When Does a School Board Take Action?

NY - Penfield Post
Thursday, March 24, 2005


When does the school board take action?

Parents concerned with a new math program have organized, yet the Board of Education fully supports the curriculum.

By AMY CAVALIER / acavalier@mpnewspapers.com

There's no shortage of parents with concerns and questions over Penfield's new math curriculum. Earlier this month, 60 of those families formed "Parents Concerned with Penfield's Math Programs."

They say the new math curriculum isn't meeting the needs of all students. The group is circulating a petition requesting students be given the choice to take math under the traditional math courses.

"Change is not easy. Some embrace the changes, some may oppose them, some show little interest," said Michael Maiorino, vice president of the Penfield school board.

He said it is the Penfield Board of Education's job to set policy and direction in the district's mission and vision and to vote on spending public funds. Board members, however, don't have the authority to approve curriculum.

Maiorino said the board has been kept informed of the math curriculum changes and there have been plenty of opportunities for parents to discuss and learn more about the new math. Maiorino said "any input over concerns in matters that affect our children is taken seriously by the board, our administration and staff."

Maiorino said "the board offers its full support for the curriculum." That's left parents concerned with the math program feeling powerless.

"I think most parents feel like there's nothing they can do," said the group's founder, Bill Munch. "In fact, there's a pretty good chance nothing will come of our petition. What we really want at the minimum is to bring up public awareness."

So how come the school board - those individuals elected by the voters to serve them and Penfield students - haven't done anything about parents concerns over math?

According to Superintendent Susan Gray, there is an established channel of communication established in the district. A parent with concerns should first contact their child's teacher, a district administrator, the superintendent and then the Board of Education.

"We make every effort to resolve issues at the initial level at which they occur," she said.

In addition, Gray said, the district's home/school and parent/teacher associations serve as vehicles of communication for parents.

When it comes to addressing parents' concerns, Gray said the district must operate under state and federal education regulations and laws, within the budgetary guidelines set by the board and New York.

"We incorporate the expertise of our certified staff in meeting that goal and in balancing the needs of parents, students, staff and community," she said.

Parents can address the school board during the citizen's comment period of the meeting. After they speak, Maiorino said the board will respond to their comments or concerns in a timely manner. Written inquiries can also be submitted to the board at any time.

In the case of math, district administrators defend the new curriculum, which they began phasing-in in 1999.

Mary Rapp, superintendent of instruction for the district, said the new curriculum being implemented under the five-year Advancing Mathematics initiative in Penfield is more rigorous, has a stronger emphasis on understanding the concepts of mathematics, problem-solving and the relevance of math to the real world.

Parents opposed to the curriculum say students aren't learning basic math concepts and are relying on calculators and group work too much. A number of parents say they have been forced to hire tutors to supplement their children's education.

Michael Caito, a parent with two students in the district, said if the district discovers years later that they didn't have the right math curriculum in place "then many kids have missed the opportunity to pick up math."

Caito questions the board's unresponsiveness to parents concerns over math.

"I think a lot of parents want to know what the board's role is in this," he said. "They say it's not their job to design curriculum, but if it's getting out of hand, where's the checks and balances here?"

"Math war" could have alarming implications

Elizabeth Carson knows what it's like to be a parent concerned over her child's education.

About five years ago, administrators in her school district, District 2 in Manhattan, began phasing in the same math curriculum that has some parents in Penfield up in arms. The more she found out about the new math curriculum, the more concerns she had. She began to hear complaints from other parents as well.

Carson formed NYCHOLD to help parents opposed to the math changes speak out and to get an honest, open and logical debate on mathematics education reform.

While the group was unsuccessful in preventing the implementation of the new curriculum, Carson said is using her own experience to help other parents, like those in Penfield.

She shares the same concerns that Bill Munch does about the new math curriculum, however, she also points out the issue raises broader issues. It is evidence that curriculum decisions should be made with input from all those involved, she said.

"I think this could be avoided if there was the kind of structure in policy-making that began in the beginning with open, honest deliberations with all the constituencies and experts on what the best course of reform would be," she said. "This almost never happens, so you get to the war part, with people feeling like they have their backs against the wall and the administration absolutely refusing to respond to the community."

Carson said this results in a fiscal and intellectual waste, a violation of parents' rights and unhealthy learning environment for students.

"It doesn't lead to the success that it would if there would be a solid, stable program that was used in the school and supported by parents at home," she said.

Michael Maiorino, vice president of the Penfield Board of Education, said school boards must balance students' needs with federal and state education regulations and guidelines.

"We can't always please everyone, but we always try to do what's best for the children," he said.

Carson said the situation being created by these "math wars" is not in the best interest of anyone.

"The lesson the kids are learning is that the adults in their world are at war with each other," she said. "The authorities at school are not being trusted by their authorities at home. They are being asked to choose allegiances every single day they go to school. That's a terrible position to put children in."

For more information about NYCHOLD, visit www.nychold.com


For more about the Penfield, NY, Mathematics curriculum controversy please visit Parents Concerned With Penfield's Math Programs and see the NYC HOLD summary page Controversy over Mathematics in Penfield, NY, Public Schools.

Return to the NYC HOLD main page or to the News page or to the Letters and Testimony page.