District 15 School Board Race: The Right Choices are Very ClearMarch 31, 2017
D15 School Board Candidate Mike Smolka Talks School Boundary Challenges, SolutionsMarch 31, 2017
Barb Kain is running for school board 2-year term; Frank Annerino, Mike Smolka, Anthony Wang and Lisa Szczupaj are 4-year term candidates.
First and foremost, I’ll be very straightforward. We are not teachers, principals, or administrators – though traditionally, the overwhelming majority of school board members are not. When it comes to decisions regarding the enhancement and improvement of curriculum, our administrators and teachers are the experts who must lead the way. That said, myself and my four running mates have had experiences from which we can draw upon as we consider one of the very important questions facing our school district; how to narrow the achievement gaps for our ESL (English as a second language) students that exist in our District 15 schools. These personal and professional experiences include having a mother who was a dual language elementary teacher, a parent who was an immigrant ESL student from Mexico, work experience in diverse school districts with access to high-level administrators, both parents being teachers who were exposed to similar challenges, and so on.
Numerous conversations and much research have led to the conclusion that there are many different ideas on how to best address achievement gaps. Not one is an easy, or a quick fix. Nonetheless, below are just a few ideas that warrant further exploration to identify strengths and challenges in terms of implementation in District 15. I should also mention that by working to close achievement gaps, we help our entire community. The value of our education, experiences and even the value of our homes, depend on the level of education we are providing for all children, and each and every community member and taxpayer in District 15.
Earlier integration of ESL students: District 15 typically separates students from predominantly Spanish-speaking households from primarily English speaking households until third grade. PARCC testing begins in third grade for all students. Typically speaking, these ESL students, who first join up with their English-speaking peers in 3rd grade, score lower on PARCC testing because of their lower English language proficiency. These low scores not only indicate these children are not equipped to be taking these tests, they also have a larger effect on the value of homes in the neighborhoods where these schools are location, as well as on our entire community, because low scores affect overall school ratings. Imagine if these Spanish-speaking ESL students were integrated with their peers beginning in kindergarten. Their English language proficiency would be markedly stronger by third grade when they’re expected to take standardized tests in English.
Dual language programming: We should consider offering all students living in neighborhoods of great socio-economic and language diversity, as well as those who live in neighborhoods near to their schools, the opportunity to participate in dual language programs which would be beneficial to all. An 18-year longitudinal study at George Mason University of dual language programs in 23 school districts and 15 states, found that dual language immersion fully closes the achievement gap between ELLs (English language learners) and native speakers of English. Also, this would allow children whose first language is English to begin to master a second language (Spanish) as early as kindergarten. These programs additionally make schools more attractive to homebuyers who are deciding between different neighborhoods based on the schools in their areas.
Blended classrooms that combine grades: We must look no further than D15 elementary school, Willow Bend, to see a successful blended classroom model that is currently in practice. Willow Bend has a far greater proportion of ESL students than schools with similar ratings in the district. The big difference between these top-rated schools? The blended learning model starts at first grade. With this model, there is greater flexibility to teach students based on their level of learning, without segregating anyone, or removing students from the classroom. The students are often paired so that the younger student can be introduced to higher level concepts and the older student has the benefit of helping ‘teach’ the younger or lower-achieving student.
For good or bad, currently these achievements are measured by performance on standardized tests. Even if success criteria are broadened to include more than just test scores, they will always be important benchmarks. Comprehensive strategies, in addition to those I have mentioned here, will help to provide all students with equal opportunities to access skills and tools they need to continue progressing. This not only benefits each and every child who attends District 15 schools; it also benefits our community and the value of homes in the neighborhoods where each of our schools exist.
The ideas above are just that…ideas. It’s important to consider progressive concepts like these, and vet them through our district leadership while looking on the outside to other school districts who have found success through their implementation. All of this, so that we can ensure we are doing the very best we can, to provide all students with the best opportunities for future success. Working toward providing a first-class education in District 15 benefits our student, our parents and every single taxpayer who lives in our community should always be the goal.
These achievement gaps in many of our District 15 schools must be addressed, because they have a serious impact on our community.
This District 15 school board election is very important. We have a range of issues that have existed for a substantial amount of time, and many of them surfaced during the fall of 2016 when the failed, $130 million referendum was proposed by the current school board.
Myself, along with Frank Annerino, Mike Smolka, Anthony Wang and Lisa Szczupaj will work tirelessly to represent all of the residents/taxpayers of District 15. We are each acutely aware that the value of our school district, and our entire community for that matter, is deeply tied to the level of education that we are able to provide for all.
Click here to view, a print/download a sample ballot. And please, encourage your friends, family, neighbors and other District 15 residents to get out the vote this April 4th!