"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My Remarks to the BOE: Senior Projects Part 2

As promised, I am sharing my remarks to the BOE on March 12 about the newly minted Senior Projects, an additional graduation requirement for students beginning with the class of 2015. They are near and dear to me as our middle child is one of their guinea pigs. When these projects were first presented to the BOE in 2010, I believe, the board sent administration back to rework the proposal. They noted that it was too vague and without sufficient detail to be successful. By Fall of 2011, they had approval to add it as a requirement but still had to come back "by January of 2014" with a detailed plan. They told the class of 2015 at Freshman orientation that  this was a new graduation requirement with their class. Fast forward to November of 2013 and Scott Everson finally brought the Senior Graduation Project Handbook back to the board for approval, which was granted.  The projects gone through a number of iterations since they were first proposed as a former staff member who was on the original committee noted that the final product was "discouraging."  

In the process of working with other concerned parents on this mess, I came across my article in the August 17, 2011 edition of the Evansville Review. This was discussed in Senior Projects Part I. The communication on this new program has been abysmal and little if any guidance has been offered to the kids. The kids are expected to create a resume as part of the final product with no formal training. Any time they need help, they are supposed to get guidance from their advisor during the 22 minute advisory period when the teachers are supposed to be guiding their core course students. Teachers have declined to become advisors "because we don't know how much work is involved," parents have repeatedly asked for clarification and pointed out potentially dangerous situations that can result from poorly supervised experiential projects, etc., etc., etc. Questions were not answered at the "optional" parent meeting. The head-in-the-sand, Pollyanna approach to this FUBAR has been awful so I picked two of my most frustrating aspects of this boondoggle and spoke at the March 12 board meeting. I focused on what I thought would be the minimum number of hours to adequately support each student in an advisory capacity, with no additional compensation (1.2 Full Time Equivalents). I also spoke about how ridiculous it was that the Boy Scout Eagle Projects and the Girl Scout Golden projects were originally rejected out of hand by Scott Everson. Once he faced incensed scouting parents, he decided that they would count if and only if the work done for the projects commenced after Graduation Day the summer before their Senior year. This was never stated in the handbook or to me personally. Since I emailed Everson about this in November and he agreed they needed to reconsider how to include these projects, I would have expected him to contact me with the committee's decision. Here were the remarks I planned to make to the board, only about half of which I was able to get through because the meeting was SRO and they needed to keep the time manageable. I submitted a hard copy for Kelly Mosher to distribute to the board and administrator.

My remarks to the board March 12 regarding Senior Projects: 

QEO repealed: 2009

Act 10 implemented: 2011

ACA enacted: 2013

With each of these momentous decisions by our political leaders, more and more uncertainty has been introduced into the world of education. Those most affected by the consequences, both intended and otherwise, are our teachers. These are the people who shape the destiny of our children, so it could be argued that those who are really most affected are our kids. People who are constantly distracted by when the next shoe will drop cannot be present in the here and now, passionately guiding our children toward their potentials. Our district has added yet another burden to this group in the guise of the Senior Projects.  Let’s just suppose that the average time required to advise these students is one hour a month for twelve months and further presume advisors will be present at each student’s 10 minute presentation. For the 139 students in the class of 2015, this represents nearly 1700 hours of time required for Senior projects alone.  A teacher’s FTE is 1440 (8 x 180) hours, adding the equivalent of 1.2 FTEs to an already burdened staff.  If one limits the pool of advisory candidates to the HS teaching staff of 37, their work load increases by more than a week, or about 3%. Who here is surprised that several students were told by staff members that they weren’t agreeing to advise Senior projects until they know how much work is involved? I urge the board to carefully scrutinize the process by which the projects are unfolding.

In addition to the time burden on teachers, a particular concern I have regards the time restriction placed on these projects. Though it is not specifically prohibited anywhere in the handbook, students have been told that no work for the project can take place before graduation day prior to their senior year.  The reason given for this added time restriction was that the EHS Site Council felt strongly that this should be a “capstone project that is self-contained within the senior year.”  Think of all the other capstone classes in our school district and how the students’ successes in those programs are dependent on the cumulative success in their foundational classes.

