. You don’t pull teachers out of the classroom to teach them how to teach; you don’t pull a roofer off a roof to teach him how to roof! You learn by doing.”

He suggested pulling teachers out of cafeteria duty, study halls or some other place for training.

“A lot of people would agree with what you’re saying,” said Board President John Dunsmoor. “I agree, something’s got to be done.”

The board members agreed there has to be a better way to do this.

“This is huge change. This is unprecedented change,” said Cathy Chamberlain, assistant superintendent for curriculum. “In order to make that change we have to provide the opportunity for training. It’s a whole new way of teaching. It’s a change across the whole state, the whole country. The whole country is going to be focused on these new standards. You can’t just hand this new curriculum to a teacher and say, ‘OK, next year this is what you’re going to have to do. See ya.’ You can’t do that.”

“We’re not arguing with that,” interjected board member Sam Tripp. Teachers, he said, should be in the classroom.

Teachers need to get together so they are sure they are working on the right thing for their students and the right areas that teachers may be having difficulties in, Chamberlain said.

“You mean to tell me if you are a writing teacher you have to meet with a bunch of other teachers to find out if your own students don’t know how to write? Come on, give me a break,” Hoefer asked.

“You absolutely have to. You have to really dig very deep in the data,” she explained.

The board would examine its options in hopes of finding a compromise, Dunsmoor said.

“We do need to work on that. I don’t disagree with what you guys are all doing, the collaboration, on the board we all do that. It’s our jobs,” Dunsmoor told Chamberlain. “But, you don’t do it when you have to be on the job.”


  1. Is Crist saying that since the current teachers, who evidently live in a bubble and aren’t aware of the changing demographics, need to get together to learn about the changing demographics? And what exactly would they be learning from each other? Is’nt that like, duh… an oxymoron? The real reason the district is not doing well is because for every great teacher (and there are many) there are 4 or 5 very ineffective teachers. Period. Changing demographics have nothing to do with it…you have many very bad teachers in this district. Start firing the bad teachers…parents and students know EXACTLY who these folks are. They don’t need any “data” to identify THEM as a major problem. Another thing you could do is start hiring teachers and administrators who have not been born and raised here…bring in teachers with knowledge, not Oswego bigots who then raise their own children to become teachers who are Oswego bigots. Take, for example, the new principal at the middle school. Who hired her and why? What a disaster it is over there! As for Chamberlain saying, “you have to dig very deep in the data”, well how about SHE dig very deep in the data and then distribute her findings to the teachers who can them adapt their lesson plans! Oh yeah, there is no common sense at the administration office.

  2. For those who wish to read about the new National Common Core Standards, visit this link: http://www.corestandards.org/ It explains the new standards that most states have adopted, and it will have a profound impact on teaching across the country. Most current teachers are not familiar with these standards since they are NEW and need time to read and train on them. I would rather they spend 1-2 days learning about it before implementing the new curriculum rather than using my kids as a “test group” to see if these work. We don’t expect doctors to learn on the job from day 1, do we? Then why expect our teachers to? This is not just a matter of identifying kids who cannot write well or do not know their math facts. It is a new way of teaching that expects these kids to be provided with instruction that improves those standards, instruction that follows a very specific criteria. We have to remember that teachers are not miracle workers, and cannot make up for the other reasons students fail. Instead of seeing it as “us” against “them” why can’t we all work together to support our students and help them be successful? Being spiteful and rude about them in pubic is not showing young people how to act. In fact, many of the high school kids at these meetings comment that if they acted in school as some of the board members act at meetings, they would be disciplined. We are all accountable for students’ failures, and will all suffer or benefit from their successes. We need to find reasonable solutions, not quibble about half days or snow days!

    A concerned parent and taxpayer

  3. Make lesson plans. Each and every teacher should make a plan and they don’t. They basically follow the same plan they used their first year. Most are plain lazy. More than half the teachers in this district should be fired. Re-train? What a bunch of crap. It is up to a teacher to do their damnest to come up with a plan for each day which includes every standard in it, or try to include every standard. Throwing a work sheet to students all the time is crap. It is not teaching. A teacher should care for each student. Some don’t get to know their students at all. Do it for the kids my ass.

  4. Me yesme
    I would like to see the evidence and documentation to support your claim that teachers do not make plans and that “most are plain lazy”. One of the key areas of focus of this work is data driven instruction in which actual evidence and facts are used to determine course of action and intervention. This is also an important aspect of the teacher and leader evaluation system – use facts and evidence so as to remove bias and inaccurate judgment from the process. Additionally, expecting students to better utilize facts and evidence in their writing to support claims and opinions is emphasized in the new common core standards. Maybe you should go through the training as well so your claims can be more accurate.

    Do you get out of Oswego much? Do you have any idea what is going on in the world and global economy? This is not about retraining, this is about significant educational reform and shifts in thinking about instruction.

    I will agree with you on one point – worksheets won’t get us where we need to be. But neither will uninformed and unsubstantiated opinions driving decisions about what is best for kids.

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