SHS School Week to Be 75 Minutes Longer: What To Do With That Time?
- Category: Parenting
- Published on 14 February 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Though there's an active initiative underway to decrease student stress and improve wellness, the Scarsdale High School PTA leadership is concerned that a new policy will undermine that effort. In contract negotiations with teachers last year, it was agreed that 75 minutes a week of teaching time would be added to the high school schedule and 80 minutes a week of teaching time would be added to the middle school schedule. This came as a surprise to parents, some who did not want to see an extended school day add to their children's stress levels.
We asked STA President David Wixted for details about the additional time last fall, but he let us know that discussing this issue would breach "the confidentiality and good faith bargaining that governs our negotiations with the BOE." He continued, "I can only say that the additional instructional time is one part of a comprehensive agreement the STA reached with the BOE and that was ratified by our membership."
It seems that parents were turned down in their effort to collaborate on formulating innovative and productive ways to use this 75 minutes of weekly time. At the meeting of the Scarsdale Board of Education on February 13, members of the SHS PTA Executive Committee expressed their frustration with a decision that will add two minutes of teaching time to every class period in the high school schedule rather than use the time for individual meetings with teachers, small group learning experiences or activities that could improve student wellness. They called the new schedule "a default plan" that has been put in place until "something better comes along."
In remarks before the board on Monday night, SHS PTA President Amy Song suggested several ideas for the use of the time. She said, "Many students would appreciate a mandatory, structured period where they could sign up in advance for specific instruction. Another thought could be for students to select a class based on a teacher's expertise that incorporated a universal theme, such as wellness or global citizenship. The ideas are plentiful when you apply "classroom instructional time" in an innovative manner with students spending one-on-one time with teachers; this is what we hear students say they value most and is the hallmark of a Scarsdale High School education."
With the stopwatch running indicating that Song had exceeded her allotted three minutes, Suzanne Glaser read the second half of the PTA statement. She expressed the PTA's disappointment that they were not permitted to confer on the new policy. She said, "The PTA Executive Committee has attempted on numerous occasions to reach out to you in writing and also requested a meeting with your entire board or a subset to understand the process and express our thoughts. We remain disappointed by the lack of response, openness and collaboration from the BOE, as students and parents have not been directly represented in any talks regarding the implementation of this mandate. Please reconsider this culture."
Glaser urged the administration and board to work with all stakeholders and consider the ramifications of collective bargaining agreements on the students and the community.
Eileen Donovan who is a member of the SHS Wellness Committee said, "There is a high level of rigor at the high school.... We don't need more rigor." She called the new schedule "a regressive plan to keep kids in chairs for 75 more minutes," and said that the kids were, "pawns in a negotiation between the administration and teachers." She said that kids could benefit from time to foster relationships with their teachers and for small groups that form a more inclusive environment." She asked that the high school be given the power to come up with a new plan.
See the full remarks from the PTA Executive Committee below or watch them here:
I am the current Scarsdale HS PTA President and speaking on behalf of our Executive Committee.
Everyone in this room is an advocate for the Scarsdale HS student. However, there is a conversation taking place among adults who are not prioritizing our children. At last spring's contract negotiations, members of the BOE and STA agreed to extend the High School week by adding 75 minutes of more classroom instruction. These seventy-five generous minutes of potentially meaningful, impactful learning are now close to being relegated to the agreement's default plan of adding two more minutes to each class throughout the day. This last resort option appears to be the only proposal that both parties can agree on to satisfy the requirement for "additional classroom time," a term that was not properly defined thereby limiting any useful application. In other words, the policy prohibits any creative solutions from being considered due to the narrow scope that teaching and learning cannot take place outside of a scheduled class. How can two more minutes per class be more acceptable or meaningful than a full period of supervised, expertise-based individual or small group study sessions where both teachers and students are held accountable? While we do not dispute the BOE and STA's efforts for more valuable instruction, it seems that there was no thoughtful review process on HOW this mandate should be implemented at the High School since no administrators or parents were consulted during these discussions. In fact, many district and school administrators, teachers, and even some Board of Ed members admit that the default plan is far from ideal, calling it a "placeholder" until something better comes along. Unfortunately for our kids, "something better" is not coming this year due to a lack of collaboration and shared input from all parties involved.