When students were first informed about the project guidelines in November, they were informed that Boy Scout Eagle Projects and Girl Scout Community Service projects were immediately disqualified with no discussion within the community about their breadth and depth. When I questioned Mr. Everson about this, the reasoning was to avoid kids using a “two-fer-one” approach.  He noted, "The Scouts projects, however, appear to go way above and beyond my ‘two birds with one stone loophole’ as some of the projects are hundreds of hours of work as I understand it." He added that several parents had expressed concerns about this and that he would “be taking input I’ve received from parents (yourself included) to my committee and see what type of revised guidelines we can create when it comes to Scouts projects and similar extraordinary examples of service to our community."

Eagle Projects are often two years in duration from proposal to completion and must be finished by the boy’s 18th birthday in order for him to earn his rank. Therefore, especially for boys with early birthdays, they often begin this work in their Sophomore year. This unstated time restriction for the Senior Projects will disqualify most Eagle Scout Projects as they currently stand.  As I originally told Mr. Everson in November and again last night, Eagle projects are of a much larger scope and magnitude than any examples given in the handbook or at the parent meeting.  Last night he seemed to reverse his stance of revising the guidelines to make Eagle projects eligible for Senior Projects. He asked if these Eagle projects could somehow be planned to encompass a separate and distinct sub-project to be done in the time specified and I said I didn’t know. It’s a little late for the class of 2015 Eagle Candidates to be able to do this, and could even affect the class of 2016. I have emailed adult scout leaders to give them this idea with new Eagle Plans.

I ask the board to consider the Mission Statement of the projects (This culminating self-selected project will serve as the capstone demonstrating  students’ ability to seek knowledge through inquiry and experience, which in turn will allow them the opportunity to apply their knowledge and growth in all of their future endeavors, benefitting our local and global communities). Eagle Scout projects truly embody the stated mission of the Senior Projects.  I wonder why our administration would want to force an Eagle candidate to go through the motions of an additional lesser project with no community service component simply to get a Senior project done within some arbitrary, unstated time restriction. Some kids have been given dispensation on time, according to the meeting I attended last night. Why not the Scouts?

One parent noted at the meeting last night that, “We need to support this program and figure out how to make it work, not change it. If they fail spectacularly, so be it!” The bulk of those present were not eager for our children to be the failing guinea pigs.

I realize that the district is entering a new, untested program that will evolve over time. These could be life-changing experiences for some, but many of our kids already volunteer in our community and give back in significant ways. A better model for the Senior Projects would be to take advantage of the existing volunteer infrastructure to strengthen it rather than tear it down to reinvent the wheel. Thank you for your time.

Since I submitted my concerns to the board, I have thought long and hard about this issue. I believe what we have here is a case of unmet expectations combined with a moving target. The board approved the Senior project graduation requirement in August of 2011 in concept with "final criteria clarified and approved by the board by January 2014." I wrote an article about them and recent review of that article shows that they changed considerably in the two-plus years it took Scott to return with the final criteria. Clearly he failed to clarify and may have even muddled the waters. If you're interested, my article ran in the Review on August 17, 2011.  Every scout parent in the scouting community with a child of the applicable age to qualify were very happy that their kid might be encouraged to try for their Eagle or Gold ranks by this opportunity. Those of us who were pretty sure our kids were on track to earn an Eagle rank fully expected these amazing projects would count for their Senior Projects. Enter Scott with an arbitrary time restriction and you have completely invalidated every early birthday scout Eagle Candidate, who will have to do some bogus make-work Senior project in addition to their Eagle project, their other Scout obligations and apply for college.

My final concern for this is based on how the Senior Projects were approved by the board. There is no hard copy in the public board packets from either October 30, when it was presented or November 13, when it was approved. Scott referred the board to the school website for their information. This sets up the board to have approved an ever changing document, which is not what they are supposed to do. If nobody is willing to set clear standards and criteria for who and when they will advise, how it will play out and who is responsible for what, it's not ready for prime time.

I have told my child that this is her project, not mine. I refuse to be that parent at the science fair who builds their kid a nuclear reactor. My kids always sat next the them with the potential energy project made with a spool and a rubber band. But they did all their own work. I will support her and make sure she is safe, since the district seems to be unaware of their responsibility in this matter, but she is responsible to complete and document her project with the required criteria. She's a big girl and I am confident she is capable. I pray all the other 138 kids in the Junior class find the resources to support them in this new endeavor. If they don't, the district is directly responsible for their failure. I don't know why the board is so resistant to placing on the agenda potential liability for these projects, but burying their heads in the sand is not going to help the district if some kid gets hurt at a clinic offered in the guise of senior projects because there was insufficient infrastructure in place to avoid the injury.


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