Ms. Renz appeared during Citizen Speak at the most recent School Committee meeting. Following is full text of her remarks to the committee.
Thank you Chairman Pavlicek, members of the School Committee (“SC”) Board, Superintendent Gormley and Assistant Superintendents Phelan and Gillis.
My name is Jennifer Renz and my husband, Justin, and I reside at 48 Walnut Street. We are the parents of three children, twins that will be entering second grade English at the Glover in August 2012 and an incoming first grade English student who is slated to enter the co-taught class as a role model student at the Glover. I say slated because my husband and I have yet to decide whether or not my youngest son should enter a classroom that we feel is not presently educationally sound.
Currently, in order to survive and thrive, the three elementary programs (English, Co-Taught and French Immersion (“FI”) are set up to compete for population in each of the four schools. Of the 351 cities and towns in this Commonwealth, Milton is the only town that administers elementary curriculum programs this way. This process requires a tremendous amount of oversight, energy and resources and distracts from the fundamental mission of the Milton Public Schools (“MPS”). The SC and Administration now recognize there is a problem and are working to arrive at a forward looking solution that focuses on the entire elementary population.
During the School Committee meeting of 6/27/12, as the discussion concerning adding an additional kindergarten class and request for program data evolved, a few School Committee members openly asked what the up-to-date assignment policy is that the SC and Administration follow when placing elementary students in grades K-5. An up-to-date statement of the Elementary School Assignment policy inclusive of K-5 (as of today) is still not available on the website. The PDF document posted reflects the 2007 policy. Subsequent revisions that the SC has voted on and approved from 2007 through 2012 are not available to residents. During the past five years, revision to the elementary assignment policy has occurred. In addition, the 2010 World Language Committee, which studied assignment policy and not program curriculum, made assignment recommendations that have not been fully heeded and as a result the elementary assignment environment is at the crisis point.
For the fifth year in a row, across all schools, enrollment in French has outpaced enrollment in English. This year’s first grade assignment process saw the reduction of an English class in Cunningham while two auxiliary FI classes were created at Cunningham and Glover. This is the same year that English classes in those two schools were targeted to be eliminated. Presently, at Cunningham, there will only be one incoming first grade English class. This administration has decided that to fix this problem the first grade students will merge with the Collicot first grade English program. This means that Cunningham will not have a standalone English program for those incoming first graders for the remainder of their elementary education. Some may argue that merging the English first grade programs between the two schools is not a big deal because educationally it will not do any harm to the students. I agree, but we need to look at other aspects of this merger.
Every year that this first grade class moves to the next grade, Cunningham English teachers at each grade will either be displaced to another grade or will lose their positions. This helps to continue to shrink the English program and hinders teacher’s abilities to become experts at grade level instruction. Each year the teachers will have to worry if they have a job or not because there aren’t enough children learning in English at Cunningham. Cunningham, for three years in a row, is hosting the additional auxiliary FI class. It will also possibly house the additional kindergarten class this year. Knowing that no standalone first grade English program exists in Cunningham makes Cunningham not a neighborhood school but a school based on program. This materially changes the “design” of the programs in each of the four elementary schools that was mutually determined by the administration and SC. This issue was foreshadowed by the World Language Committee report in 2010.
Presently, at the Glover School, there will be two very small first grade English classes (I believe the numbers are 11 and 14) but there will be 3 full French Immersion classes housing 26 students in each classroom without a classroom aide. This means that over 75% of the incoming first grade students at the Glover School are in the French program. More concerning than this, is the gender issue in the Glover first grade class. Out of the 25 children in the English program, there are only 5 girls. Since this administration does not want a same sex class, these five girls will be split between the two classes. Glover School has to have two English classes because they will have a co-taught class. During the Citizen Speak portion of the SC meeting on 6/27/12, Mrs. Bradshaw spoke up because her daughter is in the co-taught class and there will only be two female role models for her daughter in that class. There are over 315 first grade children in the district and only two female role model girls are available for this class?! This is horrendous!
Since there are only five girls total in the English program at Glover and only 20 boys, there are very few role models for the co-taught class because not every student is appropriate to be a role-model. This may mean that the same girls and boys will need to be role models for many years. Co-Taught classrooms should be equitably balanced first, before all other enrollment takes place within the English and French Immersion classes. Along with being educationally sound and innovative, the co-taught program saves the MPS money as those children requiring services are not placed out of district. We need to support our students in the co-taught program.
What seems to have been lost in the recent press and biased media accounts is the moral and legal obligation of this school system to educate children in English. The French Immersion program has evolved to where it is no longer perceived as an elective but rather a right. This elitist attitude has no place in the MPS and it needs to be addressed immediately!
During the past year, there have been multiple email requests to the SC as well as many requests from parents during Citizen Speak for the SC to post its Comprehensive Assignment Policy. That request has been ignored. Why is a five year old artifact the only document being referred to concerning enrollment in the MPS? This is the reason why we are at the crisis point today.
In summary, I would like a commitment from all members of the SC and administration on all 4 of the following short-term issues impacting first-graders:
- Fix horrendous gender imbalance at Glover
- Provide more appropriate role models in both sexes for our co-taught classroom at Glover
- Recommit to a second strand of English at the Cunningham School. While numbers will be low initially for this upcoming school year, those numbers will gradually increase due to new students moving into the district or from students having to drop out of the FI class. Superintendent Gormley spoke last week that there is still money in the budget to reinstate this second class. By reinstating this strand of English, the Administration and SC would be showing their commitment to the English and STEP and LEAP programs at the Cunningham School.
- Post the Comprehensive Assignment Policy on the MPS website ASAP so parents can refer to it when making decisions concerning their child’s education.