Snyder's Sandwich: Parents Speak Out About School District Changes

Mark SnyderGENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - Mark Snyder

With all the changes that have been proposed over the next two school years by superintendent of schools C. Richard Canfield—from opening the STEM Academy to the proposed reconfiguration of the K through 6 classes—I thought we might take a look at what parents think of the changes. I placed a call to Dr. Canfield’s office early Monday morning, June 16, and did not get a response before my deadline for this piece.

Parents have a lot to say about the changes, especially the school reconfiguration. In fact, there is an active Facebook page, titled, “Keep Sandwich Schools K-6,” which has 330 members. Founder Stephanie Hall wrote,

“This is a place to respectfully discuss our feelings on the proposed consolidation changes to the Sandwich elementary schools for 2015. I have noticed when speaking with friends recently, we are all raising similar points in our support for the K-6 model, even though we come from different places and backgrounds. Let’s use this forum to collect, refine and organize our ideas about the K-6 model and make sure this position is well communicated to our School Committee members.” 

She also reminded members when she established the page of a famous quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Many are not jumping in line for the STEM Academy or the planned closing of the Wing School.

Here are a number of samplings and excerpts from parents who wrote to the school committee, and shared their musings with Snyder’s Sandwich. I only used those that were signed and willing to have their name printed in the paper:

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Beth Cummings-Oman wrote, “I have two boys at the Forestdale School. One is currently in 6th grade and will be heading to the STEM Academy in September and my other son is in grade 2. Like many families, one of the reasons we chose Sandwich as a place to raise our children was for the schools. I liked the fact that the schools were K-8 with only one transition to high school. We thought long and hard about where we were going and why. Prior to moving to Sandwich we were living in Hyannis and watching as Barnstable began to close neighborhood schools and consolidate buildings, causing more than one transition for students. I am in favor of the K-6 model for so many reasons. Many of these reasons are what Dr. Canfield has referred to as intangibles. I love my kids being in the same building. They enjoy seeing each other in school. Our dinner conversations flow easily because they know so many of the students, teachers, staff and administrators at the same school.

“As a parent volunteer, I have been able to help with both kids’ classrooms in the same day. As a parent, one of my favorite things about them being in the same building is lunch. I can go in and have lunch with both of them within a few minutes of each other. We have created a school family within our school community. Other parents know my children and let me know what they are up to during the day—good and bad. If in September 2015, the schools are a Pre-K-2/3-6 configuration, my younger son will be 9 and entering the 4th grade. The thought of him being 1 in 250 kids creates concern. Dr. Canfield has said that the Pre-K-2/3-6 is a better model for delivery of services. This may be true for some students, but not all.

“The other side to this discussion is the process. From what I understand, 25 years ago when the 7th and 8th grade students left the high school and the three K-8s were created, there was community discussion, there was outreach, there was equal time given to many school configurations before the final decision was made.  Equal time has not been given to any other option. The only option thoroughly presented has been Pre-K-2/3-6. Yes, some information about K-6 has been presented, but not to the extent that the other one has. Why isn’t the School Committee asking more questions, demanding more answers and driving the conversation. It feels like this process has begun backwards. The Wing School was voted to be closed prior to having a plan for our schools in place as well as the town not knowing what will happen to the building when it is no longer the Wing School. Dr. Canfield has said numerous times, ‘Let’s open STEM, catch our breath and then move forward.’ That is not happening.”

Melissa Zylich wrote: “I truly wish there was a way to keep the Wing school open thru these first years of STEM as was the initial intent when Phase 1 was laid out. In my conversations with members of school committee and others in town and in school administration, though I understand that Wing was always on the docket to close, I was under the impression that the district would wait for STEM to open to see if it might be a draw for ‘out of district’ school choice students and that would ‘trickle down’ into our elementary schools. Because I feel like I have to say it and I do know that the school committee cast their vote at the last school committee meeting, if it is at all a possibility that the school population size might grow in town or thru out-of-district school choice, please reconsider closing Wing and keep the three schools as K to 6 models for our town.

