Columbia Countys effort to bring equity to elementary school programs has lost its focus. All it takes is a little homework to fix it.
Much of the recent attention has centered on proposed changes that threaten the highly regarded foreign language programs at South Columbia and Stevens Creek elementary schools. But the proposals, tentatively approved last week by the School Board, could also hurt other elementary schools that would lose teachers if new staffing guidelines become permanent policy.
This all started innocently enough, with a study of enrichment programs: physical education, art and music, and foreign language in limited cases. Some smaller schools, it was discovered, had proportionately more enrichment teachers than larger schools.
That could have been fixed by simply adding a handful of enrichment teachers at the larger schools. Instead, tight-fisted school system officials devised a formula that redistributes existing teachers. That means four smaller schools, including Euchee Creek and Evans Elementary, will lose long-established personnel; only two will gain.
To make matters worse, the task force studying the issue also decided to micromanage the workday for all elementary schools. The resulting new guidelines dictate the number of minutes students would spend on each subject - without regard for any schools individual population or programs.
Amazingly, only one trustee - Regina Buccafusco - has the foresight to argue against cutting staff and restructuring the school day just to meet some one-size-fits-all proposal. Without an explanation of the impact on individual schools, I cant support it, she says.
Thats a key point: Neither the committee nor school system officials made any effort to study whether current staffing and scheduling helps or hurts students.
In pushing for conformity of elementary programs, Superintend-ent Tommy Price asserts that individual schools have gotten too widely varied in their approach to the school day. True; but shouldnt the first job have been to determine if any of those schools had perhaps hit upon a better formula? Isnt improved student achievement supposed to be the basis for making changes?
Trustees promise to be generous when schools seek waivers from the arbitrary constrictions of the new policy. Thats not good enough. Before allowing this rigid proposal to become a rigid policy, school board members must demand answers on the possible affects on classroom learning. To do anything less is to fail in their duties as stewards of Georgias premiere education system.
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