Thursday, September 1, 2011

Candidates’ responses: Marla Swesey

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.)
School lunch time has been an issue for a long time in the ICCSD and I suspect other districts, too. Although, it isn’t a school board decision to be made- it still deserves discussion as it is something that can be approached by the Superintendent when he talks to the principals about scheduling. At the beginning of the school year, the principals have to decide on the scheduling for all the specials, including the lunch/recess times for all classes. It is a tough job. Most schools have 15 min. for eating and then 15 min. for noon recess. The rationale behind the recess after the lunch time is to provide whatever extra time is necessary for kids to finish their lunches before they go out for recess. If a slow eater takes longer to eat, the extra eating time is taken off of their recess time. In all the years that I taught, I didn’t see too many students giving up their recess time to finish eating. Many times, I saw students rushing to eat so they would get more recess time. Some schools or classes in schools, have recess before lunch so that there is no extra time for the students to eat if they are only given 15 minutes. It would be nice to have 20 minutes of eating time and 15 minutes of recess but principals would have to do some creative scheduling to make that happen. Is it possible? Perhaps one of the meetings scheduled for the Superintendent and the principals could be used to talk about some of the creative ways that more time for school lunch could be accomplished.
2. On balance, has the No Child Left Behind Act been good for Iowa City’s public school children?

No and yes is my answer to the NCLBA question. No, because it produced SINA schools which labeled schools that have wonderful programs for students but allowed students to leave the schools labeled when it wouldn’t necessarily be the right move for the student. Bussing students away from those wonderful programs has been a costly nightmare for the district. And no, because it also made students take tests on level that they were not ready to take because of having English as a second language or a disability that made the test demoralizing for the student to the point that they would think they were dumb or not able to learn for a long while after the test. Motivation and excitement about learning are essential for student achievement. Students that took off level tests for those reasons before the NCLBA, at least had a fighting chance to catch up with their peers and feel good about themselves as learners when they did take the on level tests in a year or two. I say yes to NCLBA only because it pushed schools to have tutoring for students after school that has been a good thing for students who need extra help.
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 testing has been around for a long time and if used properly, can be a good experience for students and teachers. If students start taking the standardized testing in 3rd grade, it can help give them the experience in testing which will happen throughout their school years. Teachers can use the scores to help guide curriculum to make sure there are no gaps in the sequencing of skills for particular classes. If the tests are used for these purposes, there is no reason to worry. When standardized tests are used for judging schools, making teachers feel like they have to teach to the test, or testing students that should be testing off level because of the reasons stated in question 2; the tests are being used inappropriately.
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.)
Yes, I think school board members do have an obligation to think independently about whether those mandates are good for students. I think school board members should be good ambassadors for the ICCSD and go to the legislative bodies that are making poor decisions and make their concerns heard whenever necessary. If they can’t get to DesMoines physically, they should make calls, emails, whatever is available to let legislators know what they think.
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?
I have never been a believer of stickers or prizes used to reward students for good work or behavior. Students should be motivated to feel the intrinsic worth of doing a good job on their schoolwork or doing a good deed. Students are capable of feeling pride in their accomplishments without prizes. Students are naturally curious and should get excited about learning without all the gimmicks. There are times when classes need to celebrate in some way for accomplishments or great deeds that the class achieves. But these celebrations would not be done on a regular basis. Once again, this is not a decision for the school board to make but it certainly can be a discussion with the Superintendent so that he can pass on the discussion with the school principals, who in turn can discuss the issue with the teachers.
6. How should the schools approach the teaching of moral or ethical values? (See this post and this post.)
This is a loaded question. Loaded because it would take me a tremendous amount of time to explain my thinking and all the research I’ve read about the subject. I’ll try to give the short answer version and hope it will make sense. Schools and classrooms are like a community. To get along and not waste time on inappropriate behaviors in the community, rules need to be in place so that everyone understands the expectations of the community. Morals and values are part of the discussion when setting the community rules. Should schools teach character skills to accomplish this task? It depends on what those character skills are and whether or not the community using them needs them. Yes, I think the diverse population of students we have in our school communities, who come with diverse experiences, need to know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Character education is one way to address this need.
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?
Earlier this month, Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, stated that he was waiving the NCLB law’s proficiency requirements for states that have adopted their own testing and accountability programs and making strides toward better schools. The guidelines for applying for the waivers should be coming out soon to all states. I think our district should be pushing the state of Iowa to move quickly on getting this waiver so that we won’t have to worry about more SINA schools in our district.

While waiting to get the state to get a waiver on NCLB- the school board should help get the word out that the SINA schools are by the nature of the brute going to increase in number and parents should not over react and take their kids out of good schools! I really think if parents knew how those schools are designated, they would relax a little about the label.
Links to other candidates’ responses are here.


KD said...

1)The answer to number one is disappointing.

2)"Yes, I think the diverse population of students we have in our school communities, who come with diverse experiences, need to know what’s acceptable and what’s not."

In regards to number six, what does Marla Swesey mean when she is talking about diverse populations? Maybe I am misinterpreting her meaning, but that statement seems like it could be construed in a negative way.

Chris said...

KD -- That's a good example of the kind of remark that the commenters (including you) in this post have been discussing.