“There are benefits for this model and having three schools, all being K to 6, would keep the grade sizes small, the chance for siblings to attend the same school together, and more chance for positive role-modeling from the upper and lower grade students. Possibly the three school K to 6 model in Sandwich would be an attraction to out-of-district families as it does seem that many surrounding towns are reconfiguring or have already reconfigured to the smaller grade span schools. That said, I am 100 percent in favor of  Dr. Canfield’s proposal to reconfigure the Forestdale school to a preschool to grade 2 model and the Oak Ridge school to a grade 3 to grade 6 model if the Wing School must close.

“In my opinion, the benefits of this reconfiguration versus only two K to 6 elementary schools make much more sense. Many of my thoughts were confirmed after hearing and reading thru Dr. Canfield’s PowerPoint presentation this past Thursday night. I was happy to finally hear Dr. Canfield say at Thursday’s school committee meeting that a redistrict would affect all families in town and Wing would not be simply cut in half and students, teachers and staff sent to the other two schools.”

Laurie Wilkinson: “I have a 2nd grader at Forestdale (soon to be 3rd) and a 5-year-old (starting K in fall) and an 18-month-old. I guess I have to stress that in this relatively short time (I learned of the idea in February and attended SC meetings to ask for more public involvement in March). I have thought about this issue a lot. At the heart of why it is so difficult for many of us is the lack of communication with the public and involvement of the people invested in the schools. The decision to close the Wing School set this all in motion and should have been approached differently.

“There is a political aspect to this closure that should have been discussed. There is a contingent from the town leaders who want the Wing School for town use. The facilities issues at Wing and closure should have been part of a plan involving parents, school and community leaders for what was best for the town. Instead, the closure was dictated from above and given an arbitrary date which then became the basis for the time line we see now. It is a ‘tail wagging the dog’ scenario. The vote next week does not need to happen.

“The administration had this quote at the end of their PowerPoint [presentation] (emphasis mine): ‘We welcome further discussion with families, teachers, staff, students, and colleagues across the state and nation as we move into the planning phase following the School Committee’s vote. This is not an endeavor that we wish to take alone. Input from all stakeholders will be important, and please know that we are dedicated to creating the best educational environment for the students.’ I feel this is so backwards. The input from the stakeholders should come in the creation of the vision, not as an add-on when the decision has been made! 

“The School Committee has the power to make sweeping changes to the community by voting on the configuration of the schools. If the Wing School must be closed, and if the vote is sought after such a short time of public awareness, the remaining two schools should be K-6.  If contract negotiations limit the ability of the district to discuss staffing costs, then the School Committee could wait. The budget talks should not come before good communication and involvement with the community of those invested in our schools. K-6 schools allow for more time each student spends in the school community, increasing their ability to create relationships and self-confidence to aid their learning. K-6 schools benefit families by keeping siblings together in one building longer. K6 schools are a better use of the current facilities, which were designed to house a broad range of students.

“Busing will be more geographic and fewer kids will have long bus rides. Teachers will have more opportunities to work with colleagues and find common planning time and coordinate activities among grade level. The staff and paraprofessionals would have fewer numbers at each grade and be able to better familiarize themselves with the children there. Nurses will have fewer issues than a school of all 5-8 year olds. The administration model would house PreK-2nd grade in one school and 3rd-6th grade in another. There would be too many classes per grade (200-240 children/grade); younger children would be going up and down stairs many times per day instead of once a week; passing time in hallways will be congested; there will be an abrupt transition after 2nd grade and families will bear the burden of multiple children in different school buildings. 

“If the superintendent and his team want the school committee to make this vote in this short time frame the practical and conservative thing to do is to redistrict the town into 2 K-6 schools. Well, Mr. Snyder, thank you for your time. I appreciate you giving this your energy. I feel it’s crucial for the town to weigh this decision and let the School Committee members know they care.”

