QCSD Admins Walk Out; How Does That Make You Feel?

October 15, 2012

If it seems that the QCSD administration has long ignored public concern over our poor PSSA and SAT results, how does it make you feel that those adminis are showing the same contempt for our school directors?

Frustrated board member Mitch Anderson revealed that at the October 1st meeting of the Education/Curriculum Committee, temporary high school principal Rod Stone, Strayer Middle School principal Cindy Lapinski, and Trumbauersville Elementary principal Jim Moczydlowski simply got up and walked out when the issue of the terrible new test results was raised. Call it an unexcused absence. For people who run classes, these folks show a distinct lack of class.

You would think that the Education/Curriculum Committee would be the ideal forum for such a discussion. And with three school principals available to shed some light on what has become an annual serious problem here, our community might even have found some glimmer of hope for the future. Surely one of them has an idea of how to reverse our downward spiral, or could at least explain why they stubbornly cling to the Standard Based Grading curriculum that, after almost a decade, is clearly not working.

"I brought up the poor PSSA scores, and the administration said they are addressing the issue", said Anderson. "But they gave no indication as to how it is being addressed. David Leight (one of two community members on the committee), who also teaches at a local community college, sees the same deficiencies that I see. But when we attempted to discuss that the schools are not doing well, the admins just walked away. It is not clear whether this was pre-planned, but Rod stood up as he and I were talking, and I think that started it. They then stood as well, and walked away even though the conversation was not over."

Three principals, paid handsomely with our tax dollars, walked out on their bosses - the school board and community members of the Education/Curriculum Committee - rather than address our district's bottom-of-the-barrel performances. No employees would dare do such a thing in the private sector. But apparently our administration feels no obligation to discuss, let along improve, the declining state of education here. Every year it gets worse, and so does their attitude. How does that make you feel?

Thirty-three percent of our 2012 seniors failed the math PSSA's, three percent worse than last year, and 23 percent failed the reading test, compared to 15 percent last year. The state as a whole dropped only one percent. Only two schools in the entire county - elementary, middle, or high school - received a worse state rating than QCHS. Of the 1429 schools in the state, only 358 are below QCHS, mostly schools in depressed urban areas.

But our administration won't tell the school board how they are "addressing the issue". How does that make you feel?

Our SAT's place us 10th out of 12 high schools in the area. And QCHS's average of 487 on the writing portion was dead last among the 12. Our "College Readiness" factor, combining reading, math, and writing is also at the bottom.

But our administrators blithely walk out of meetings rather than explain themselves. How does that make you feel?

Anderson, the former president of the QCSD teachers union, has been a staunch opponent of Standard Based Grading, insisting that it is vital that we return to teaching the basics of reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and arithmetic. Our persistent test failures certainly seem to bear him out. He points the finger squarely at the administration: "Part of the problem is that the administration does not consider reading to be a necessary skill. To them, reading has become nothing more than decoding words. But comprehension is much more than that, and requires background knowledge - a point that the admins used to make to teachers here 5-8 years ago. Now they say knowledge is not needed, that kids need only be able to find things on the internet."

How does that make you feel?

Well, it certainly helps explain why we are where we are. So it is no wonder that the principals on the Education Committee don't want to get into a discussion of student performance with board members. There is nothing they can say to justify our failures, and no one has come forward with any plan to bring about the so-easily-promised improvement.

Elvis, Rod, Cindy, and Jim have left the building.

But while our admins won't speak, the new school board has just passed a policy which finally guarantees that the community can at board meeting. The unanimous vote not only creates a public comment period at the beginning of meetings (in addition to the one at the end), but ends the demeaning egg timer that used to cut residents off at three minutes, even in the middle of a sentence.

People who sign up to speak 10 days prior to a board meeting will be allowed 10 minutes at the beginning: before, rather than after, the directors' discussions and votes. Our community will now be heard when it matters, not afterward. In addition, the board president is now empowered to allow up to five minutes for individual comments after the meeting.

The board is also preparing to do away with the ridiculous ban on directors making presentations to the board without having them censored first by the administration. Directors will make a presentation to the appropriate committee, and if it has merit, it would then be made to the entire board.

Board member Paul Stepanoff, who has been fighting for more community-friendly policies for 10 years, was gratified with the changes. "This should have been done years ago. The same things (former director) Manuel Alfonso and I harped on, and tried to change year after year, have now come about - and unanimously. This shows once again how the former members acted contrary to the best interests of the community, in favor of the administration".

The irony of these wholesale changes is that vice president Kelly Van Valkenburgh actually voted for them. The former president had stubbornly refused to even consider any common sense changes to policy, kow-towing instead to the desires of Superintendent Lisa Andrejko, and buddies Kathy Mosley, Linda Martin, and Nancy Tirjan, to limit the community's participation as severely as possible. As president, she had the opportunity to make these changes years ago, but instead limited the residents' input even more by initiating the use of the ridiculous egg timer.

VV maintained the mantra that board members can't make presentations, and that it was "illegal" to use power point. She even stuck to that story after the board's solicitor disagreed, pointing out that directors often do so in other districts. Anderson explained "The Policy Committee is composed of Fern Strunk, Joyce King, Derek Peiffer, Alice Bishop, and me. Kelly had left previously, which helped immensely. The three board members were all of the same mind in regard to freeing the public to express themselves as they saw fit. Things really opened when it became clear that some other districts had much less restrictive policies, and their public was much more supportive and involved."

The hero of this whole scenario is first-year board member Joyce King, who didn't allow herself to be intimidated by the administration, and prior board members. She took the bull by the horns, and reworked the policies to benefit the community.

Contrast this to another first-year member, Anna Cattie, chairperson of that Education/Curriculum Committee, and a solid Andrejko supporter. Not only did she allow the admins to walk out with no consequences, but almost a full year after being charged with creating surveys that will very likely be embarrassing to those administrators, not a single one has been done.

And how does that make you feel?