Thoughts on the Scranton School District’s New Educational Plan
February 5, 2017

In Saturday’s Scranton Times, we learned that the Scranton School District is going to make some major changes to the educational structure of the district.  Nobody disputes that this is necessary, but, of course, most will dispute the best course of action.

There’s been a rather intense feud between Dr. Alexis Kirijan, the Superintendent, and Rosemary Boland, the head of the Scranton Federation of Teachers.  That feud permeates just about everything.  Dr. Kirijan is immensely qualified to do her job, despite early growing pains, and Rosemary Boland is an excellent and knowledgeable advocate for her membership.  The latter finds the changes “abhorrent” and the former wouldn’t have introduced them if she hadn’t thought them necessary.

So I thought I’d evaluate them from my perspective as Some Dude:

■ A five-day rotating schedule for all elementary students, with intensive instruction in English/language arts, math, science and social studies on four days. On the fifth day, students would have classes such as library, physical education, art and music, with the classroom teacher getting a large block of planning time with other teachers. Students would no longer be dismissed early on Tuesdays.

This, I believe, is a bad idea.  The arts and music and physical education and the library are all breaks in the day.  Young kids, especially, have short attention spans and need these to break up the day.  Creative and physical outlets shouldn’t be relegated to one day per week.  They should happen every day and be interspersed with academics.

I agree entirely that there’s no need to dismiss students early on Tuesdays.  Scranton already has the shortest school day in the entire state.

Why would the district want to do this?   It would likely decrease the amount of librarians and teachers needed in the arts.  I don’t see how it’s practical to have “Friday” be designated the district-wide day of creativity and gym.  Instead, I bet different buildings would have different designated days so that art teachers and phys ed teachers could float around the district.  It would mean cuts in the staff (likely through attrition).

At the intermediate level, extending academic classes from 47 to 57 minutes. Students would take one “related arts” class per day, instead of two, to allow for extra time in core classes. Some related arts teachers, such as music and art instructors, may move to the elementary school.

This doesn’t make much sense to me, for the reasons stated above.  The arts are too important to the growth and development of students.  Further, we’ve seen gains in our Intermediate schools, in terms of academic performance.  While increasing class time for academics sounds good, it shouldn’t be to the detriment of the arts.  I’ve said it often: the district put a violin in my hands in 4th grade, and it helped make me who I am today.  Having creative outlets helps students in other subjects (feel free to research the correlation between musical proficiency and math proficiency– it makes sense, as music is inherently mathematical).

Why would the district want to do this?  Again, it would cut teachers in the realm of the arts.  I  believe both this proposal and the one affecting the elementary are about cost-saving, rather than about providing better education. Look at the last line of that proposal.  The district may move teachers to the elementary?  But they are already relegating the arts to one day per week.  There won’t be a need to do that.  Instead, you’ll simply see cuts.

At the high schools, restructuring the schedule to allow for the last period of the day to be an open period for study halls, tutoring, club meetings, assemblies and other activities. No academic time will be lost, Dr. Kirijan said. Schedule changes are managerial decisions that do not require a board vote, she said.

This is an idea I can absolutely get behind.  Riverside (where I teach) has something like this.  We structure it as an optional period for students to take tests, work at the library on research or assignments, or seek help from teachers.  It’s also time we use for club meetings.  If Scranton had something similar, it would be excellent for students.  Students who are failing a subject could be mandated to stay with that teacher during this time.  Students who are absent could take tests during this time (rather than missing instructional time).  This is an all-around phenomenal idea.

Eliminating the half-day preschool program for 3-year-olds, and instead, extending preschool for 4-year-olds from half day to full day. This will allow more time for core academics, Dr. Kirijan said. With the change, the maximum class size will decrease from 22 to 20 students. Local day care centers will be given the district’s curriculum for 3-year-olds. There are currently 111 children in the 3-year-old preschool program, and 280 spots will be available for the full-day program for 4-year-olds.

I’m ambivalent about this one.  If those 111 kids (and all future participants) can be guaranteed a FREE spot in these local day cares, then I’m fine with the change.  If not, then this will cost families money and I’ll be against it.  Extending pre-school to a full day is a good idea.  Socializing kids and giving them formal educational structure has been demonstrated to be very helpful for kids in the long run.

Proposing to change the cut-off date for students entering preschool and kindergarten. Students entering preschool must be 4 years old by July 1, and those entering kindergarten must be 5 by July 1, instead of Sept. 1. Students currently in district preschool programs would not be affected, but for new district students, the date change will take effect this July, pending board approval.

I’m ambivalent about this one, as well.  Is there a major developmental difference between kids born on July 1st as opposed to September 1st?  I doubt it.  I didn’t go to preschool, but I was the youngest kid in my kindergarten class (having been born on September 27th with a cutoff of October 1st at that time).  I ended up finishing in the top 5% of my high school class, so I could hack it.   But I’m just one person.  My instinct tells me that maturity level matters, and that will vary between kids and not be tied to age.  Maybe an entrance test that’s both cognitive and behavioral for kids whose parents want an exemption from the cutoff?  Regardless, I’d like to see empirical evidence for this kind of timing.

In fact, I’d like to see the empirical evidence the Superintendent used for all of these decisions.  I’m sure they didn’t come out of nowhere.

Anyway, my overall assessment here isn’t rosy.  I think the “restructuring” of the arts is really just a ploy to cut them (and their teachers), thereby saving money.  The “last period” plan is absolutely great.  And we need more info on the pre-school changes.

Parents, teachers, and tax-payers: What do you think?

Leave a Reply