“I hear a rumor that there’ll be no more switching for mathematics for grades 3,4, and 5,” stated Roselle Park parent Karen Donnelly during the second public portion of the September 6th Board Of Education (BOE) meeting, asking plainly, “Is that correct?”
School Superintendent Pedro Garrido replied, “That will be discussed during the back-to-school nights with the principals. If you can just wait till then, they’ll have a full report on any changes.”
Mrs. Donnelly, needing more specifics, continued, “Is that like as an option and we have a choice or is that just you’re going to be telling us what is or is not happening?”
Mr. Garrido responded by saying that each elementary school principal would address the rationale behind the decision during the back-to-school nights.
“And the rationale will be explaining why they are not switching?”, inquired Mrs. Donnelly.
“Yes,” answered the School Superintendent, pausing before adding, “or switching or not. There will be a rationale for any decision made.”
Mrs. Donnelly flat out asked, “What is the decision?”
Mr. Garrido answered, “Well right now, the decision is that they are not going to be switching.”
When it was confirmed that information would be given at back-to-school night, Mrs. Donnelly explained, “At back-to-school nights, we don’t really ask specific questions. We’re not allowed. It’s basically an introduction, and we’re sent off.”
“There’s a presentation on any changes,” remarked Mr. Garrido, “If you have any concerns, you can call the principal individually and they certainly can will talk to you about any changes.”
“I’ve tried that Mr. Garrido,” Mrs. Donnelly said, “That’s why I’m here . . . Can you explain to me why we’re not switching?”
“I’d rather it comes from the principals,” said Mr. Garrido, “It has to do with the curriculum.”
BOE member Troy Gerten interjected, “Last year, I recall some children came to the Board, and I apologize I don’t recall what age group . . . was it at that time only that grade that wasn’t switching?”
“It was just the fifth grade, and it was not they were no longer switching for science and social studies. They were still switching for math at that point,” clarified Mrs. Donnelly, “It was then told at our level, at Sherman, that although they were not switching, that we would still switch – maybe once a month – when they’re doing a special lesson, that they would then switch. That never happened.”
Mrs. Donnelly continued that she tried to address the issue in February but no switching between social studies or science classes ever happened. She then stated, “Now I’m hearing through the grapevine that we’re not switching for math. That concerns me. I’m not really getting a direct answer from you, Mr. Garrido. That concerns me as well.”
The School Superintendent offered the following by way of explanation, “We look at data very carefully, and we look to see where any gaps are and where we can gain any time . . . The curriculum pretty much drives also how much time we need to spend. The state also requires us to make sure that we provide the children with the times that they [need]; whether it’s math, language, arts, or whatever it is.”
Mr. Garrido then said he would speak with the principals and make sure that information is sent home on any rationale for the decision to not switch classes for math district-wide.
Mrs. Donnelly explained her position that mathematics was broken down into a high, middle, and low level of math and students at each level had instruction dedicated to their abilities or needs.
Mr. Garrido touched upon what is termed as ‘differentiated instruction’, where students of all levels of understanding are taught in the same classroom, adding that the state has recommended such instruction. He detailed, “Separating students by their levels, it’s really not a good practice. It really is not. What you’re doing is you’re holding students back. They learn better when they are with their peers . . . Research has shown that the high-level students benefit from having different levels of abilities in students. What I would ask you is [that] you give it an opportunity. We will show you the data to make sure that it’s working and, if it’s not, we will certainly move in another direction but now what we’re doing is we are moving the district forward with what the state is telling us is best practice.”
Mrs. Donnelly asked if the BOE had any say in such a decision. She was notified by Mr. Garrido that they do not.
Mr. Gerten asked, “Did it go through the committee at all, Mr. President or Mr. Garrido? Because it should, right? We’re modifying curriculum. It should come before the committee.”
“We’re not modifying curriculum, we’re modifying schedules,” explained Mr. Garrido, “Schedules is an administrative decision. It’s driven by the curriculum, but it’s modifying the schedule and the way we schedule our students.”
Another Board member, Alex Balaban, inquired if the change was driven by PARCC testing or the new state mandates. When told it was driven by multiple measures, Mr. Balaban asked, “But if this worked in the past, why are we changing now?”
“Did it work in the past?”, asked the School Superintendent, “Have you looked at the data, Mr. Balaban? I’d be more than happy to share the data with you.”
“But that’s the other thing, we need better communication,” said Mr. Balaban.
“I would certainly like to have some communication,” added Mrs. Donnelly.
Mr. Garrido addressed both comments, saying, “We’ll get that out to you.”
BOE President Chris Miller added to the conversation, “I’m a third grade teacher, as you know, and we switched last year at my school where I teach. This year we’re not switching and, actually, I’m very happy about that because when we did do the switching we lost about eight to tem minutes in transitional time and time is of the essence . . . It’s all on me to structure and scaffold those lessons and that’s what our teachers can do and should be able to do for our children as well.”
“I understand,” concluded Mrs. Donnelly, “This is just a great program, and I’m sorry that it’s no longer.”
Matthew Leingang, resident, parent, and BOE candidate – himself a math teacher – followed afterward and offered a suggestion regarding the new policy, “Would it be appropriate to have at a future Board Of Ed meeting a presentation about the advantages and disadvantages of the switching versus not switching?”
“That’s a great idea, and to answer Mrs. Donnelly, as well, I think that’s the communication,” said Mr. Garrido, “I absolutely will ask Mr. Salvo, our Director of Curriculum, to make a presentation on the switching and the pros of that.”
As of this afternoon, there is no separate agenda item for tonight’s meeting for a presentation on the policy of no switching between math classes for elementary school students.
Tonight BOE meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Roselle Park High School auditorium located at 185 West Webster Avenue.