Parents, students, teachers discuss Windham schools
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Windham - posted Tue., Sep. 17, 2013
On Sept. 10, a group of Windham teachers were joined by Windham parent and Board of Education member Tracy Lambert and her son, Stephan, to continue to talk about changes implemented within the district over the past two years. The release of the most recent round of CAPT (Connecticut Academic Performance Test) scores in August prompted teachers from Windham public schools to begin reaching out to the community.
“Teachers in Windham Public Schools are calling the second year of steep declines in the district’s student performance results an urgent opportunity to unite the community for a better future,” read an American Federation of Teachers Connecticut press release issued shortly after the release of the scores.
Steven Adamowski was installed as special master in 2011, after the State Dept. of Education identified Windham as a struggling district, specifically citing concern regarding the increasing gap between its highest- and lowest-performing students, as measured by standardized testing. Adamowski was charged with addressing this concern and improving the performance of the district overall. Since then, decisions have been made without the input of students, parents, teachers or administrators, say Windham teachers. In an Aug. 27 ReminderNews article (http://www.remindernews.com/article/2013/08/26/teachers-speak-out-about-...), teachers began to talk about some of the changes they’ve seen implemented under the special master. On Sept. 10, they continued the discussion.
“One of the biggest changes I witnessed was with scheduling,” said Stephan Lambert, who graduated from Windham High School last year and is currently enrolled in college. The group described several changes in the Windham High School schedule during Lambert’s time at the school, switching from a seven-period-per-day schedule to an x-block schedule, to no x-blocks, to a trimester system. The result, said Lambert, was chaos for students, difficulty planning for future classes and, sometimes, an inability to complete required or desired course work.
Asked about the frequent changes, Windham Board of Education Chair Murphy Sewall said, “These changes were a consequence of the WHS curriculum redesign. The structure of the high school class schedules has settled into a trimester system.”
Lambert brought up another change that has become a big area of concern for WHS students - the elimination of the DECA Club. DECA is a club that “prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management,” according to the organization’s mission statement. In order to participate in the club, a school must offer supportive courses in business and marketing. By eliminating these courses, Adamowski effectively eliminated DECA at WHS. “They were quite successful,” said Lambert, suggesting that students drawn to DECA placed within the top 20 percent of the class. Lambert said that students, teachers and parents had fought to retain the classes and the club, but to no avail. “They were basically ignored,” he said.
On Sept. 11, Windham High School senior Joseph Catullo, current president of DECA, made yet another plea for the club’s survival. “The DECA issue was responded to at the Board of Education meeting on Sept. 11,” said Sewall. “It is one of the actions that will be reconsidered.”
Neal Sherman, a math teacher at Windham High School, spoke about one of his Algebra I classes this year. “It’s an extraordinarily high-needs class,” he said. With a total of 29 students, the class includes eight special education students and 11 ELL (English language learner) students, with some overlap. The classroom is assigned one certified special education teacher and one certified ELL teacher. “I think that’s where the argument could be made that services are adequate,” said Sherman. “But I don’t feel that it’s an appropriate treatment of those students.”
With five of his students speaking no English whatsoever, and Sherman speaking no Spanish, it is impossible, he said, for all of the students to make sense of a lesson during the course of a 69-minute class period. Add to that the demands required of tailoring lessons to eight different IEPs (special education individualized education program), and the task becomes even more difficult. “There’s no way I can individualize to 29 students,” said Sherman.
The trimester schedule has exacerbated the situation by adding instructional time and eliminating preparation time, say the teachers. “I don’t feel that I have adequate time to prepare for my instructional duties,” said Sherman. There isn’t even the opportunity for collaborative planning time between himself, the special education teacher, and the ELL teacher, said Sherman. “I feel like they’re setting these kids up to fail,” he said.
Sewall was asked whether he was aware of Sherman’s situation, and similar situations occurring district-wide. “ELL will be a major topic of the board's workshop meeting on Oct. 23,” he said.
Board member Tracy Lambert said that Adamowski’s arrival had resulted in deteriorating communication within the district. “Before, people knew who to go to,” she said. “There is a lot of chaos and miscommunication going on that wasn’t here before,” continued Lambert. “There’s a lot of disconnect.”
Lambert said that many decisions had been made by Adamowski without the prior approval of the board. Parents reported e-mails and phone calls to Adamowski going unreturned. In many cases, there had been a clear outcry from the public with voices going unheard, said Lambert, referring to the example of the DECA Club. “[Adamowski has] done some good things in this district, but it’s not a cooperative relationship,” she said. “We were hoping for teaching and collaboration, what we got was changes instituted upon us.”
"If there's no transfer of knowledge, how are you creating anything lasting?" asked Windham High School English teacher, Kathy Koljian.
Sewall acknowledged that Adamowski’s style might not be entirely effective within Windham. “Dr. Adamowski apparently prefers, as a rule, to work through the superintendent of schools and the local Board of Education rather than deal with members of the community directly,” he said. “Perhaps, this hasn't been the most useful strategy.”
“There is incredible frustration among the staff and students because of the confusion and the disconnect,” said Koljian.