Letter: K-5 plan remains best option for students

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To The Editor,

I have been a resident of and teacher in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District since 1976. Prior to the construction of Pocopson Elementary School, a committee researched the elementary school configuration plan. This study took place over a period of approximately three years. In the end, the recommendation was to house four K-5 elementary schools. The one stipulation was that this plan might require periodic assessment of the geographic boundaries, namely redistricting, as needed, based on changing populations. This assessment was put on hold several years ago, and to my knowledge, it has not been formally revisited.

In addition to being a district employee, my three sons attended and graduated from UCFSD schools. My comments reflect my experiences over the past 35 years as a teacher and parent.

Have you ever watched a 5th grader walk a younger sibling to his/her classroom on the first day of school? Maybe you have witnessed a 3rd
grader as he stops in the hallway to tie the shoe of a kindergartener or watched the faces of primary and intermediate students as they enjoy each other’s concerts, remembering when they were that age or looking forward to learning an instrument and being in the band as a 4th and 5th grader.

Observing the positive interactions of elementary students in a K-5 school setting warms the heart and speaks louder than any study or financial report ever could.

First and foremost, our elementary teachers are dedicated professionals who will provide challenging and appropriate curriculum no matter the configuration. I, personally, have enjoyed teaching in K-5 and K-3 buildings, and I felt that the children received an excellent academic
education in both settings.

However, research and personal experience strongly support the benefits of a configuration that limits the number of transitions that students experience.

A K-5 configuration allows for consistency during the elementary years.

This configuration promotes:
*increased opportunities for vertical curriculum alignment
*improved achievement (I do feel that there is more consistency and a more cohesive effort in the K-5 setting.)
*common language for behavior expectations and instructional strategies
*more opportunities for multi-age activities and mentoring
*long term relationships between staff and families, which build trust and a partnership between school and home
*dialogue and collaboration between teachers of different grade levels
*a sense of community and connectedness
*a history regarding a student’s development over a period of up to 6-7 years
*a support system and “cheering squad” for all students but especially for some who particularly need to know that their previous teachers are in their corner and believe in them

Feeling valued and connected, helping others, and having positive and trusted role models are all factors that combat risk factors and build resiliency in children.

When the district studied the concept of elementary configurations in the past, the development of the whole child and consideration for the
neighborhood school concept were at the heart of the argument against a split configuration. Some of the concerns then and now include:

*longer bus rides for some students
*separation of siblings
*parents may not feel connected or be active participants in a school with fewer grades
*multiple schools to factor in when scheduling holiday events, parent conferences and open houses
*no opportunities for peer tutors or mentors
*decreased opportunities for older students to have special responsibilities and privileges, which builds self-esteem and confidence
*primary and intermediate teachers lose the opportunity to collaborate about curriculum, teaching techniques, common language and strategies, and students’ academic, social and emotional development
*different building cultures require adjustments
*different language for building expectations for behavior
*different language for instruction leading to some children never mastering the skill or concept
*executive function skills may take years to develop and learn. They are only mastered by doing them the same way, every day for many, many days and for some students, many, many years.
*push down approach…it’s easier for a 4th/5th school to take on the characteristics of a “mini middle school” or junior high, which in turn, encourages children to grow up too fast
*slower assimilation and blending at 6th grade when coming from only two schools, for example:

When our district had two K-5 schools, the students entered 6th grade from Chadds Ford or Unionville, and the delineation was clear. Now, when students come from four different elementary schools, there is a seamless transition.

Perhaps, the most compelling reason to maintain our current elementary configuration is that every transition is a source of stress. Every time students switch schools, their feelings of anonymity increase. The current medical and educational research is very clear, any of which I am happy to share and discuss. Anxiety and depression in young people are at an all time high and on the rise. The pressures that students feel are well documented in many current books, journals, the recent movie, “Race to Nowhere,” and our own district’s PAYS surveys. Our middle and high school students report that they do not feel connected in their own neighborhoods and report feelings of depression. More stress is not what our students need. Instead they need stability, predictability and connections in order to feel competent and confident.

Our school board and community at large are and should be concerned with the academic, social and emotional well being of our students. Changing the elementary configuration to access funds for other district initiatives doesn’t appear to take into consideration what is truly best for our youngest students.

I am thankful that district residents supported the education of my children. Now it is time to pay it forward and provide the best educational environment for our current and future students.

Perk Musacchio
Pocopson Township

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3 Comments

  1. Keith Knauss says:

    Perk makes some fine points in support of the K-5 configuration. Let’s be clear, though, about the action the school board will take tonight (10/17). We are NOT voting on whether to move away from a K-5 grade school configuration. What we are doing tonight is voting on whether to ask the administration to do a thorough, transparent study with pubic involvement of the cost and effectiveness of alternate grade school configurations. Essentially, we’re asking for a study so we can make an informed decision in the spring.
    .
    As is apparent from the letters above, some people focus on the educational effectiveness of a program, and downplay the cost. They’ll use phrases like, “Put the children first” or “Have our children’s BEST INTERESTS at heart” or “Do what is best for the children” or “Don’t manage a school as a business”. School directors don’t have the luxury of ignoring the costs. We’re forced to make difficult trade-offs. We have to evaluate the effectiveness AND cost.
    .
    The school board is asked to make formal decisions on the cost and effectiveness of our programs each year when we construct the budget. Our funds are limited. There is no doubt in my mind that we could improve our children’s education by extending the school year beyond 182 days, by increasing the length of the school day, by decreasing class size, by offering more course options at the high school level, by offering full day kindergarten and by extending public education to the pre-kindergarten years. Yet we don’t offer these services. Why? We, as a community, don’t find them cost effective.
    .
    Likewise, we may find the K-5 elementary configuration not to be the best use of our limited funds. Maybe the funds could best be invested elsewhere. Maybe we could find a solution that combines the best of the K-5 configuration with the low cost of a split configuration. And we may find that the K-5 configuration is, as many argue, the best. But at this point we don’t have enough information to make a good decision. That’s why I’ll be asking the administration to gather the information so we, as a community, can make an informed decision.

  2. Leslie Mariani says:

    Excellent letter. Perk Musacchio obviously knows her stuff when it comes to education and the needs of our youngest students. Her comments are insightful, drawing upon a wealth of knowledge and experience. I hope our current school board members approach this issue with as much thoughtfulness and passion as one of our educational leaders clearly has just done.

  3. Melissa Jackson says:

    Thank you for taking the time to address the many concerns that parents, teachers, and community members have been struggling with for months. I agree whole-heartedly with each issue that you have listed. As a parent of two children in Unionville Elementary and as a 14-year teacher at a neighboring district, I am deeply concerned with the possibility of breaking up the community schools in Unionville. The trust, pride and relationships that have been made as a result of communities working together to do what is best for our children is too valuable to break apart. It is crucial that schools progress toward their true intent… to prepare our children for success academically, socially and emotionally. To manage a school as a business leaves our children behind, and does not allow them to reach their full potential. To have our children’s BEST INTERESTS at heart should be the guiding factor of all decisions made. It has been made evident that some people within our district who have the power to make a difference need to be reminded. “It takes a village to raise a child.”
    Melissa Jackson
    West Marlborough Township

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