Parent: “We Need Systemic Change”
By Sandy Barnes
Berthoud resident Pat Chamberlain was among a group of parents who sharply criticized the special education program in the Thompson School District at the Wednesday, Nov. 19 Board of Education meeting.
While speaking about what she termed as “the overwhelming inadequacy of special education,” in the school system, Chamberlain told board members she recently filed a lawsuit against the school district and taken her child out of the program. She also said her autistic youngster in now attending school in Denver.
“We need systemic change in special education,” said Loveland parent Kathy Hartman. “Our experiences range from doing legal battle to home schooling,” she said. “Our special education program is tired and worn out … We’re looking for change in the way we use resources.”
Other parents who spoke during the public participation portion of the school board meeting made similar statements about their frustrations with the quality of special education they believe their children are receiving.
While not directly responding to the concerns expressed by the parents, Thompson School District Superintendent Ron Cabrera said there is a need to meet the requirements of children in special education and to ensure adequate instructional skills and accountability of staff during a report he presented.
Cabrera said that, as a result of meeting and talking with parents and staff since he began serving as superintendent this past summer, he has been developing ideas and objectives regarding the educational system in his charge. Citing a survey indicating that 90 percent of the community is satisfied with the level of education in the Thompson School District, he described it as “valued and solid,” and an “environment in which students can succeed.”
However, Cabrera also said there are challenges to be met regarding academic rigor for students and keeping teacher quality at a high level. Much of the insight Cabrera gained was during his “100 Homes in 100 Days” initiative. During this time, the superintendent said he talked with 866 people and took 300 pages of notes.
During the meeting, school board members also debated the merits of a proposed calendar for the 2009-10 school year, which calls for the semester to begin in mid-August and ends before the winter holiday break. Director Lola Johnson and President Bill McCreary supported the proposed calendar, pointing to the advantage of students completing end of semester tests before the break.
“I know this is a change that may be difficult for parents to accept,” Johnson said. “But I know that test scores are better” if taken before the break. “I think the change in the calendar will help children enjoy their break and will bring families closer together,” she added.
Other board members objected to the early start date, expressing concerns with over-heated conditions in buildings and possibly interrupted summer vacation plans.
Director Don Abbott also took issue with the long holiday break in the calendar. “Three weeks at Christmas is too long,” he said.
“This is a calendar I can’t support,” said Karen Stockley, who was among those objecting to the early start state and long winter break.
With only two favorable votes, the motion to approve the calendar failed.
The school board did approve revised vision and mission statements for the district. “Empower to learn; challenge to achieve and inspire to excel” is the mission statement and the vision statement reads: “The Thompson School District will be a school district that empowers, challenges and inspires students, faculty, staff, parents, school leaders and community members.”
During a discussion of proposed changes to high school graduation requirements, high school student Evan Burnett expressed his objections because of a cut in the civics requirement. Johnson also said that she had a concern about decreasing civics education. “I strongly believe that it should be a full credit for students to understand what government is all about,” she said.
While civics would be reduced to one-half credit, a world language requirement would be added along with additional math, science and language arts credits in the recommended changes.
In her presentation, Lynn Langton of Student Achievement Services said that another recommendation would be to offer Algebra I at the eighth grade level.
Stockley said she did not believe teaching eighth grade algebra is “realistic.”
“Some of those kids are not going to get it,” she said. “I think what would be more important would be a consumer class in finance.”
McCreary noted the changes in high school graduation requirements are being driven at the state Department of Education.