Reducing class sizes, improving multicultural learning, and pushing back start times were among the ideas put forward to the Ridgefield Board of Education Monday night, as the district's Long-Range Planning Committees presented their program recommendations for two years out.
Each of the three bodies—composed of parents, teachers, administrators, community members, board of education representatives, and students—focused on one level of education, detailing proposals they had developed to help the board establish priorities for its next budget.
Branchville Elementary principal Jason McKinnon and Don Romoser of the Ridgefield PTA offered two broad goals from the elementary-level committee: enhancing instructional support and bringing down class sizes. The pair pointed out that Ridgefield has the lowest ratio of curriculum and support positions in its district reference group and cited a study which found that smaller class size in elementary school had an effect on achievement through eighth grade.
"When some of the teachers are getting to 27—or 28 when a kid comes in the middle of the year—that's becoming difficult for classroom management," Romoser said.
The class size proposal, which would reduce the ceiling to 10 students in pre-K up to 24 in fifth grade, drew cost concerns from board member John Palermo. "I think what you can argue about is it's really expensive," he said. "In this economy, I'm not sure this year or the next year it's something we're going to be able to consider." Several members replied that it was up to the board, rather than the planning committees, to determine financial feasibility.
East Ridge Middle principal Marty Fiedler and ERMS guidance counselor Toby Kawulicz spoke on behalf of the middle school-level committee, telling the board that better multicultural education was needed to give students "an appreciation of diverse world views, value systems, and points of view."
Fiedler and Kawulicz emphasized the role technology and the internet would play in such a curriculum, pointing to the global gallery of newspapers made available by the Newseum and playing a sample from a series of cross-cultural videos they hope to use.
Asked what resources would be needed to make these changes, Fielder said, "We think we're able to go without funding; funding will just make sure it happens a lot better."
The high school-level committee delegated its presentation to Ridgefield High students Carter Wilkinson, Molly Trillo, and Kadie Maher. The trio led with a recommendation to push back the start time at RHS—currently set at 7:25 a.m.—to match the adolescent production cycle of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which ends at a later point in the morning than in adults. Citing interviews, sleep research, and a similar decision made by Wilton High School in 2002, they argued that a later first bell would improve attendance, performance, and safety on the road.
The students also advocated adding a junior year planning phase to the senior year capstone internship program and making improvements to technology at RHS, including SMART Boards, wireless access, and video production equipment.
"You're absolutely right that if we don't integrate this [technology] better, we're going to fall behind as a country," vice-chairman Richard Steinhart said after the presentation.
The board also addressed several other matters Monday night. Members unanimously approved the creation of a 2010-2011 subcommittee on kindergarten to grade 5 reconfiguration, which is charged with studying and making a recommendation on reorganizing Ridgefield's elementary schools in light of declining enrollment projections.
Secretary Sandi Rose initially expressed concern that such a recommendation would come from the committee rather than superintendent Low, who made her own recommendation in January. After some discussion among the board of whether the body might be redundant or interfere with Low's job responsibilities, Rose ultimately supported the measure.
Low also commented briefly on the recent rash of iPod thefts at RHS, notifying the board that cameras would be added at locker room entrances.
"Five out of six of the iPods were recovered within 24 hours, and I think that's a testament to the high school staff," Low said. "Still, it's an unfortunate incident."