Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Common Council #2 - Visit to the HCSD Board of Education

After a handful of false starts over the last few months (and with considerable appreciation for Peter Meyer’s cheerful insistence), Monday I attended a Hudson City School District Board of Education meeting at the new Junior High. I went with a willingness to sit and listen but with at best vague notions of what might come of the visit. I have met and know a few of the principles, Board members Elizabeth Fout and Peter, Superintendent Jack Howe. So some of the members of this tribe were not foreign to me. Neither, in outline, were its rituals. Although I once spoke the language of an active public education parent and of an education journalist, and my most recent professional experience was in higher education (15 years), languages and codes, as they should, evolve over time.

So while, for example, there was much discussion of the CELA (pronounced sea-la) teacher professional development program and its potential or actual effect on the ability to help children learn language, inexperienced observers were left in the dark as to the character of the program. Elizabeth and Peter, without prejudice to CELA, inquired whether the school administration had researched the experience of other schools using CELA since the cost of training was $36K plus. The administrators present spoke passionately about the program’s value, as well of a modestly upward trend in testing associated with CELA. But the decision to proceed was clearly of the sort that the Board as a whole had little interest in either questioning or rescinding. And it wasn’t obvious that there was reason to do so. The discussion, however, was indicative of a Board that is comfortable with and supportive of the school administration.

At the public comment period I took advantage of my three minute allowance to introduce myself. As the moment approached, and I was forced to focus, I considered what use might come of my visit. As a first principle, Hudson must have strong relations with the School system. What I hope I said clearly is that much of our future, of our children’s and families’ futures, our economic future, rests on improving the quality of education in our schools. We must all get behind this goal, whether or not we have children in school. But what can the City government practically do? What I learned last night from Jack Howe is that there are over 340 students in after school programs in the lower grades. Do our Youth Department programs speak to the School District’s programs? What use is made of our Library? Are student codes of conduct reflected in the City’s programs? Can the City and our nonprofits, the Hudson Opera House, Time and Space Limited, be assisted to do more to encourage student achievement? I am not presuming answers here. But a hard lesson learned in school is that the first step toward understanding, and change, is to raise your hand and ask a question.