Friday, August 26, 2011

Candidates’ responses: Sally Hoelscher

1. Should the school board ensure that elementary school students get more than fifteen minutes for lunch? If so, what should the minimum lunch period be? (See the petition about this issue here.)
It is the responsibility of the School Board to make policy decisions, not operational decisions. Therefore, the amount of time designated for lunch is not under the purview of the Board, but rather a decision of the administration of each school. As a parent, you are entitled to (and I believe, correct to) be an advocate for your children on this issue. Building principals and the superintendent are the officials to address these concerns to, as you have done. When my children were in elementary school, I also acted as an advocate for them on lunch issues. I do know that some elementary schools have made some in their lunch procedure for this school year.
2. On balance, has the No Child Left Behind Act been good for Iowa City’s public school children?

While I agree with the idea behind the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), its assessment method is flawed and therefore it has not proven to be beneficial. Yes, we need to assess whether our children are learning what they need to learn. NCLB has made administrators and educators more aware of this, which is a good thing. However, the act uses a single standardized testing each year for this assessment. There are many factors affecting student performance that are not measurable by standardized tests. NCLB is also set up as a punitive system, rather than focusing on providing the help and resources needed. Additionally, the goals of NCLB in Iowa are unachievable, as by the year 2014 the goal is 100% proficiency, which means that by that time all of the schools in the ICCSD will be labeled as schools in need of assistance. Hopefully if/when the legislature reauthorizes this act in 2014, some of these issues will be addressed.
3. Do you think that standardized testing plays too large a role in our school system? If so, what should the school board do about it?
Standardized tests do serve a purpose and can be helpful in assessing achievement when looked at as a part of the whole picture. I don't think that we should stop giving standardized tests to students. We do need to be careful about the way these scores are used. (See answer to question number 2.)
4. Local school boards have been increasingly subject to state and federal mandates. Do school board members have an obligation to think independently about whether those mandates are good for kids? If so, what should a school board member do if he or she concludes that those mandates are not in the best interests of the kids, or are contrary to our community’s values? (See this post.)
Just as School Board members have an obligation to be knowledgeable about state and federal mandates, they also have a responsibility to think independently and assess those mandates. The School Board also has a responsibility to ensure those mandates are being followed. In cases where School Boards disagree with the mandates, they need to work at the state and federal level to make changes. School Boards often act as a liaison between school districts and the legislature.
5. Do you support the current pervasive use of token rewards to get students to comply with school rules? If not, what role should the school board take in reining that practice in?
As I mentioned in answering question number 1, it is the responsibility of the School Board to make policy decisions, not operational decisions. The use of reward tokens does not fall under the responsibility of the Board.
6. How should the schools approach the teaching of moral or ethical values? (See this post and this post.)
Even if it were advisable, I think it is impossible to quantify moral and ethical values. We strive to teach our children to be independent thinkers, but it is a reality that we also need rules and therefore must teach children to follow those rules. It is important that schools recognize they are partners with parents and guardians in this area.
7. What should the district’s plan be as the number of SINA schools grows and the number of schools into which those students can transfer shrinks?
The District needs to evaluate all schools and provide resources and assistance where needed to meet challenges specific schools may be facing. We are fortunate to have excellent schools in the Iowa City Community School District and we need to work to maintain that excellence. As I alluded to in my answer to question number 2, the method for designating SINA schools has some flaws. The School Board can be an advocate for the schools in this district by educating the public about how the SINA designation is determined and by bringing to the public's attention the wonderful things that occur at our schools on a daily basis.
Links to other candidates’ responses are here.


Chris said...

I guess if I had the chance to ask follow-up questions of this candidate, I would try to get a better sense of what she thinks a “policy” matter is. If the schools cut lunch back to just five minutes, would that be an “operational decision,” not embodying any policy choice, which the board could not get involved in? Why is a program designed to inculcate certain values in the children, such as PBIS, not a curricular matter, rather than an operational decision? If those decisions are operational decisions, how can we be sure that they reflect the values of the district’s citizens? Or should those decisions be entirely insulated from public control?

KD said...

The response to number one is troubling, but I think reflects how the ICCSD operates now to concerns from the public.

If issues like the lunch policy are made at the level of the superintendent, how does discussing the issue with the building principal really going to be effective?

The answer also presumes that the principal(or any other official) actually has a desire to listen to parents and other members of the public. The previous principal at our school had no desire to talk to parents...what resource is there in those situations?

Prior to actually being a parent of a child in public school, I had this naive idea that school boards were supposed to function partly in a "checks and balances" sort of way in relation to the rest of the school system. Obviously, it doesn't work out that way in real life, at least not here.

Chris said...

KD -- I agree. The purpose of the distinction between policy and administrative matters isn’t to completely disempower the board (and therefore the public) from having any say over what goes on in individual school buildings.

I agree that the board’s job is to set policy, and not to micromanage the district staff. But it is perfectly proper for the board to set boundaries within which the district staff has discretion to work out the specific details. Fifteen minutes falls outside any reasonable boundaries the board should set in a school lunch policy.

If math instruction were cut back to fifteen minutes a day, would that be an “operational decision” that the board could do nothing about?