Letters to the Editor week of 6-3-10


Decisions questioned

To the Editor:

As a lifelong resident of Switzerland County, a former school administrator and Switzerland County teacher, and taxpayer for over 40 years, I am compelled to write about some recent school board and administrative decisions which I feel are extremely detrimental to the education of our school children, to the stability and well being of our teaching staff, and to the management of our Switzerland County school funds. On Monday, May 17th, I appeared in an executive session of the school board in an attempt to discuss some of the concerns which will be mentioned in this letter, but none of the six school board members present nor Superintendent Elizabeth Jones would respond to me during or after the meeting or answer the questions which I posed.

The first decision of the administrators which I attempted to discuss with the school board and superintendent deals with the so-called reconfiguration plan devised by Superintendent Elizabeth Jones and Principals Rhonda Pennington and John Druba which has essentially made what were once sixth grade middle school students now elementary students by transferring sixth grade students from Switzerland County Middle School to Jefferson Craig (even though in reality only four classes of sixth grade students are going to be housed in Jefferson Craig; the other two classes will still be housed in Switzerland County Middle School just down the hall a few classrooms away from where they originally started out at SCMS.)

This reorganization of the Switzerland County Middle School, which was designed for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders and the overcrowding of Jefferson Craig, which has housed only kindergarten through grade five students since 1995, is in my opinion literally and figuratively tearing both the Jefferson Craig and Switzerland County Middle School apart. A feasibility study completed by Dr. Robert Boyd of Indiana State University in 2004 states, “The functional student capacity of the Jefferson Craig Elementary School and the lack of appropriate educational support space limits the delivery of effective and efficient educational programming,” “Jefferson Craig Elementary School is beyond capacity.” Nothing has substantially changed structurally or enrollment-wise since the feasibility study when the school was comprised of students in grades K-5, but with this information the school board recently voted to include six more classes of approximately 120 students in this building.

According to an April 1st, “Vevay Reveille” article, the school board has already directed Elizabeth Jones to “begin the process of conducting a feasibility study on the possibility of building additional classrooms onto Switzerland County Elementary School.” If the sixth graders just stayed at the middle school where there is currently plenty of classroom space for all of them, no feasibility studies, no building project, no reconfiguration, no transferring of staff and students, and no waste of taxpayers’ money would be needed whatsoever.

This reconfiguration plan has been based on what I believe are several inaccurate premises perpetuated by administrators, Elizabeth Jones, Rhonda Pennington and John Druba. Portions of the information appearing in the March and April, 2010, editions of the “Vevay Reveille” and attributed to these three administrators will be summarized in this letter.

At the March 18th, 2010, school board meeting, Elizabeth Jones stated that moving the sixth graders back into an elementary school setting would allow those children to have more than 14,000 minutes a year of education. In a “Vevay Reveille” article, she stated, “the students are to have 20 minutes per day as an activity period (if they stay at SCMS) – time that once back in the elementary schools will be spent in the classroom.” The fact is that those 20 minutes have been spent in the classrooms at SCMS on reading and writing activities all along for at least the last five years, not outside the classroom as the superintendent reports. For whatever reason, she makes it sound as if the students are in the gym playing or roaming the halls during activity periods. In fact, during this activity time, the students follow a set curriculum of reading, writing, listening and speaking activities which is distributed by the office every month to the teachers. I can find no teacher at the middle school who has ever been visited during activity advisor/advisee time or asked what he/she did during these activity periods by either Elizabeth Jones, Rhonda Pennington, or John Druba. The erroneous argument that students and teachers are wasting much instructional time and that the students’ time could be spent on educational activities if the sixth graders can simply be sent to the elementary school where they will not need to participate in an activity period has been perpetuated time and time again by each administrator.

The elimination of passing periods by the administrators for the sixth graders has also been used many times as a way to get the sixth graders more instructional time, but evidently these adults fail to realize that these sixth grade students will need occasional breaks (which are accommodated by passing periods) just like all other active children.

In a March 4th, article of the “Vevay Reveille,” Elizabeth Jones stated, “We did a Jefferson Craig study and the parents told us they wanted sixth graders in the elementary for multiple reasons.” When I asked the school board members in executive session if any of them had seen this Jefferson Craig study, there was no response from any of them. I wanted to know when the study was done, the number of parent surveys returned, and how the questions in the “study” were structured. Actually, I can find no teacher or parent of a sixth grade student who has ever seen this “study.”

During the executive session I also cited a March 4th “Vevay Reveille” article in which SCMS Principal John Druba stated that he had met with the sixth grade teachers about the proposed transfer of sixth graders to Jefferson Craig and “all seemed positive.” This statement is simply not truthful. John Druba did not discuss this transfer of sixth graders with some sixth grade teachers.

