Christina School District held a community town hall Tuesday night to allow parents, district staff and students to ask questions and share concerns with the school board.
This was the first town hall the school board had held in two years.
“We want to know the good things that are going on in the district, we want to know the challenges are in the district,” said board president Don Patton. “We want to know what you think about the district so that we can go back and speak with the leadership tomorrow or days following so that they know what the public feels and thinks.”
Part of the responsibility of being an elected school board member is making sure there’s connections and engagement with the residents that voted them in, he said.
Christina is expected to have at least one more town hall during the school year.
In Monday’s meeting, the dozen people to address the board were parents of students, district residents or staff. Comments dealt with teaching civics, the cost of being a volunteer and the lack of specialists.,
“This event itself is a manifestation that this board wants more voices,” said board member Naveed Baqir. “I was hoping that we’ll have some students here as well, because this is open to everyone, but the turnout makes me feel that we probably need to have another town hall just with the students, too.”
Even so, Baqir said, the district is planting the right seed and hopes more students will take advantage of the opportunity.
Alethea Smith-Tucker, a board member, said she’d like to see parent advisory councils developed in the district.
“it’s very important for parents to have actual say, on par with principals…in the formation of what takes place in our schools,” she said. “It’s important for us to be able to start thinking of how we educate our children differently from the parent perspective.”
Christina’s “clients” are its students, she said, and parents should have valued input into how students are served.
Here were some of the issues discussed:
Civics and social studies
“As voters across the country go into the polls tonight, I’m concerned about the extent to which our district’s elementary schools are preparing our students not just for college and careers, but to be active, informed citizens,” said one parent of two Christina students.
He said while attention to English language arts and math is certainly important, there’s too much time spent on those two subjects at the expense of other subjects such as social studies and science.
“Amidst challenges to our democracy, including low voter turnout, election denialism and misinformation, the civic mission of our schools is more critical than ever, and social studies is where students most directly learn the knowledge, the skills and the dispositions of citizens,” he said.
While literacy is important, he said, the scheduling practices are actually hampering students’ abilities to develop the knowledge of the world, which research shows is also critical to reading comprehension.
Claire O’Neal, a board member, said she thinks a lot of attention is paid to English language arts and math because those tend to be the focus of state standardized tests.
“English doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so an appropriately planned ELA curriculum is going to be engaging across the disciplines in order to catch a multitude of learners’ attention,” she said. “The hope is in learning math that you might have exploratory abilities packed into your math lessons.”
Y.F. Lou, a board member, pointed out that certain legislation passed recently will help with the parent’s concern, including a law that requires Delaware public schools to teach Black history. That can help create more diverse civic discussions.
Volunteers and background checks
A parent of a Christina elementary school student shared his concerns about the financial burden and process for volunteering in the district.
He said it’s hard to find parents to volunteer at school events because they have to pay for a screening.
It can get expensive, he said, because Christina makes volunteers get a new screening every year.
If a parent wants to be engaged in and active with their child’s school, it could cost them hundreds of dollars over the course of a few years, he said.
The speaker said he had checked with other districts and the process varies from district to district.
Many, such as Milford and Capital, allow a volunteer to submit paperwork and go through the screening once, and they are good to go for the time their child is at the school.
“Those volunteers may not be representative of our school community and we’d like to have different voices and different people in the school community that are volunteers,” he added.
Some of the concerns were submitted to the district before the meeting, including this one, and O’Neal read a prepared statement from the district in response.
“It is critical that CSD implements a volunteer screening to reasonably ensure student safety just as with employees,” he said.
O’Neal said while safety is a priority, amending the screening methods could benefit the district.
“Lowering those barriers so that parents can get involved in any way that is helpful is something that would make all of our schools better, that would make disciplinary problems better, that would give opportunities for our students to go on field trips and participate in extracurricular activities” she said.
She said the district’s policy committee, which she’s a member of, will look into the screening practices.
Samantha Kolodi, a teacher at Christina’s Brennen Elementary School, said for the past six months, a number of students have not been getting their full related service times, especially for speech therapy.
“I understand that we are short staffed, but we need to provide our students with the services they’re entitled to in their IEP in order for them to make progress,” she said. “More importantly, we need to be honest with families about what we’re not able to provide so we can come up with a solution for the students who need the time made up.”
Her school is short 12 speech therapists, and those that are employed are pummeled with work, she said.
“As a special services department, we are working to monitor and provide services to all students with special needs even while we are short staffed in many areas,” the district said in a response statement. “We have done a deep dive of service hours and workload so that we may ensure our related services providers, specifically for speech and language pathologists, have an equitable caseload.”
Smith-Tucker said the concern was very valid, especially being short a whole dozen speech therapists.
“I think we all need to kind of step back and look at how we’re spending the school day and how we are dispersing our resources and what’s our capacity,” she said. “So I hope that we have a continued conversation about this.”
During the town hall, there were also brief discussions about school discipline, creating more stipends or incentives to retain educators and requiring financial literacy to be taught so children can be responsible with money.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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