One Size Fits All Has No Place in Education

A major concern of many families in the Heritage school district is whether their children are being taught and challenged to their appropriate educational level, whether the children need extra assistance or extra stimulation.  A “one size fits all” philosophy has no place in education.  Our children are not a glove bought at a department store; they are unique and must be taught to their individual levels.

I should note that, for many reasons, I am a strong opponent of the “Common Core” curriculum; but that is not the focus of this article.  Common Core, and the standards it seeks to meet, are here – and must be met by the district that has implemented those standards.

The Heritage school district has failed to meet standardized “yearly adequate progress” for multiple years.  It appears that Heritage is not meeting the basic instructional needs of students who may need extra help in learning the basics.  By repeatedly failing to meet those standards, parents of Heritage students may be free to send their children to attend other school districts that are meeting the standards.

I also wonder what opportunities exist at Heritage for children who may excel beyond their expected grade level in various areas.  Teaching to those kids, in a one-size-fits-all philosophy, only bores them and stifles their creativity and love of learning.  Heritage obviously is not able to meet the minimum State standards, so how can the district meet the needs of its more advanced students?  Seeking State exemptions to let the school year out early, under the minimum number of instructional days, further undermines Heritage’s goal of providing “enough time” for kids to learn according to their needs.

The Heritage 2013-2014 budget includes $87,788 in spending for K-12 “remedial and supplemental programs.”  It also provides for $20,742 in “improvement of instruction services” and $87,700 in “educational media services.”  Sporting activities are not itemized, but “interscholastic programs” – whatever that means — were budgeted $125,900.  (See Heritage FY2014 Budget:  http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/about/SDB2014FORM.xls).  The salaries and benefits of the district’s three administrators amount to roughly $319,976.90 (see “Administrative Compensation Report” at http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/about/Administrator%20Salary%20Compensation%20Report%20fy14.pdf).

“Gifted programs” were allocated $0.00.  Not a single penny.

In its “Mission & Vision Statements,” Heritage states that its mission is to “inspire a passion for learning.”  It also recognizes that “students are unique in their needs, … and will be inspired in different ways.”  “When given a stimulating environment, enough time and the right opportunities, students will learn …”  “The best learning process occurs when students and staff are motivated to strive for excellence.”  (Summarized from the Mission & Vision statements, at http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/missionvision/default.html).

In 2006, at least 5.8% of children in Illinois schools were deemed to be “gifted.”  (See The National Center for Education Statistics report at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_049.asp).  The number of gifted children in the Heritage district may be more and it may be fewer.  Regardless of their number, their “unique” needs must be met, as promised by the Heritage district.  They must be provided with a “stimulating environment” and the “right opportunities” so that they can “learn” to the fullest of their potential.  With no funds allocated to such needs, it is hard to imagine that such needs are being met in any meaningful capacity.

Heritage allocated significant funds to remedial education, and even more funds to “interscholastic programs.”  Why is Heritage not allocating any funds to gifted programs? For a school that has recently constructed several new gymnasiums, the lack of funding for any gifted program is stunning.  It appears that Heritage values sporting abilities over education, despite its mission statement.

Before asking the students to live up to Heritage’s mission statement and related goals, the Heritage district needs to live up to those standards itself.  A one-size-fits-all educational philosophy does not meet those standards, and deprives our children of educational opportunities.  A “one size fits all” philosophy works for gloves or snow pants, but it does not work for students who need to learn.  The individual educational needs of all students must be met.

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Heritage wants to shorten school year — bad news for students

Due to the number of heat- and snow-related school closures, the Heritage School District has asked the Regional Board of Education for approval of a shortened school year.

This is a terrible idea.

To begin with, the Heritage District failed to meet “Adequate Yearly Progress” for several years now.  See the reports at Heritage’s site, http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/card.html.  For the school to consider shortening the school year, despite repeatedly failing standards, seems completely inappropriate.  If Heritage cannot meet the minimum standards in normal-length school years, how does it expect to meet those standards in a shortened year?