Erin Greenhalgh: “Open, honest communication is so essential in this process. The things that aren’t being talked about, or are being glossed over, concern me. We know Dr. Canfield is in favor of the K-2/3-6 model. We have heard lots of teachers & administrators present positive information on that model. In order for the school committee to decide, shouldn’t someone besides parents present the pros of the K-6? How else are you going to be able to consider both options equally?

“I question how honest the teachers are able to be about their feelings regarding which configuration would be best. The survey was issued by their boss. Their boss has made his preference very clear. They would be stupid to not agree with their boss. To go against his preference may be considered not being a ‘team player’ and could very well put their jobs in jeopardy. Wouldn’t it have been better to poll the teachers before Dr. Canfield noted his recommendation?

“The presentations from the PTAs were very interesting. They both mentioned $25,000 that was contributed towards the schools. I would imagine Oak Ridge is about the same. That is a lot of money, raised by dedicated parents who are invested in the system, because they have multiple kids at that school for an extended period of time. If a parent now has kids at different schools for only a few years, do you think they are going to be as invested? Very unlikely. What is going to happen to all those programs that the PTA supports? Are they going to budget an extra $75,000 to pick up the slack?

"Sandwich High School has wonderful, talented, smart kids. They are accepted to fantastic colleges. Most of those kids are the product of our K-8 system. It makes no sense to me that we are messing with a system that works & has value, both academically & in terms of the spirit of this community.”

Heather Swett (incoming PTA president at Forestdale School) [originally addressed to former school committee chairman Andrea Killion]: “You spoke saying that the town elected the school committee and the committee in turn hired Dr. Canfield. You argued that because of this, it would look bad if the committee chooses not to follow his recommendations. I find this to be an extremely flawed way of thinking. I understand that you hired him. But the town is standing up, writing, e-mailing, posting on Facebook, etc, letting you, and Dr. Canfield, know that they are not happy or comfortable with what is happening in our town.

“So how in good conscience can you ignore the concerns of the people who elected you to represent them and tell the town (between the lines) that you are going to ignore those concerns and do what Dr. Canfield is telling you to do? You were elected by the town to vote and work in our best interests. How can you ignore this request? This issue is being rushed through before elections and it seems like that is because new committee members are not likely to vote the way you want them to.

“I find it very disconcerting to see blind faith placed in the opinion of one person, no matter how educated he is. I also find it upsetting that Dr. Canfield stated that many of the parents’ concerns, while valid, are ‘soft concerns.’ I object to this. Many of my concerns are academic and the impression that I get from other parents is that they share these same concerns. As a town, we have e-mailed and shared articles and research showing the detrimental effects that frequent transitions can have on a young child’s educational process.

“I feel my son is a perfect example of this. Right now he is in second grade and is above grade level academically. He is comfortable in his classroom and his school, though, by nature, he is a shy and reserved boy. His comfort level has allowed him to flourish academically and socially.  In a school of 240 or 250 peers, his comfort and security will most likely be replaced with apprehension, worry, and a general sense of overwhelm, which in turn will affect him academically. These concerns may seem insignificant to Dr. Canfield, but I can assure you that to an 8-year-old child, his anxiety is quite significant.”

Stephanie Hall: “Dr. Canfield and his team have spent much time creating and delivering a strong presentation in support of the PK2/3-6 model, as is their prerogative. They have also had the opportunity to answer questions from the School Committee members on that model during meetings. Parents have been limited in their time to the public forums, when no presentations are allowed and we are not able to engage the committee members in any back and forth discussions in our support of the K6 model. It is my opinion that there should be an objective person presenting on the K6 model for your consideration, where you could engage in a similar type of discussion and have the same opportunity to ask your questions. That said, there are very in-depth, thought-provoking and respectful comment threads being created on our Facebook page by members with diverse backgrounds and experience. There are times when our members raise questions with their concerns and we have no mechanism to provide answers for them.

