• School Choice: Does It Put Students First?

    Posted by Greg Swerdlow on 1/29/2018

    For many years, advocates for “school choice” have argued that competition will improve public schools and that students living in poverty will have opportunities to attend better schools. How are these policies working across our country?

    As an educator for nearly 4 decades, my passion for education is no secret. My love of public education is well known. In recent years, many have questioned if I am for or against school choice. The answer is simple: I am FOR students, and therefore, I evaluate a policy or practice based on whether or not it benefits students.

    Frederick County Public Schools embraces three public charter schools that offer choice to students and parents—and were established by parents who supported the instructional methodology of the school. These charter schools are part of the public school system and are held accountable to the same standards as every other school in FCPS. We have successful partnerships with the charter schools’ governing boards, but the local Board of Education’s governance over charter schools ensures accountability for the learning and success of students. And because the students at our public charter schools are successful, our local Board of Education has continued to renew the charters of these three schools. That works for me, and that is why I support the current laws and policies that Maryland has developed for charter schools.

    Unfortunately, different states have different laws and policies that govern how school choice works. The policies that have worked in Maryland and Frederick County aren’t in place across the country. That means that in many places across the country students aren’t succeeding.

    I can’t and don’t support school choice laws and practices that fail to serve students well. I am also distressed at the lack of oversight in many states regarding the academic progress of students and the appropriate use of public funds. When public dollars are spent for vouchers or charter schools without an honest accounting for how the money is used and how students perform, the impact is twofold. First, students are hurt. Second, public funding that could support successful and effective public schools is lost. This hurts the public school system, which leads to – you guessed it – more calls for school choice.

    Since the school choice policy debate continues across the country, I will share some of what I have learned about the impact of school choice policies in other states in future blogs. This debate is an important one, and I urge educators, parents, business leaders, community leaders, and our elected officials to study the research so that the decisions we make are FOR students first!

    I judge school choice based on student success. What criteria do you use to evaluate school choice? Please share your thoughts with me on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And whether you agreed with this post or not, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.

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  • Testing New Superintendent Blog

    Posted by Greg Swerdlow on 1/29/2018

    SEIAs do so much for our students. Teachers, students, and parents recognize the impact they have on student achievement.

    As a brand new teacher in 1981, I was excited to get my classroom ready and meet my colleagues as staff headed back to school. I was assigned to a Level 5 school, which, back in the day, meant a separate facility just for special education students. I soon learned that three instructional assistants would be supporting me and my students; two of those assistants were former teachers, and one had been working as an instructional assistant longer than I had been alive. Pretty intimidating for a rookie teacher!

    I quickly learned how valuable those assistants were to both me and my students. And I know the same is true today. In FCPS, we have over 600 special education instructional assistants (SEIAs). Their work is as varied as the experience they bring to classrooms across the county every day. Whether supporting a student in an inclusive classroom or working with a small group of students or assisting a student with limited mobility at Rock Creek School, these dedicated men and women make a difference in the lives of our special needs students and their teachers.

    photo of Brady RidenourTrust is critically important in the role of SEIAs. Teachers, administrators, parents, and students trust that the SEIA will support the instructional goals for the student, establish a positive relationship with the student, and find a way to balance the help provided with nurturing independence in the student. I recently heard from Brady Ridenour, an SEIA at New Market Middle School. FCPS also recognized Brady as last year’s SEIA of the Year – a major honor.

    He confirmed what I knew from my own experience: trust between an SEIA and a student is paramount. “I feel my job is important because the kids I work with need help in certain aspects during their day; and I’m there to help with anything they may need.” Brady works every day to build a bond with his students. He’s doing exactly what we talk about in the FCPS strategic plan when we say that we expect our SEIAs to be “champions of excellence.” Brady and his colleagues deliver. The trust we all place in them is well earned.

    The bonds that great SEIAs form with their students can also last beyond their time together in a classroom. Brady shared a story with me about the lasting impact he had with one of his students:

    A couple years ago, I had a student who couldn't decide what high school to go to (his family circumstances left him with a couple of options). I was encouraging him to go to Catoctin because not only am I an alumni but he was deeply interested in farming; the FFA at Catoctin has a lot to offer. I was attending a football game this year at Catoctin and ran into the student. We talked and I asked him how school was going. He was really excited to tell me all the stuff he was doing with the FFA and how well he was doing in school. And he thanked me for helping him make the right decision. That made me very proud!

    Our SEIAs impact the entire school community in many ways – covering classes, attending special events, supervising students at lunch, attending field trips, and offering a smile to any student who needs one! It is no wonder that we are so delighted when an SEIA chooses to enter the teaching profession. Their job has provided the best hands-on training possible!

    Do you know a great SEIA? Share a little about them on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.

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