, Newburyport, MA

June 6, 2014

What is really wrong with our schools?

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

As a resident of Newburyport for the past 14 years and Mom to three little boys growing up here, I have a lot invested in this town. I love Newburyport and I want to be able to stay and raise my family here.

Recently, much attention has been focused on issues affecting the education of our children within the Newburyport School District. Budget deficits in the millions of dollars year after year are discouraging, as are the mediocre test scores. The state of the Special Education Department has been abysmal. I have dropped my children off to learn in crumbling buildings. Like many parents, I have been frustrated by poor communication from administrators about things like busing and school start times.

But one thing I have felt recently is the genuine concern of the community and willingness to try to make things better for our kids. We have voted to improve the infrastructure of our schools and hold administrators accountable for fostering dialogue with stakeholders.

However, I think one area we need to focus on more closely is curriculum. You can make the schools look pretty, increase the budget, we can hire great teachers (and we do have some great ones) and pay them some of the highest rates in the state and have an administration that consults parents on each logistical decision — but if the curriculum is poor nothing else will matter.

The district has 10 half-days and two full days per year devoted to staff/curriculum development. The half-days count as full educational days for our children toward the 180-day requirement. And yet year after year as my younger children move through the grades, we do the exact same projects, listen to the exact same musical presentations, do the exact same homework as my older son did years before.

This week, my fourth-grader brought home a permission slip for a field trip to Margarita’s (yes, the bar/restaurant). We live in an area ripe with fun, educational and cultural opportunities and the best we can do with our limited educational time and resources is a $12 trip to a chain Mexican restaurant? When I asked how this field trip was chosen, I was told that it supported the curriculum of the fourth grade and had been part of that curriculum for years.

Clearly something needs to change. We need to look beyond the surface and address the issues at the level of what is being taught to our students and how it is being taught. Parents, hold the district accountable for what the district is choosing to teach our kids! School administrators and staff, use curriculum development days wisely —they come at great cost to educational time.

And most importantly, listen to the parents! More than one administrator found my questioning the educational value of the All-You-Can-Eat Taco buffet offensive. Families are what will build this city. Don’t let them start to leave before we get brave enough to look at the real issues.

Christine Miller