In fairness to the scheduling committee, finding a place for 75 minutes in the High School day is no easy task. The schedule is complex and any changes to it should not only add value but also preserve the most important existing benefits. The ability to meet 98% of students' course requests, the flexibility to change class levels mid year, and the built-in time for programs like Civ Ed and various grade-level seminars are just a few of the longstanding advantages offered to our students.
Given the multitude of course offerings and diverse student needs, adding 75 minutes to a new or existing subject period would greatly disservice those students who, for instance, may not need more time in history class but would prefer the extra instruction in math or science. How can anyone decide where additional time should be allocated without student agency or self-determination? Our high school students are much more independent, capable, and self-aware than they are being credited for and would benefit from enhanced learning beyond the 49-minute classroom period.
For example, many students would appreciate a mandatory, structured period where they could sign up in advance for specific instruction. Another thought could be for students to select a class based on a teacher's expertise that incorporated a universal theme, such as wellness or global citizenship. The ideas are plentiful when you apply "classroom instructional time" in an innovative manner with students spending one-on-one time with teachers; this is what we hear students say they value most and is the hallmark of a Scarsdale High School education.
As you know, our PTA Executive Committee has attempted on numerous occasions to reach out to you in writing and also requested a meeting with your entire board or a subset to understand the process and express our thoughts. We remain disappointed by the lack of response, openness and collaboration from the BOE, as students and parents have not been directly represented in any talks regarding the implementation of this mandate. Please reconsider this culture. While we have no interest or position to be involved with collective bargaining, the fact remains that any change to the daily school schedule that immediately affects our students and families should have allowed us the opportunity to voice our concerns upfront on how the agreement could be put into effect.
It wasn't so long ago, but do you remember our debates on callback kindergarten? Or the many curricular conversations we shared about introducing Spanish to the elementary schools? The most successful and long-standing policies take place when all the stakeholders work together to listen and learn from each other.
While we acknowledge that we cannot please everyone, we all have the best intentions for meaningful education by putting our students first and then seeking the best outcome. Sadly, our students now stand to pay the price for this misapplication of terms and have just lost 75 minutes per week outside of school to do homework, participate in after-school activities, meet with teachers, work in group projects, catch up on sleep or spend time with family. We owe it to these kids to make the best use of this time and not have them serve as placeholders in order to satisfy YOUR agreement.
For this reason, we urge the BOE and Dr. Hagerman to encourage all of us -- the BOE, STA, HS Administration and PTA -- to work together to support student learning that is purposeful and worthy of a longer school day. It may take time to come up with an optimal solution, but a collaborative approach will help find quality instruction under the parameters of this agreement, as well as represent how our community includes all participants when making well-informed, important decisions for the High School.
We know you as our fellow neighbors, friends, and parents, but now count on you as our trusted elected leaders to show us your commitment to our high school students, first and foremost.
Greenacres Students Visit Never Never Land
- Category: Parenting
- Published on 07 February 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Five casts, comprising more than 200 Greenacres students appeared in seven performances of Peter Pan on January 28 and 29. The Greenacres PTA partnered with the Westchester Sandbox Theatre this year to produce the fun-filled shows. Dedicated parent volunteers supported the children, spanning grades kindergarten through five, as they rehearsed throughout January.
