“We have some students from the Sherman School who’d like to say something to the Board Of Education,” stated acting Board President Loren Harms during the October 20th Board Of Education (BOE) meeting. The issue at hand was the removal of having 5th graders in the district change classrooms, in part as preparation of middle school and high school. Five students introduced themselves to the Board.
The first student, Sarah began, “Good evening Superintendent Garrido and members of the Board Of Education. We present you with a petition filled with over 130 signatures of 4th graders, 5th graders, and teachers from Sherman School. We, as the students of Sherman Elementary School, feel that we should be able to switch for Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts alongside our Math classes on a daily basis for the following reasons.”
“We have already gone through a whole year of switching . . . so now we are confused as to why we are not switching any longer.”
Caitlin then stated, “When we were in 4th grade, we assumed that we were going to have all of the fifth grade teachers – instead of just one or two – for all the different subjects. We looked forward to meeting and getting to know all of the 5th grade teachers and we were upset when we found out that we weren’t switching anymore. Even though we love our one or two teachers, we were so excited to move around for different classes like we did last year. Many of the kids up here tonight also play soccer or are involved in other town activities, which means they have talked to students from the other elementary schools about this problem. Most, if not all, of the other kids agree that we should be able to switch for all of our classes. Even though they haven’t signed petitions like we have, we still think that their opinions matter. We want fairness not just for us, but for all of the 4th and 5th grader students in Roselle Park.”
Derek spoke last, proclaiming, “When this change happened, we were never told about it, and weren’t really prepared. We don’t think our feelings were included when a decision for us to stop switching classes happened. We think there should have, at least, been a vote or we should have been asked how we felt about this. We are all a little upset that we weren’t included in your decision-making process.”
All students closed their remarks by addressing the Board in unison, “Thank you for your time and your attention to this matter. We hope that you will strongly consider restoring the switching of classes in elementary schools.”
BOE President Harms responded, “Thank you students for coming forward and giving your opinion on what you think should be done. You spoke up for all the other fifth graders whether it was in Sherman, Aldene, or Robert Gordon. I think this is a good learning experience for the other students who might not have thought that a petition could be brought to us.”
Mr. Harms then asked if School Superintendent Garrido would like to address the students. The superintendent obliged, saying, “First of all, I want to thank you and congratulate you on the way that you handled this and I think this is a perfect experience for you on how democracy works. You can state your opinion. When I was your age I lived in a country that I couldn’t do this. This country gives you the right to come up [and] speak about decisions that have been made, if you disagree with them, and share your opinions with people and that’s a great, great thing to do and again I commend you on the way you handled this.”
“These decisions don’t come very easy. Administrators discuss this based on what we want you to learn and what we think is the best way for you to learn.” – Pedro Garrido
Literacy blocks provide concentrated instruction on reading, phonics, and writing within a confined time-frame.
Mr. Harms asked, “Is there a way in each school . . .that the principals can kind of get a hold of the 5th graders and explain to them so they kind of understand a little bit more than what tonight was said?”
He instructed that the superintendent speak with principals, adding, “We just don’t want you to walk out of here tonight saying nothing’s going to be done. We don’t want you to feel that way. We want you to . . . explain to you why we did it.”
A parent in the audience stated that the students had already spoken to the principals. Mr. Garrido stated he will have the issue explained again and ask the principals reach out to him if they have any further questions.
“It’s a little bit more than just the curriculum that’s being made out there,” clarified Mr. Harms, “There’s a little more involved with it . . . Let’s have meeting with the principals and let’s see how it works out and if you’re still not satisfied, you’re welcome to come back.”
He half jokingly added, “Or call Mr. Garrido.”
Later in the meeting, Jim Crevani, a parent of a student in the school district approached the Board during the second public portion. He first thanked Superintendent Garrido for holding his ‘Meet The Superintendent’ forums, remarking, “I think they’re a good opportunity for everybody in a different forum to discuss things.”
“They had stated . . . that they had come up with a way that three days a week they could change class and they were shot down.” – Jim Crevani
Mr. Garrido replied, “I will certainly discuss that with the administration but as you just mentioned that there [are] requirements and mandates on the number of minutes especially now with literacy and the language arts blocks.”
The superintendent even commented that a BOE member had reminded him that the middle school is not switching as it used to because of the certain number of minutes required for Math and Language Arts.
“It’s best practice,” Mr. Garrido continued, “We never close the doors. We want to make sure that the decisions that we make are in the best interest of the students . . .There’s always pros and cons and we have to weigh what’s in the best interest of the children.”
Mr. Crevani added a closing remark, “If there was a shift, I think we might have thought about possibly doing it as rolling it out with the earlier grades like let the 4th and 5th grades finish out like they’re doing now. Just an idea. There are ways to go about implementing new policies and practices rather than just throwing them upon the kid the first day of school which is not fair.”
“I believe that we should have a lot better communication,” the BOE President agreed, stating that it should include the students, especially in the fifth grade when students are able to understand such issues.
Through all the discussions, perhaps the lesson that can be taken from it is that – contrary to the contemporary belief that asking automatically means getting – one should not stop asking questions but continue to do so because if no redress is made, those elected may not fully know what needs to be addressed. Additionally, on the Board’s (and government’s) end, perhaps notifying those who will be impacted before such a decision is implemented might result in less confusion and more understanding from a proactive stance.