AUBURN – After parents once again filled the council chambers in opposition, the School Committee on Wednesday night reversed an earlier vote and rejected weekly late-arrival for grades seven to 12.
Parents, who numbered more than a dozen and spoke for more than an hour, delivered a clear message: don't take away classroom time from our students; teachers should do professional development after school.
Several said they support mass customized learning and understood that teachers need time to learn new ways. If necessary, they recommended the School Department renegotiate the teachers' contract and pay them for the time. Several residents asked that the existing early-release Wednesday for grades kindergarten to six be scrubbed and all students get full days on Wednesdays.
Only one parent showed up to support late arrival, along with one student and several educators.
Voting against late arrival were Bonnie Hayes, Larry Pelletier, Tracy Levesque, Bill Horton, Francois Bussiere and Mayor Jonathan LaBonte's representative, Councilor David Young.
Members who supported late arrival were Laurie Tannenbaum and committee Chairman Tom Kendall.
Walter Reed, who has a child at Walton Elementary, said he was concerned about the impact the change would have on his daughter's education. “When you add up the lost class time from half-day Wednesdays, elementary students lose out nearly a half year of education by the time they're in fifth grade,” Reed said.
In his own field of computer technology change happens rapidly and those employees need constant education to keep up. In the business world you do not sacrifice the quality of customer service to retrain our staff. “We can't. We would be dead,” he said.
He asked that full-day Wednesdays for all students be restored. “Don't shortchange our kids.”
David Burke held up a chart of larger schools that use classroom time for professional development. “I don't know how you can justify this.” Except for Noble High School, “no one else in the state is doing this at the level you're proposing,” he said.
Jim Wellehan, who owns Lamey-Wellehan shoe stores, acknowledged that teaching is a tough job. But in this society all workers have to learn new skills without affecting the customer, he said.
His stores got a new computer system this year that meant tremendous change. “But we didn't close our stores on Wednesday mornings because we didn't' think that would be good for our customers. Your customers are those kids walking into those schools.”
Opening schools late once a week “doesn't work. I don't think it's a viable solution,” Wellehan said.
Auburn resident April Joyce said taking away school time “is not the answer. You are going to have to find another solution,” such as renegotiate the teachers' contract.
“I am your consumer. I elected you,” Joyce said. Too many parents are choosing not to live in Auburn because of the schools, she said. “We have put our home on the market. It was a very difficult decision for us. It's because of the educational system. I will not gamble with my boy's education,” Joyce said.
Edward Little teacher Kim Finnerty said the amount of class time lost to professional development looks scary. But, the improvements in education make up for the loss. Whether students spend 30 minutes or five hours in a classroom, “if those students are not engaged in their learning, they're not learning.”
The new kind of learning teachers would get with professional development would deliver an education where students are engaged, Finnerty said.
After the vote failed, Superintendent Katy Grondin said “we hear you.” She thanked parents for their concern. “We greatly appreciate knowing you support where we're going and support teachers. We'll continue to look at different ways.”