Raiders Girls Basketball Team Falls to New Rochelle in Close Game
- Category: Parenting
- Published on 25 January 2017
- Written by Emmeline Berridge
Going into their game against New Rochelle on Tuesday, January 24, 2017, the Scarsdale High School Raiders Girls Basketball Team had built up momentum from their previous league wins. Starting off the season 0-5 against some of the best competition in the state, the team had trouble finding their rhythm. Their 57-36 win over Mamaroneck on January 10 started a 3 game winning streak, with 2 hard fought wins against White Plains (37-34) and Mount Vernon (66-53). Scarsdale's ability to finish clutch against White Plains combined with their dominance over Mount Vernon resulted in a newfound cohesiveness of the group. These wins propelled the Raiders to a 4-6 record, a promising upturn to their season. On Friday, Jan. 20, the Raiders took on the 9th best team in the state, Ursuline. A 52-32 loss on Ursuline's home court was the result of a devastating first half, where the Raiders were down by over 30 points going into the 3rd quarter. A win against New Rochelle would mean that Scarsdale would establish itself as the second best team the league, which is well respected throughout the section.
Starting the game strong, the Raiders were up 18-2 after the 1st quarter. After a series of foul calls and loss of momentum, the half ended with the Raiders leading 25-19. Unable to maintain the lead, Scarsdale ultimately lost to New Rochelle 49-34. A total of 54 fouls were called in the game, an unprecedented amount for the 32 minutes of regulation play. With 1 minute left to go, the Raiders had already lost 3 of their starting 5 players to foul-outs. Center Emmeline Berridge got her 5th foul midway through the 3rd quarter, allowing the dominance of New Rochelle's center to shift the game. Guards Samantha Mancini and Lily Steckel were forced to leave the game late in the 4th quarter, weakening Scarsdale's offense. Another notable cause of Scarsdale's loss was their poor performance from the free throw line. Scarsdale's free throw percentage, which was under 50%, was a critical aspect of the team's loss. The Raiders also failed to make shots from the perimeter, which was detrimental for the perimeter-based offensive team. The team continues to their next game with a record of 4-7.
The Raiders will play Mamaroneck at home on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 4:15. Next week they face North Rockland on Monday, Jan. 31, White Plains on Wednesday, Feb. 2, and Mount Vernon on Friday, Feb 4. With a crucial stretch of the regular season ahead, Scarsdale looks to display their ability and advance their seeding for post-season play.
Photos taken by Jon Thaler. See more here.
SHS Design Class Reimagines an Elementary School Classroom
- Category: Parenting
- Published on 31 January 2017
- Written by Melissa Attar
On Thursday, January 26, four design teams presented their concepts for reinventing an elementary classroom to the Scarsdale Center for Innovation's project grant team. The project "What Could We Do with Room 18" was funded to redesign a traditional classroom into a restructured space that would "become a laboratory for experimental thinking on instructional redesign." Each team met with potential clients, went on site visits, and conducted extensive research to develop their ideas and keep their projects on budget. The kicker? The teams were Scarsdale High School students, and the clients were Edgewood elementary school students.
Lisa Yokana explains that her Architecture and Design I class teaches her high school students to use Design Thinking Process "to solve real world problems for an authentic audience." For their final project, groups of four or five students were tasked with redesigning Edgewood's Room 18 to address 21st century student needs without exceeding a $3,500 budget. Students conferred with the grant recipients (a team of four Edgewood teachers who submitted the grant proposal to the Scarsdale Center for Innovation) whose mission is to outfit the new space. For ideas and research, students visited Edgewood's Room 18 as well as locations devoted to modern functional design such as Steelcase in New York City. They also had the benefit of interviewing the fourth grade students of grant team member and Edgewood teacher Marilyn Blackley via video conference. The meetings and research culminated in four presentations at Scarsdale High School's Little Theater by the architecture class to grant project recipients, Edgewood administrators, and Ms. Blackley's fourth grade class. Though all four groups' projects include beanless beanbag chairs (inflatable to resist lice, a pervasive problem in elementary schools) and mobile and/or multiple whiteboard surfaces, each high school group has its own unique take on the modern classroom. A video of the presentations can be viewed here.
Project One weds the fourth graders' desire for individual desks to the need to occasionally work at large tables by utilizing pie-shaped individual desks on wheels that can be pushed together to easily create large tables for communal work. This project also addresses fourth grade complaints about malfunctioning smart boards by replacing the classroom Smart Board with a Smart TV.