In a March 4th, “Vevay Reveille” article, Rhonda Pennington stated that sixth grade would be eligible to receive Title I services in reading and math once they were relocated to the elementary school. She said that Title I is a federal program that is only available to elementary schools. In reality, Title I, which is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provides funds for children from preschool through high school; 65 percent of Title I funds go to students in grades 1-6 with the remainder going to children of other grade levels. It certainly seems that our middle school students could qualify for Title I funds due to the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches, but the administrators who write the Title I grant would need to spend a few minutes rewording the grant language to include these children.

Rhonda Pennington also stated in a March 4th, “Vevay Reveille” article that “Title I would provide extra remediation in reading and math that the student cannot get now at the middle school level.” It appears that Mrs. Pennington has not visited the middle school when remediation classes are taking place for numerous middle school students during each school day. Rhonda Pennington stated, “Not only remediation, but also the ones who need it will receive enrichment also.” Principal Pennington said, “And that’s not even possible with the middle school structure.” This is another inaccurate statement. Middle school teachers have taught enrichment classes at the middle school throughout the entire 2009-10 school year, and five SCMS teachers are classified as “accelerated” class teachers. Sixth grade students attending the middle school this year have also been involved in enrichment activities such as math, language, science, and social studies academic teams and spell bowl and have attended competitions with at least two team sponsors.

Sound decisions cannot be made by the school board members when they receive false, misleading, and incomplete information by administrators.

The effects of the “reconfiguration decision are now beginning to be felt as numerous elementary and middle school teachers are in the process of reluctantly abandoning their former classrooms. Under the proposed plan, the Jefferson Craig Title I teacher will work out of the book storage room instead of the richly equipped Title I classroom containing the materials that have been purchased with grant monies for her students for over 30 years. Two primary teachers and their students will both be moved into one Jefferson Craig classroom instead of two. Another Jefferson Craig kindergarten teacher seems to have been a victim of the reconfiguration plan and has had her teacher contract terminated altogether. A veteran middle school teacher is being required to teach first grade for the first time ever at Jefferson Craig. The preschool special education class at Jefferson Craig will be moved to Switzerland County Elementary to make room for another sixth grade class. Jefferson Craig students will also lose their school’s computer lab, as it becomes another sixth grade classroom. Jeff-Craig students will now need to use a computer lab at the middle school if they are to receive computer instruction.

One of the middle school’s special education classrooms, in which special needs children learned basic life skills such as cooking, washing clothes, housekeeping, etc., will be gutted this summer (all appliances, cooking stations, permanent partitions, etc., torn out) to make way for a sixth grade classroom. The adjoining middle school music room with all of its special equipment will be made into a sixth grade classroom as well.

These are just a few of the unnecessary teacher assignments and wasteful classroom modifications which are a result of this ill-planed and unsubstantiated “reconfiguration” plan.

The statement that 14,000 additional minutes of education will result from this plan is not valid. The lack of current availability of Title I services and enrichment classes for sixth grade students at the middle school is not accurate. Overall community and teacher support for this wasteful and educationally unsound reconfiguration plan does not exist. Therefore, many educators, parents, and patrons of Switzerland County are searching to find the real reason why the lives of so many of the Jefferson Craig and Switzerland County Middle School students and staff and their classrooms and programs must be totally disrupted. The conclusion of many parents and staff relates to the need of Elizabeth Jones and Rhonda Pennington for research subjects (in the form of Jefferson Craig Elementary sixth grade students) for their book-writing project on same-sex classes.

In May, 2004, a front-page “Vevay Reveille” article was written about the dissertation on gender education which Elizabeth Jones had written using the Switzerland County Middle School students as her subjects. Even though I can find no one – no teacher, administrator, parent, or patron in Switzerland County who has ever read Elizabeth Jones’ dissertation, I assume it was written, as time was taken during her contractual time as a middle school principal at SCMS for this dissertation-writing purpose.

In a June 18th, 2009, “Vevay Reveille” article in which it was reported that Rhonda Pennington had been employed as the Jefferson Craig principal, Mrs. Pennington is quoted as saying, “I will also be continuing to work on a gender education book with Dr. Jones.” Therefore, Elizabeth Jones and Rhonda Pennington are now writing a book together on gender education. Since some/all of the added sixth grade classes at Jefferson Craig are supposedly going to be gendered, could it be that these administrators need additional subjects (Jefferson Craig students) being educated in settings other than a middle school for their co-authored book? Could all of this “reconfiguration,” transferring of students and staff, gutting of classrooms, need for an expensive new feasibility study, relocation of computer labs and special education classrooms simply boil down to the need of a superintendent and a principal for sixth grade subjects for research for a personal book on gender education that they are co-authoring?

It is essential that open and meaningful discussion among citizens, school board members and administrators occur this summer.

William T. Cord

Near Vevay