“I have tried to motivate each and every person on this page to communicate with you directly...but I know that has not happened. However, their thoughts and feelings are known in this public forum and it is important that you are made aware of them. I believe this page could be a useful tool for you, even if it serves as a catalyst for your own questions. We have very intelligent, engaged and passionate parents and I know their opinions should count, even if those opinions don’t get to you in a ‘traditional’ way. Our page is an open page, which means you do not need to be a member to view the comments and your presence will not be obvious to other members or to the public. If you need assistance in viewing this page, (if you are not a member of Facebook, for example) I would be more than happy to meet with you and show you the page myself.

“As I said before, I am committed to maintaining the tone on our page, to the best of my ability and I believe our discussions reflect that effort. This is an important resource: too important to be overlooked. You have had the opportunity to explore the PK2/3-6 model in great detail. I hope our page will be a resource for you in your due diligence as you continue your research efforts on the K6 model.”

Kerri Ames had a different opinion, which in part, said: “Whatever plan is decided on, you and our teachers will make it work for the students. Of course, my first choice would be to ‘save’ the Wing school. However as this winter proved, the Wing school has given her best to our students and it is now time to retire her. I support Dr. Canfield’s decision to transition the Sandwich School system from three K-6 schools to the pre-K to 2/3-6 model. Of course, it will be a new experience, for some, to have two (or more) children at different schools. However, our family has been experiencing this scenario for 3 years. We have one child at Wing and one at Oak Ridge. With planning and communication with our children’s teachers, this has never been an issue. We have coordinated drop-off/pick-up, meetings and parent/teacher conferences without barriers. The PTA’s have been cognizant of scheduling events on different days. The only caveat to that would be parent/teacher conferences. However, I have faith that this would be taken into consideration by the School Committee when designing the school calendar for 2015/16.

“I believe it is in the best interest of the students to have all resources that pertain to their grade in one location. For teachers to be able to collaborate with one another on a more intimate basis should prove invaluable. In designing the school curriculum, the teachers will have the ability to pool resources. Children will have more opportunity to bond with children with similar interests. To have a school focused on a smaller age group it will become a more nurturing environment. Parents of young children will no longer have to worry about the older children influences. Children will no longer feel they are the only Oak Ridge kid at an extracurricular activity.

“In addition, as the mother of a child with special needs, I believe it is in the best interest of this student population to have the staff in one location. Currently OT/PT therapists must move throughout the district. This takes valuable treatment time away from the student. Speech therapists will have smaller case loads. There will be more opportunity for collaboration and mentoring among the therapists. Teachers will have more opportunity to work with the Special Education team as there will be more staff members available. This model will provide more resources in one location than is currently available.  The Spinnaker program at Wing has allowed children of all abilities to be exposed to those with challenges. This has created an environment of empathy and awareness. To have this program transition to Forestdale and then continue (in some manner) at Oak Ridge for the older grades will have a positive impact on our school community. Lastly, our teachers in Sandwich are simply the best. We trust them to assist our children with navigating this new school structure and to make the transitions as smoothly as possible.”

Lynn Lugo: “We have Sandwich families sending their children to charter schools, Cape Cod Academy, Falmouth Academy, parochial schools, etc. to get a ‘better education.’ I know Dr. Canfield wants to stop the departures from our district, yet it seems he fails to see a common denominator. Most of these schools are K-5 , K-6 or K-12.  If these schools are so successful that our Sandwich families are departing from our district, why are we fracturing into PreK-2/3-6? Why would we not model a success?”

What do you think? Send your opinions to snyderssandwich@aol.com and they may be used in a future column.

Mark Snyder, a member of the Sandwich Finance Committee, has written more than 1,900 articles in newspapers and magazines, and published three books, and is the CEO of PMPNetwork.com, the Internet’s entertainment superstation. Have a story idea? He can be reached by e-mail at snyderssandwich@aol.com, on Facebook (Snyder’s Stoughton), and on Twitter (MediaMan2009). Write him via snail mail at Box 639, East Sandwich 02537.  

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