Project Two concentrates on creating a very adaptable space. It includes pullout and Murphy-style tables and size changeable tables. Additionally, it utilizes tables of different heights (with stools that swivel for height adjustment) to help students in the back see over their classmates. One student noted that she likes this project because "the prices were cheap and the ideas were good."
Project Three also uses height adjustable tables. Like other projects, it includes a cozy corner with a rug and beanless beanbags to encourage a relaxed, homelike environment for reading and discussion. This project earned high praise from the Edgewood students for its Chrome Bar, which would allow for a designated space with storage and charging capacity for work with Chromebooks, which are becoming increasingly important in the classroom. The Chrome Bar faces the courtyard to encourage students to occasionally look away from the Chromebook screen in order to combat Computer Vision Syndrome.
Project Four, the largest departure from a traditional classroom, garnered the most buzz from the audience. It involves the use of Everblocks, large Lego-type building blocks measuring twelve inches long by six inches high and wide, to build desks and partitions that can be rebuilt to adapt to the changing needs of the room. Besides the "cool factor" of Lego-type building blocks, students loved them for their flexibility and the potential to create and build. Also, they were excited that the blocks also functioned as white board surfaces.
Another innovation of Project Four is the loft with curvy slide to maximize the vertical space in the reading corner. In addition to a shag rug, the top level houses bungee chairs and/or beanless beanbag chairs, and the bottom would have hanging chair hammocks for additional seating. The hanging chairs were a big hit with the students because they thought the chairs would be great for privacy during reading time. Though the loft with slide idea was clearly a kid favorite, several fourth grade students expressed concerns that the loft might actually be "too playful" and that students would be so interested in playing that they would neglect to do their work.
The decision to include the fourth grade students was beneficial for everyone involved in the project. Ms. Blackley explained that the grant's purpose is to create a classroom that is flexible, inviting, "and yet still a place where focused learning could take place." She went on, "We felt that involving a class of elementary age students would be helpful towards that end, as they are the people who need to live in the classroom each day."
Beyond offering their unique perspective, the fourth graders were an inspiring force for the architecture students. Sophomore Ali Rothberg, who worked on the popular Project Four stated that designing for Ms. Blackley's class motivated her group to work harder to generate creative ideas because they knew they were "designing for a real user." She felt it was also more nerve-wracking because the high schoolers knew that the fourth graders would be more honest if they did not like the ideas. In fact, Rothberg stated that the adults gave solely positive feedback, but the negative feedback from the fourth graders, the "primary users," was very helpful.
The feedback and motivation were major benefits of the collaboration. As Ms. Blackley stated, "I think (involving the younger students) offers the high school students a real project audience for their very real project." Not merely concerned with the academic benefit of the older students, Ms. Blackley also used the project to educate her own students. The students had the opportunity to think about what makes a great classroom, how student needs are evolving, and how to articulate those needs to the high schoolers. They also listened to each Little Theater presentation and asked thoughtful questions. Finally, they discussed the projects among themselves online through Google Classroom, practicing analysis and teamwork. The Google Classroom comments revealed that the fourth graders were considering cost-effectiveness as well as striking the correct balance between work and play. They also demonstrated that the students valued projects that allowed privacy during reading time, storage, flexibility, and the ability to have many white board surfaces. The fourth graders' input provides not only a window into their young minds but also useful information for the grant recipients to consider when evaluating the high school students' projects.
This evaluation is the next step for the grant team. Ms. Blackley noted "it is my intention, along with the team I'm working with at Edgewood, to implement some of the suggestions." With all the innovative and practical substance of the four proposals and armed with student feedback, the grant team has a great deal of exciting material to utilize.
