CarriageTowneNews.com, Kingston, NH

Letters to the Editor

February 21, 2013

Wallerstein for School Board

I’m Steve Wallerstein and I’m running for the Raymond School Board.  I have taught and worked with special needs and at-risk children for nearly thirty years, as a teacher, a paraprofessional, and a group home parent.  I was a special education teacher in the Raymond School District for fifteen years.  I have served as a Raymond school board member and have been a three time member of the District’s Strategic Planning Committee.  I’m currently on the Raymond Planning Board.  My wife, our two sons and I have lived in Raymond for seventeen years.  Our two boys have been educated entirely in the Raymond schools.

I’m running for School Board because I’m concerned our District is moving in the wrong direction.  For many years our sons received a very good education.  Even during those five years of being educated in a building full of bat guano, leaking ceilings, and parking lot portables, our oldest received a very good education.  Why?  Because Raymond always had a couple of secret weapons:  small class size; and a loyal, dedicated, and talented staff.  The Raymond Schools moved forward by losing our label as a “District in Need of Improvement” in 2007, and with the building of the new middle school.

When our oldest graduated from RHS in 2009, he had taken honors courses, AP courses, and three years of a foreign language. He had also taken several Technical Education and Art classes. This transcript, along with a portfolio developed with his teachers, allowed him to be accepted into highly ranked Architecture and Industrial Design Colleges at Syracuse University.  This is not to boast, but to show that in 2009, RHS provided our children with a very broad, high quality education.

Since then, however, the District has moved backwards. The School Board has cut two Social Studies positions and one Technical Education position at the high school. The opportunities that students enjoyed in 2009 are no longer there.  Many electives can’t be taught, there are more scheduling conflicts for required courses, portfolios can’t be created as easily, and class size has exploded.  And now the staffing cuts are continuing down into the other schools.  

We all know that money is tight.  We have to make choices. My priority is to fund direct instruction and direct services before funding administration.  We have a district of approximately 1450 students, the size of many single schools in this state and around the country.  Our three schools and District office are all within a mile of each other. We currently have 14 people with administrative duties in our District.  And that does not include the 7 department heads at the high school.  Instead of cutting teachers, paraprofessionals, and psychologists, we should be cutting redundant administrators, such as the curriculum coordinator, a principal, the out of district coordinator, and a special education building coordinator.  These cuts alone would save about $325,000.

There are other ways to address our budget challenges.  We need to take a very close look at unfunded mandates, which are prohibited by the New Hampshire Constitution.  We should access advanced training for our staff using technology, instead of sending our teachers and administrators on trips to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, or Philadelphia.  We can develop alternative funding methods. In 2009, when I was on the District’s Strategic Planning Committee, I initiated the goal, which was accepted by the Committee, to create a District Resource Foundation to raise funds for our schools.  Three and a half years later, there has been no movement on this goal by the School Board.  We need to take another look at this missed opportunity.

The other major reason we’ve moved backwards as a District since 2009 is due to the way our staff has been treated. Staff morale throughout the District has often been poor. Since 2010, over a dozen staff members have left the high school, many of whom had been with our District for 10 or 20 years.  Some of those felt the need to consult with lawyers which has led to legal actions against our District. While the current School Board has begun to address this issue, previous Boards, from 2009 through 2012, set a tone of hyper-criticalness toward staff while at the same time lowering the academic and behavioral expectations of the students.  Those Boards sent a constant message that all the problems of our schools are the fault of the teachers; whatever the teachers are doing in their classroom is never good enough. So teachers are pulled from their classrooms for another training, to start another teaching method before the last one is firmly in place.  Many teachers are taken out of their classrooms for 15 days a year.  Many teachers feel burned out by mid-year, and many classes fall chapters behind in the curriculum.  Teachers often feel disrespected and undervalued.          

A personal example of this is when, in the 2009/2010 school year, I was on the Mission and Expectations Committee at the high school.  We developed an entire program of community service, including standards and related documents, which fulfilled one of the goals of the District’s Strategic Planning Committee.    And yet, after our committee work ended, the School Board never contacted us to see what we had created.  This is not unusual.

This lack of appreciation for our staff and the work they do, leading to less student-teacher contact time, poor morale, high turnover, and loss of expertise, has had a huge impact on our children’s education. Our kids, and the adults that teach and care for them, deserve better.

In 2011, given all that I’ve talked about, with our schools once again not making “Adequate Yearly Progress”, and a US Department of Education investigation finding chronic racial discrimination at the high school, leading to tens of thousands of dollars in consultation and legal fees, the School Board decided to renew the superintendent’s contract for another three years and keep all the other administrators in place.  

As a Board member, I will be very hands-on, seeking input from all taxpayers, parents, guardians, and students, and from all staff.  In the spirit of improving our District, everyone should feel safe and respected in sharing information and ideas with me, other Board members, and administrators, without fear of ridicule or retaliation.  I will not be content to make decisions about our children’s futures by relying solely on a small number of individuals.  Our current Board has begun the process of more openness and accountability, but we have further to go.

There are many good things happening in our schools every day.  We still have a very dedicated and hard working staff of teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, custodians, food service workers, secretaries, administrative assistants, and maintenance technicians.  To make sure that all of our children get the very best opportunities to prepare for life after high school, we need to take better care of our staff, and we need to make better common sense decisions about how we spend our limited resources.

Please contact me with any comments or questions you may have at Greensky@comcast.net.  And please vote for me for the Raymond School Board on March 12.

Steve Wallerstein 

Raymond   

 

 

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