In a recent article published in The Leader, Superintendent Tom Davis stated that lengthening the school year by a few days would conflict with parents’ vacations or other activities.  (See http://www.leaderlandnews.com/news/education/2014-02-18/schools-apply-act-god-waivers.html).  In the same article, Davis was cited as stating that students’ welfare was of the highest importance.  I can only suppose educating our students would not be of higher importance than that of the school year ending as originally planned, despite the district’s stated “vision statement” of “given the opportunity students can learn and achieve” and “When given … enough time … students will learn to be life-long learners, college and career ready, and able to negotiate our ever-changing global society.”  (See http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/missionvision/default.html).  How is shortening the school year providing an opportunity for our students to “learn and achieve” and how is that providing the students “enough time” to learn?  Also, the district states that “consistent rules and discipline … are necessary for all individuals.”  How is rescheduling sports and administrative matters, while cancelling school, consistent?  What example does this set for students?  The administration apparently has no answer for those serious questions.

This is also the school district that spent many thousands, if not millions, of dollars on sports facilities and gymnasiums.  No such extravagant expenditure was proposed for books.  So much for educational priorities.

At a recent Heritage School Board meeting, the topic of the shortened school year was discussed.  Superintendent Davis indicated that the only feedback he had received was from satisfied parents, namely those who had already planned vacations.  He grudgingly did acknowledge the receipt of at least one complaint from a parent. Despite any pleased parents’ input, Davis’ role is to ensure the best education possible for our children, rather than making sure the school year fits certain parents’ needs.   In addition, Principal Sanders strongly advocated for the shortened school year.  She argued that the extra days in early June may not be as academically “rich” for students, and that the students would be hot and “sweaty” and not focused on learning.

The average high temperature in early June is about 80 degrees.  The school year begins in August and continues through September, which are traditionally much hotter months than early June. Even if the temperatures in early June were a bit warm, would such temperatures compare to August and September?  And shouldn’t the school have facilities to deal with such weather conditions, which come year after year?   This seems like a lame excuse for failing to teach the minimum number of days and for not meeting State requirements.

Sanders’ other argument at the meeting – that students would not be focused on learning in early June – is speculative at best, and indicative of her disinterest in our students’ interests at worst.  The school year already is scheduled to end on June 2.  Sanders notably did not argue that the extension to June 2 would be pointless – probably because the extension through June 2 is not optional, even under State exceptions under so-called “Act of God” days.  If children can learn through June 2, then I am sure they can continue to learn through June 5.

Why is the school so insistent on not making up the snow days?  Why does the school not want to educate our kids to at least minimum standards?  And if children’s learning is season-dependent – according to Sanders’ logic — then why have so many previously-scheduled days off during the winter (when Sanders apparently thinks kids learn best)?  These are all mere excuses for not extending the school year by the appropriate amount of days.

It is interesting to note that sporting events affected by the cold or snow were rescheduled, and not simply cancelled.  The School Board’s February 17 meeting was affected by snow, and that was postponed rather than cancelled.  Why, then, is it appropriate to simply cancel actual school days for our children? Is it a matter of convenience for the administration and faculty, or for a select few parents who have allegedly planned crucial vacations this far in advance?  Once again, it appears that sports take precedence over education at Heritage.  There is just no good reason to shortchange our children of the educational opportunity that the school is required to provide.

At the February School Board meeting, Superintendent Davis stated that even if it accepted its request of “Act of God” days, the District would not need to necessarily use those days.  If the District did not plan on using those days, then why ask for them?  The fact is, the District asked for the days in order to shorten the school year, and only now may reconsider based on negative feedback.  The District should not use any so-called “Act of God” days to shorten the Heritage school year.

Superintendent Davis raised another point at the February School Board meeting — that most, if not all, the other superintendents in the county were seeking a similar shortening of the school year through so-called “Act of God” days.  A search of the Illinois’ Board of Education website reveals that many schools in Champaign County have failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards.  Why should our district follow the example of those failing districts?  And, when we teach our children not to succumb to peer pressure, why are we excusing the District from doing its job because other districts are not doing theirs?  This is no excuse to shorten the school year, and this is a bad example to set for our children.

With a school district that is not meeting State standards, year after year, ensuring that our children have at least the minimum number of instructional school days is not an outrageous demand.  In fact, all the parents in our district should demand this – if not more.  The parents have the highest interest in ensuring that our children receive the highest quality education, and the property-taxpayers have an interest in ensuring that the district’s children continue on to become independent, responsible, and well-educated adults.  Our entire community has a great interest in making sure that the children receive the best education possible.  Shortening the school year, through a State exception, does nothing to accomplish this goal.  Offering excuses in favor of shortening the school year does nothing to counter the serious reasons against such action.  We all owe it to our children, and the community, to make sure our district’s kids receive the education everybody is paying for, and which the kids deserve.

