Who is watching the store? Accountability!

As my son was entering his junior year at Sleepy Hollow I couldn’t help but feel a little of my own excitement. Many of the required Regents exams were behind him and I was quietly thinking about colleges he might be interested in attending, the next big step he would take in his life.

July came and went and in the first week of August we received a packet telling about the construction changes and providing other general information about the upcoming year; missing however were the class schedules for the year.

Several weeks later we received a post card asking for patience and saying that the schedules would be arriving shortly. Then with one week remaining till opening day a letter arrived announcing that schedules had not been mailed out, there was a system problem and each student would be given their schedule on the first day of school along with time to meet with their counselors if there were any problems. Frustration and apprehension began to replace my optimistic feelings, but I was determined to be patient and not embarrass my 16 year old by saying too much.

September 7, 2006, "Opening Day" however, turned out to be far from a happy day. The dreaded "Construction" was by far not the major problem, students had schedules but no classes, courses no longer existed, the numbers of students in certain classes far exceeded acceptable numbers, opportunities to meet with counselors were virtually non-existent. In class meetings the students were told to be patient and heard "We are working on it." If not for caring teachers, there might have been total chaos and student revolt.

Throughout the days between September 7th and September 21st I heard continuous stories about the scheduling problems and the construction. Then on the 21st I got a call to be a substitute teacher in the High School. What I saw regarding construction, disruption and heard about education concerns that day made my head spin, and now, as a totally frustrated

parent, I have compiled a list of thoughts on the situation.

Construction:

1. Yes, the construction is a BIG problem, but you can’t blame everything on it.

2. Didn’t the consultants, planners, builders or administration (early on) review/check the state codes for acceptable temporary classrooms rather than finding out later that the initial plans were flawed and the alternative is now to have classrooms without walls? Aren’t the experts supposed to know what is permitted under all state codes? Do they really think students and teachers can function in open rooms with construction noise going on? Currently in West Hall, with open classrooms, if one class is watching a movie or hearing a lecture the class next to it can hear everything that is being said. Teachers must talk over each other — forget keeping the student’s attention, or learning, if the teacher has a soft voice. How do you learn American History (or vice versa) when English is being taught next door and you can hear both teachers?

3. Did anyone think that maybe classrooms should be temporarily moved to, say, the administration building (where it is quiet and you can learn and teach) and let the administration work in the open areas?

4. Currently there are hall monitors prohibiting students from entering West Hall during class time (students are currently asked to go outside to get to the other end of the hall). What will happen when cold weather comes and students have to go outside?

5. Didn’t anyone consider doing the construction in phased sections? Say, starting and FINISHING the new gym and auditorium before tackling West Hall? Maybe doing a large part of classroom construction when school was NOT in session? Construction noise is inevitable, but does it have to be on the other side of a wall when teaching is going on?

Scheduling:

Just when we thought construction would be the major concern at Sleepy Hollow, we start the school year at a High School/Middle School with students not having schedules, (or else the schedules that were given were so wrong that the office staff had to guard the entrance to the guidance department to prevent a riot/meltdown).

1. Teachers spent the first two weeks of school just trying to keep the students calm. Forget trying to begin the school year, as most of the classes had the wrong students.

2. The only assistance offered was, "We are working on it." (Not very reassuring!)

3. The explanation of the problem was reviewed in a letter from Dr. Smith sent on September 15th. It claimed most problems would be addressed by the 15th, however that is far from correct.

4. Many students now have schedules and are now in classes with huge class size differences. Where before rarely were there classes above 28 students, now there are classes up in the high 30’s (or there might be other classes with only 6 students, nice but unfair to the others). Teachers are being asked to teach multiple classes and cover extra duties to make up for shortcomings.

5. Who at the top was watching the consultants as the student information system was being implemented? What types of tests were run? Was there a conversion plan? Did they run parallel systems before discarding the old system? Didn’t red flags go up everyday so that alternative measures could have been started a lot earlier? Was there no contingency plan?

6. Who is going to pay or account for the overtime hours, and accept responsibility for the consultants and other experts now trying to fix the system? Or are they just going to be hidden as part of the Construction overruns? Didn’t any of the senior administration see what was happening before August 30th ? My husband has been a financial (systems) consultant for many years and I have heard more than I care to remember about the tests he has had to run, questions he has had to answer and accountability that he has had to take for his staff’s actions. Don’t our children deserve better?

7. Teachers are stressed, angry and generally upset; they are hoping that parents will start demanding answers. We have so many great teachers who really care and they constantly worry about the students, but even these teachers have their limits and we can’t afford to lose dedicated teachers.

How much more should parents and taxpayers be asked to accept? The never ending increases in taxes just seem to be going into a black hole. The list of problems seems to be growing: scheduling, class size, low test scores, bad behavior, ineligible students, lack of strong upper administration and on and on. The frustration level at Sleepy Hollow High School and Middle School is far too high and maybe now it is the time to admit there are more than just "Construction" problems. Education is like a business — there will be problems, but unlike corporations, we are dealing with children. Children and parents can be patient, no one believes that there is one quick fix, but the downward spiral has to end. Our children are the future and we, as stockholders in the corporation of the school, must accept that sometimes drastic measures must be taken before total collapse occurs.

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