News

March 24, 2004

People have a generally favorable opinion of the Brandywine School District and its school board, but are largely unaware of what is going on in the district, a recent survey found.

"They don't know exactly what it is you do, but they say you're doing it well," Michael Latta, of Y.T.M.B.A. Research, a corporate research firm based in Brandywine Hundred, told the board.

In another matter at its meeting on Mar. 22, the board was informed that a group of teachers have initiated an effort to close the 'achievement gap' between white and Asian students and black and Hispanic students and are recruiting their colleagues to participate in it.

The survey was commissioned by the board as part of a self-evaluation. It cost $3,000 and consisted of 70 telephone interviews with civic association officers and three group discussions with 10 'involved' parents, 12 'typical' parents and eight people identified as business and community leaders. The people contacted were identified by administrators at both the district office and school level.

Questions and discussions revolved around the five goals stated in the long-range strategic plan adopted in 2002. Participants were asked to compare the present board with previous boards and boards in other districts. To the extent that was possible, the board as presently constituted came out ahead, Latta said.

He said the most pronounced finding was that people in the selected categories, who might be assumed to be more aware of public events, were largely unaware of the plan and those who knew there was such a plan were hazy on what it contains. As would be expected, he said, parents who are involved in one or more activities, mostly at the school level, are more aware than those who are not and business and community leaders are the most knowledgeable.

Because of the small sample, the survey findings are "representative of the district as a whole, but cannot be [statistically] projected to the district population at large," according to an executive summary of the report distributed at the meeting. The final report is not yet finished, Latta said.

He said the survey indicated that the board and district are not doing an effective job of communicating information to the public. The district newsletter, Brandywine Review, which is sent by mail to all residential addresses, is not widely read and "very few people go the the [district's] Web site for information, he said.

Board president Nancy Doorey confirmed that, noting that friends tell her they set aside their copy of the Brandywine Review, "intending to read it when they have time, but never get back to it."

Lack of significant public involvement in school affairs is to some extent a result, Latta said. "This is a public meeting and where is the community?" That had reference to sparse attendance at the school board meeting. Only about 25 people had shown up and several of those were district employees. By the time Latta made his presentation, nearly half of the attenders, who had come to witness the monthly recognition ceremony or had interest in matters presented earlier in the session, had drifted away.

Survey participants, Latta noted, displayed confusion about the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the Delaware State Testing Program and their effects upon the district. They also do not understand what the International Baccalaureate Program, an academically rigorous curriculum being introduced to selected students at Mount Pleasant High, is, he said.

Among concerns expressed by participants included the state's three-tier high school diploma system, classroom discipline, the amount of testing to which students are subjected, and lack of neighborhood schools.

Specifically, he said that "even though the board is [perceived to be] fiscally responsible, the public would like to know how and where the money is spent." Also, he added, "there is a general feeling that parent 'input' is not taken seriously and that board meetings are not a place for discussion prior to a decision, but are a requirement where decisions already made are made public."

Asked to rank board and district performance with academic scores, almost half of the civic association officers polled by telephone gave them a 'B'. 'Involved' parents ranked them between a 'B+' and an 'A' while about three-fourth of the 'typical' parents assigned them a 'C'. Half of the business and community leaders group came up with a 'B'.

The 'achievement gap' initiative grew out of attendance by five teachers and board vice president Joseph Brumskill at a conference in New Orleans where the national problem of lagging performance by students from racial and ethnic minorities and lower economic situations was addressed.

"We came back with the feeling that perhaps we [teachers] are perpetuating what's going on," Cordie Greenlea, told the board. One thing that has to be dealt with, she added, is a tendency toward "racial predictability." That is defined as ascribing lower expectations to students on the basis of their race.

Karen Simpson said that the group has so far enlisted 25 other teachers in four schools who have agreed to participate in a series of meetings between now and the end of the academic year to discuss ways to avoid and counter stereotyping. "We want to come up with strategies [because] some teachers don't know how to so that," she said.

The sessions will consist of "courageous conversations" which Greenlea said "will look at where we are failing our children."

Other teachers in the core group are Otis Blackburn, Joe Brown and Diane Kennedy.

2004. All rights reserved.

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