The Board’s vote on the amended calendar was adjourned until March’s meeting.  I urge all of the Heritage parents to contact the administration and school board members to express their opinions, either way.  I encourage any parent with views on this matter to attend the next school board meeting.  Without our input, the Heritage administration and School Board will not know how we feel.  I am sure we all want our kids to be as well-educated as possible, and I feel that shortening the school year is not the way to accomplish that.

Brian Pondenis,
Broadlands

P.S. I am also writing to our State representatives and other leaders in order to have the State law regarding “Act of God” days changed, so that schools that are not meeting adequate yearly progress standards cannot take advantage of this exception to shorten the school year.

Contact Information:

Superintendent Tom Davis, (217) 834-3393, heritage8@usa.net

Principal Sanders, (217) 896-2421, ksanders@heritage.k12.il.us

Bruce Bryan, Board Member: postmanbruce@gmail.com

Kimberly Kenily-Ashbrook, Board Member kimberly@ashbrook.biz

John Lannon, Board Member jslannon5@yahoo.com

(Other Board members’ info at: http://champaigncountyclerk.com/government/local_officials_results.php?LevyBodyIDSD=109&Submit=Go) and http://www.heritage.k12.il.us/about/default.html

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Building Permit information added to site

In light of questions I have received about building permits, I added a page outlining the general situations in which a building permit is and isn’t required in the Village of Broadlands.  Also included is a link to a downloadable building permit application form, for your convenience. The permit page is accessible from the menu on the right-hand side of this page and entitled ‘Building Permits.’  A link to the Broadlands Zoning Ordinance is also included on that page, as well as on the Ordinances page.

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1860s New York Times articles about our area

I stumbled across three New York Times articles describing the farm operations in and around what is now Broadlands.  One describes the vast amount of hedge – more than one hundred miles of it —  planted along the roads in the 1860s.  Unfortunately, not much of that precious shade remains today.  The area around Broadlands was at one time an enormous farm, owned by a single person. This article describes it as being “the largest farm in the world.”  Another article praises the (eventual) breakup of this vast estate, stating that smaller farms are of greater benefit to the community. It’s interesting to see the modern trend of the conglomeration of smaller farms into larger farming operations.

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Past Minutes, Bills, and Financial Reports online

Where available, the monthly minutes of the Village of Broadlands meetings, bill listings, and financial reports have been posted here, spanning from 1993 to the present.  Links to those pages are in the menu on the right-hand side.  All items are downloadable Adobe pdf files.

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Two much-needed changes and a new Trustee for Broadlands

Several much-needed changes will be happening around town. 

First, the Village Board has agreed to install a water-bill drop box at the Village Hall.  This way, residents need not mail in water bill payments each month (and spend 44 cents, and risk mis-delivery).

Second, the park equipment should be updated by the July 4th holiday.  The Village has scheduled concrete work to be done the second week of June.  Assuming the concrete workers are on  schedule, the park should be finished shortly.  Just as a reminder, the update consists of removal of some older swings and other equipment, and installation of new play equipment and a water fountain.

Finally, electrician Dave Parsons was selected to fill the Trustee vacancy left by Matt Buffington when he became the Acting Mayor.

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An Official Website for Broadlands? Your input requested.

At the April Village meeting, I proposed the idea of an official Village of Broadlands website.  Ideally, this would be a site residents could visit to find whatever information they need about our village. Of course, all village minutes, ordinances, and financial information would be available.  I believe residents have a right to easy access to all of this information (which was my motivation in starting this small site). I also think that if the Village plans to enforce its rules, then the Village must ensure that residents have complete availability to all the relevant information.

Your input would really be appreciated.  Are there any features or information you would like to see presented on a village website?

I have several ideas.  First, the village should look into accepting water bill payments online.  I proposed installing a slot for in-person payments at the Village Hall, but due to security concerns, that idea has not been acted upon to date.  Second, there should definitely be an online comment/complaint/suggestion form, so residents can express their opinions (anonymously, if they wish) to the village. There could also be a page or section devoted to community events or organizations.

If anyone has any suggestions, or if anyone even thinks a website would be useful (or not), please feel free to contact me or post a comment here.  Thanks for your help.

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