Sustainable Schools for Tomorrow
- Category: Parenting
- Published on 18 January 2017
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
As the community considers long terms plans for school district facilities, we will need to familiarize ourselves with the latest trends in school design. How do educators and architects envision the evolution of education, and how will school design reflect this evolution? Just as many of Scarsdale's current schools have served students for the past one hundred years, how can we build facilities that will facilitate education for the next century?
A survey of some recently-built elementary schools reveals a few emerging themes:
Sustainability: Probably the most revolutionary change in school design is the construction of sustainable buildings that become integral to the school curriculum.
New York City has recently opened its first net-zero energy school that actually produces the energy it consumes. The Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability at Sandy Ground in Staten Island, designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill is designed to use 50% less energy than other new New York City public school buildings and is undoubtedly far more fuel-efficient than traditional school buildings.
How does the school generate and conserve energy? Photovoltaic panels on a sloped roof produce energy while skylights and reflective ceiling panels bring in natural light. The school also has energy recovery ventilators, demand-control ventilation, a geo-exchange heating and cooling system, and a solar thermal system for hot water. The L-shaped building is oriented to provide maximum access to natural light exposure.
The energy saving features of the building are integrated into the learning process. Students and faculty manage energy consumption with interactive dashboards displayed throughout the building that present real-time data on energy usage and production. This allows students and teachers to make choices to manage consumption and production. Signage around the building explains sustainability and educates visitors and students about energy conservation.
Another green school is The Academy for Global Citizenship Charter School (AGC) in Chicago which is designed around a green curriculum. Their mission statement says, "Learning from natural processes is a powerful vehicle for teaching our students about the connection between their everyday choices and the health of the community, the environment, and themselves."
Children care for the school's chickens and eat their eggs. The kids practice recycling and composting and track onsite consumption of solar energy. The kitchen serves organic, nutritionally balanced meals and encourage mindful eating.
In 2015 AGC partnered with cutting edge architects Studio Gang to "design a new, purpose-built 21st-century learning campus that reimagines the concept of "school" as a place that embraces the innate curiosity of children, the natural systems of the world, and the responsibility to make positive change, instilling in students a mindset of sustainability and wellness. With this new campus, Studio Gang is not only giving AGC's unique mission a physical form, but expanding the school's larger vision into a powerful new format: a model for educational innovation that has the potential to ignite a global movement for change.
The design includes many different types of spaces for individual and collective learning and a farm to provide food to feed the school community. The campus will be fueled by solar and geo-thermal power. Again, the school design is integral to the curriculum as the school will be a living demonstration of sustainable living. The school is currently raising funds to build the new campus.
In a recent report prepared by Dattner Architects for the renovation of Scarsdale Library, they review the educational opportunities offered by sustainable buildings:
"As a public building dedicated to community education, this project presents the exciting opportunity for the building itself to serve as a living laboratory that informs patrons about energy and water efficiency, indoor air quality, connection to the outdoors, and can motivate the community to get involved in activities that promote sustainability and environmental awareness."
Perhaps this same line of thought can be extended to plans for future district schools.
Beyond sustainability, what are some other design features of schools for the future? Architects list these:
Small group and non-traditional learning spaces: New schools include flexible spaces where students can collaborate and engage in small-group exercises. These spaces provide the opportunity for hands on learning and exploration beyond the traditional classroom environment. Flexible furniture, movable walls and classrooms designed in other than lecture style layouts should accommodate children with a variety of learning styles.
Safety and security features that enhance rather than detract from the educational experience. Though there's a need for heightened security, secured entrances, video monitoring and compartmentalization of spaces does not have to interrupt the learning environment.
Enhanced technology: As students spend more time on tablets and computers, accessing educational games to learn content and problem solving, the school environment will need to accommodate technological engagement. Schools will include sophisticated wiring, technology, media centers and furnishings to accommodate kids using technology.
Maker Spaces and Design Labs: as learning moves away from the traditional classroom model, schools will require more space for hands on learning and design thinking. In these design labs kids learn by making, doing and collaborating.
Are you aware of some cool new schools or design features of sustainable schools? Share them in the comments section below.