Tackled by critics of proposed elementary school curriculum changes, Columbia County School Superinten-dent Tommy Price did what all good quarterbacks do: He called a time-out.
Soon Price will call a huddle of Columbia County parents, and once again try to explain proposals to standardize school time and staff expenditures.
I think whats needed now is to calm everything down, Price said during a candid conversation in his Appling office. I accept responsibility; we havent communicated very well in this matter. Once the water is this muddy, its hard to clear it up.
As one who helped keep the puddle stirred, I should help clear things up, too. There are still some philosophical differences between us, but Price is right: He has no incentive, as one parent accused him in a nasty e-mail, to dumb down the school system.
Why would I want to do such a thing? Price asks.
I had a similar reaction when it appeared the rigid guidelines from the Com-prehensive Elementary Cur-riculum Review Committee would be implemented. Why would they do such a thing?
It didnt make sense. In a memo to the School Board, Price wrote that schools seeking waivers from the proposed guidelines would have to show that their requests would be based on achievement results. Yet standardization of time for elementary schools was being done without any prior study of the achievement differences for schools with varied schedules.
While Price concedes the point, some schools clearly had gotten off track - emphasizing non-academic areas at the expense of core programs: math, science, history and language arts.
Such differences are OK if the school has great scores. Sagging schools must answer for every minute of their time, however - especially if core subjects arent getting the proper emphasis.
What is proper? Thats part of the problem. The curriculum proposal simply said more here, less here, without evaluating individual school success. The result was a one-size-fits-all proposal.
When studying the differences in achievement be-tween schools, it is obvious most schools in Columbia County are doing just fine, while some are struggling. Even the countys worst-ranked schools do better than the state average on most standardized tests, but there are still wide differences in overall achievement.
Why? Some people fall back on the tired old us-vs.-them argument: The rich schools do well, while kids in poor schools are doomed.
Too often those differences are an excuse for failure. One place to start turning around those attitudes is by looking for differences that arent just income-based - such as variations in schedules.
Thats where the curriculum study fell short. It set up standardized times for classes, but no one asked if any individual school would do better or worse as a result.
There is time to fix that problem. Price says school officials will establish standards for core time that are somewhat looser than had been proposed, and then they will just back off.
The question remains: Will the schools be improved by even these small changes? Not as much as they would improve if parents kept up this extraordinary level of interest. A mom from one of the worst-ranked schools, for example, marveled at the dozens of attentive parents at a recent meeting to discuss the proposals. Its a miracle if we get 25 to show up at a PTO meeting, she said.
Its time for everyone to get off the sidelines. Parents and school board members will soon have a chance to join the huddle Price will call, perhaps as early as Tuesday when the board meets in Appling. When the time comes to get back on the field, we must remember: We are all on the same team.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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