HUDSON–The school district held a second community conversation for district residents Thursday, October 1. This time the participants’ top recommendations for improving education included: “additional mental health”; “an anonymous peer-to-peer hotline”; “more kinetic and hands on learning as opposed to paper and pencil”; and “improve continuity and communication between all teachers.”
At the previous community conversation in August, which was better attended, the top recommendations included community school programs, Power of Peace workshops, school uniforms, and seeing “diversity as a strength rather than a negative.”
About 10 people in addition to district officials came to the October meeting. These included a high school student, a new resident in the district who has a two-year-old child, several people who work or have worked in education, and only one man. About two-thirds were at their first community conversation, according to an estimate by meeting facilitator Andrew DeFeo, assistant superintendent at Questar III BOCES.
In addition to Mr. DeFeo, officials at October’s meeting included Hudson City School District (HCSD) Superintendent Maria Suttmeier; April Prestipino, the district coordinator of school improvement; Maria McLaughlin, president of the HCSD’s Board of Education; HCSD board member and mayoral candidate Tiffany Martin Hamilton; board member Carrie Otty; Antonio Abitabile, principal of Hudson High School; and Willette Jones, a Community Schools parent coordinator.
As happened at the August meeting, participants divided into groups, using specific questions as springboards discussions of educational issues. At last week’s meeting the three school board members wrote down suggestions indicated by the discussion. At regular intervals, Mr. DeFeo directed participants to change groups, exposing them to different questions. At the end, Mr. DeFeo posted the suggestions on a wall and gave each participant six adhesive colored dots to stick on the suggestion(s) they favored the most.
During the discussion session Superintendent Suttmeier told a group that part of a growth mindset is that “when a student says, ‘I can’t do it,’ we tell the student, ‘You can’t do it yet.’“
The superintendent also said the curriculum should have enough diversity “so that students see themselves in it.”
The questions discussed at the October meeting were the same four used in August. Among them were: “What changes do you envision could create a more rigorous and challenging environment for our students?” and “How can we improve communication between schools, caregivers, and students so that expectations and requirements are consistently and more easily understood?”
In reaction to these, Hudson resident Maija Reed said, “I’m concerned with ‘rigorous’ rather than understanding how children learn. We’re looking at rigor because you have these insane tests. But when you say ‘rigor and challenge,’ you take away joy and creativity. And you want to support the child, not squash the child. Teachers should ask each parent: What do you want your child to have when it finishes school?“
An employee of the High School said, “With Common Core, you have to have your kids prepared to go to kindergarten. But with pre-kindergarten half day, and me working full time, how do I pick my son up? For me, universal pre-kindergarten is not an option.”
“How do we trigger the desire to learn in reluctant learners?,” she continued. “What happens between when your child is in second grade, and he loves to read, and when your child is in 9th grade when kids don’t want to read?
“Schools have a fear of writing,” she added. “You have to write what you know, and you have to write what you are passionate about.”
Additional comments triggered by these questions included:
- The district’s different schools “don’t communicate with each other.”
- “The principal, as the building leader, sets the tone.”
- Pre-kindergarten should not be mandatory for everybody, at least now.
- “Students need to know people care about them.”
- Ms. McLaughlin that not teaching cursive handwriting ” is dumbing down.”
- Ms. Jones and others said the online Parent Portal is “difficult to get into.”
- Ms. Hamilton said, “Curriculum maps are detailed but confusing.”
Another guide question asked how the district could foster the students’ “social emotional development and well-being.”
“Teachers need to understand their own social and emotional selves,” said Ms. Reed.
“Students need to speak out so you see how they really are,” said the student.
“You need to feel safe in the school,” said Ms. Hamilton, adding that when she went to school, the place students subjected to bullying feared most was the cafeteria.
Ms. Jones suggested “community resource rooms” to welcome children who want to avoid the cafeteria.
The fourth guide question addressed the district’s diversity, asking, “What can we do to support each child, regardless of differences, in a more challenging and rigorous academic climate?”
Among the suggestions were multicultural festivals and videos, lessons where each student tells about his or her family background and customs, and having students record interviews with their parents about conditions when their parents went to school.
Other points raised included asking how to “reflect diversity in the curriculum,” how to “mirror diversity in school functions” and how to have the racial make-up of the faculty reflect that of the students.
Someone said, “Stay away from Facebook to avoid negative comments.”
The community conversations, Superintendent Suttmeier said, provide input for the administration to “take, prioritize, and put into a plan” as the District administration sets goals for 2020.