What Are My Thoughts on Recent Issues?
Issues of academic stress, bias, special education, homework, sustainability, our divided community, careful growth, and empathy are all important to me. Please read on to learn my views on each of these pressing local issues. And don’t hesitate to contact me with other issues.
Unnecessary Academic Stress and Chaos at the High School:
The Challenge Success Survey results illuminated the high levels of stress and homework experienced by many of our high school students. Reporting an average of over 3 hours of homework a night and less than 7 hours of sleep, it is clear that many high schoolers are “doing school” and finding very little enjoyment in their work. The high school has proposed a number of changes slated for 2018-19, which I applaud and am eager to see put in action. A later start time for high schoolers, longer breaks, and the shift towards block-scheduling are all designed to reduce stress, but further assessment will be needed to ensure these actions are effective.
In addition, our high school must undergo a tremendous reorganization to ensure all students are truly getting a fair chance at success and meaning. Administrators must learn to effectively communicate with parents, to provide students access to teachers and counselors, and to support children with falling grades.
Bias Issues in Our Schools:
In recent years, students have brought to light disturbing incidents of bias that we need to address. Furthermore, statistics show that our district disproportionately punishes students of color. These unfortunate trends need to be addressed by teaching racial literacy not only to our students, but also to our staff and teachers, while also ensuring that these attempts are meaningfully effective. In addition, when future incidents arise, we need to act swiftly to make these teachable moments for all of our children.
Finally, we also need to address our hiring practices, our student advancement practices, and our curriculum to ensure that our schools reflect our community and its values. Recruitment efforts at historically-black colleges and universities are underway, and I support and urge expansion of these efforts.
Strengthened Special Education:
Statewide and locally, approximately 20% of students require special education services. When parents of these children speak of gaps in education, we must all listen. For not only do the issues they raise impact children with special needs — issues like smoothing grade-to-grade transitions, providing differentiated instruction, and improving parent communication — they are also valuable improvements for all students. If we as a district truly want to see every child known, then we must listen to and partner with these insightful parents to bring about improvements in the school’s services.
Based on the latest research, the district is in the process of establishing homework guidelines of 10 minutes/day per grade. E.g., a 3rd grader should have no more than 30 minutes of homework and a 9th grader, 90 minutes. However, we now know many 9th graders are doing at least twice as much as recommended. We need to implement this evidence-based advice for all grades without delay.
A Leader for Sustainability:
With a background in scientific research and analysis, I was particularly pleased to learn that the district had recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. These rigorous standards promise to bring scientific and technological literacy to all children. And with this new curriculum, we will teach about our undeniable impact on our world and how we can provide solutions.
Now, the district must step up and lead by example. We need to be responsible stewards of our facilities, build and maintain energy-efficient campuses, and train our staff accordingly. It’s imperative that we advance and support sustainable practices in our schools, not only to ensure our science teachings have true meaning and our energy expenses reduced, but also so that we can support Princeton’s steps toward a Climate Action Plan.
A Divided Community:
While litigation is ongoing, the Princeton Charter School (PCS) was approved to expand this year, in spite of the District’s and the community’s opposition. The lack of transparency in the PCS planning process was troubling and I, in particular, continue to be alarmed by the divisiveness in the community.
In order to work together and move on, we need to establish a long-overdue “bipartisan” commission. With both PCS and Princeton Public School (PPS) representatives, this commission could open a missing dialogue between the two sides and seek solutions for all types of students. With further consideration and analysis, I believe that not only can the two schools establish a working relationship, but PPS can also be strengthened.
The District is undergoing a period of growth and I consider this a welcome opportunity to bring change to the district. However, any growth we initiate must come with buy-in from all of the stakeholders in the community and must not be at the expense of the dated infrastructure we already have. While we know that the middle school and high school are already operating above capacity, we must wait for the final agreement regarding affordable housing before we fully can estimate the expected rise in the population. Thus, a measured approach and careful consideration of all options is necessary to ensure that the public’s tax dollars are well-spent.
Empathy for All:
In a high-stakes testing culture, it is all to easy for students to work against each other, rather than with each other. And it is precisely for that reason that empathy must take center stage. Empathy does not require everyone to agree with each other, but rather that every viewpoint and every person is considered respectfully. Such skills are crucial for teamwork and effective leadership, and build emotional intelligence. Thus, we must not only teach empathy to our students, but administrators and teachers also need to model it in our classrooms.
Stay In Touch: I’d love to hear your ideas!
- Challenge Success Survey: Stanford Survey Data for PHS students
- Budget: 2017-18 User-Friendly Budget or the April Budget Presentation
- Enrollment Projects: March 2017 Demographic Study
- Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending
- Recent PPS BOE Meetings:
- October 24: Review the full video or read the highlights.
- September 26: Watch the full video.
- August 29: Check out the highlights or the full video.
- July 18: Review the highlights.
- June 3: Watch the full video.
- May 23: Review the summary or watch the full video.
- May 9: Scan the summary.
- Earlier meetings may be viewed on the PPS YouTube Channel.