Rainy, foggy weather keeps turnout down for latest Community Conversation
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Rainy, foggy weather may have damped turnout, but the nearly two dozen parents and community members who made it out for Wednesday night’s Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Community Conversation on district goals were still able to muster a certain amount of passion in talking about the district’s strengths and challenges in the upcoming years.
The district has been engaging in a formal goal setting process since 2008, Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Sanville explained to the gathering as part of process, then dubbed 2020 Vision, or the path of where the district needed to get to by the time that’s year’s kindergarten class would be seniors at Unionville High School.
Wednesday night, the group gathered in the Unionville High School cafeteria to offer public input to a goal setting process that should be finalized by the Board of Education in June, for implementation in the 2012-13 school year.
While the public engagement in the process is not new, the timing is. Sanville asked the board to change the timing on the goals process from fall to spring — in part to allow the administration to work on putting in the processes needed to reach new yearly goals during the summer, when there is a bit more time for such work.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Sanville said. “But the world around us is a little bit different than it was in 2008.”
After a few opening remarks, the assembled group broke down into smaller working groups made up of parents, community members and staff.
Sanville asked the group to engage in a free-flowing discussion.
“This process has no right or wrong answers,” he said.
At the parents’ table, the first phase involved discussing the district’s strengths in one word.
The teaching staff came up quickly. Parent Therese West remarked on how not only to do the teachers support the students, they work to support each other. Other parents remarked upon teachers being willing to go above and beyond — working extra hours to help students.
Beyond the staff, parents cited curriculum as another key strength of the district — which, interestingly came up as the top strength cited by community members at the table across the room. A number of other areas, ranging from the food service, to the district-owned bus fleet to the use of technology across the schools were all cited as strengths of the district.
Some of the concerns, though, differed more between the two tables. Parents expressed concerns about student culture issues — in two ways. One worry is the pressure on students to achieve across the board, a second worry is a growing separation between the “gifted” students and the regular student body — what was termed as a growing disconnect between the two groups of students.
Meanwhile, the community members were more focused on financial matters — specifically the rate of tax increases and whether they might be forcing those on fixed incomes in the Unionville area to sell their properties. One community member suggested that all budgeting should start with the presumption of zero tax increases. The idea of an Earned Income Tax — as used in some neighboring districts to shift some of the tax burden off of retired residents — was brought up.
Other challenges cited by community members: anticipating future tech trends and preparing students for them. Former Board member and teacher Karen Halstead called for dropping German from foreign language and replacing it with Mandarin Chinese.
All of the information was collected by various district administrators and will be compiled into finalized data, and it will be published on the district web site. Seven of nine of the members of the Board of Education — all but Keith Knauss and Gregg Lindner — attended the event, and while they did not participate, all spent time listening and absorbing input from the public.
Following the break-out sessions, Sanville thanked those gathered.
“I wish that this was a roomful of people,” he said. “But I really appreciate both your insight and passion.”