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Board of Education Hears Long-Range Proposals

Technology featured prominently as three committees laid out their vision for improving Ridgefield's schools down the line.

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."

Concerned April 27, 2010 at 03:52 PM
I love our school system, and I appreciate all these good ideas, but I think we make this too complicated. One day I'd like to hear talk about the need to do nothing more than sit students down in front of a book and get them to study. Everyone reduces this to magic elixirs. We need smaller classes, smart boards, global newspapers, multicutural education. What about simply sitting down and studying reading, 'riting and 'rithmitic? For example, some whiz bang educators created a list of 400 books students should read while in high school. Why not make something like that the focus instead of all this peripheral stuff? A smart board isn't a substitute for reading. Nothing is. And heck, reading is free!! Beaucoup languages, redundant school buildings, internships - I'm afraid all these wish list items sometimes distract the students from the core of education. I think it sometimes distracts the parents too. I love you guys, but I worry that we have turned education into keeping up with the Jones Family in other towns, rather than simply educating - really educating - the students in our town.
Ridgefield Mom April 27, 2010 at 11:52 PM
Concerned- I unerstand what you are saying. I think they do produce that list that a student should read in high school in addition to extras. If you had been at the presentation you would have seen that the "extras" in middle school cost nothing- it means using a different newspaper and, hopefully, looking at the world in a slightly different way. As for the smaller clazz size at the elementary school, this is not an extra, this is a neccessity. I urge you to look at the research and see the impact.
Irene Burgess April 28, 2010 at 01:44 PM
Concerned, Please keep in mind that the mandate of these Long Range Planning Committee's are to look outside of the box and come up with items that in 2 or 3 years might become part of the district priorities. The things you mention are part of the normal every day goals of the schools, they have not been forgotten or overlooked. They happen each and every day as part of the goals of our educators. They are why they educate and why they love what they do. The presentations by the Long Range Planning Committee's are the bells and whistle's, the icing on the cake. They are the nice to haves, not necessarily the need to haves (however they do present those as well at times, i.e. changing the RHS start time, smaller class sizes). These committee's look at how our children need to learn in order to be competitive in a global world. Might I suggest you read the book "The World is Flat". It is a wonderful eye opener into the world in which we now live and the world in which our children are entering. While many of us are aware of this world, it doesn't effect us on a daily basis as we drive through town, go to work (in some cases) or do our volunteering. This book really brings it home why we push our kids and our schools the way we do. Thank you for your comments and concerns. Irene Burgess BOE Member

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