Millburn School Board, Parents Debate Strategic Planning, Homework and AP Classes
Monday, January 30, 2012 • 7:24am
MILLBURN, NJ – Dr. Christine Burton, who heads the Strategic Planning Steering Committee for Millburn schools, hopes to have the strategic plan within Millburn High School implemented in the early part of March, at which time the public can voice their ideas to the committee heading forward.
Burton made the announcement at a public forum hosted by the MIllburn Board of Education on Sunday afternoon at Millburn High School.
The forum began with a slide presentation at which time Burton and Dr. Judith Ferguson of Centennium Consultants, who was hired in November by the district to help facilitate the strategic planning process, gave an overview of strategic planning and its aspects to educate the public.
Ferguson talked about the meaning of the vision, core values, mission, objectives, strategies and action plans within a district’s strategic plan. Millburn is still in the early phases of this process.
“You first need to define the vision. What do we want Millburn Township to become in ten years?” Ferguson said. “The planning needs to be both specific and broad,” she said, adding that carrying out an entire strategic plan can take up to one year.
As mentioned at previous meetings, the goal of the Steering Committee is to create a blueprint for the future and a framework to make decisions that are in the best interest for students, parents, faculty, administration and all other committees that are involved within the educational system in the district, a point that Burton brought up at Sunday’s meeting.
“In order to do this, we are going to need input and involvement from all members of the community so we can make a collaborate decision on how to best suit the needs of our students,” Burton said. “This is essential in order to develop the best strategic plan that we can.”
Still, parents and residents at the forum were unhappy about how broad the strategic planning presentation was. Many said there have been issues brought up for years at board meetings that have not yet been solved and that creating a strategic plan will only further delay addressing them.
“I think you’re hearing concern because this was just a high level overview of what strategic planning is. Many of us came to this meeting because we want more specifics,” one parent said. “You have not met our expectations. When you start a process this way, there is not a lot of faith going forward."
One of the issues brought up was that the board has not done a sufficient job in looking at and getting expert advice from outside sources on the amount of homework given to a high school student. Several speakers mentioned that their child spends an inordinate amount of time doing homework; sometimes overflowing to long weekend hours and holidays.
Burton attempted to limit some of the tension on this topic by emphasizing that action can be taken on certain items before finalized plans are implemented in the strategic plan. She reminded everyone that the board can look at certain policies, homework being an example of this, and make changes when they deem them to be necessary.
Burton also said that certain strategies such as surveys can be put into practice to get more input on this issue and help guide the board into making a decision to address an issue with this if such one exists.
Members of the public still did not seem satisfied, saying that the board talks about too many issues such as these without properly addressing them.
“This homework issue needs governance. We need to research the best practices and hire the right experts so that we can move forward with this,” one resident said.
Another topic that was of hot debate, and has been for a few years, was how to create more opportunities for students to take advanced placement (AP) classes. Several speakers believe that the district is not letting enough students into these classes and that there needs to be better strategies to regulate and create more of them.
Board member Regina Truitt mentioned that she was passionate about the advanced placement issue and agreed that there needs to be ways to make these classes more transparent and open to more students.
Truitt also believes that the district should do away with the current entrance exam that is required for a student to enter into an AP class, saying that it was an unfair measure of determination because a student does not have a chance to study the topics covered on the test.
Board President Michael Birnberg spoke in opposition of opening the doors to more opportunities for AP classes. He said that there have been several instances in which students have not been fully committed to the required workload of such a class and in some cases have dropped down to lower level classes which creates an unfair burden to the faculty, students and administration.
Board member Rona Wenik pointed out an inconsistency in the discussion.
“These rigorous, high level courses are basically at a college level. They are going to naturally create more homework at higher levels. I think it’s a strange situation that some of you are applauding reduced homework load while also wanting more AP classes,” Wenik said.
In response, one parent said that there needs to be expert input and research put into the homework issue to not reduce the workload, but to make the best decision on how to develop the best policy on it.
Another parent said that the board has been making long term decisions on policies such as these without the proper data.
Burton mentioned that there will be formal dates and times for Steering Committee meetings and happenings posted on the district’s web site once that information is finalized within the next couple of weeks.
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