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Are We Just Hearing Pawelski Palaver?

The politically correct police were active during a January board meeting for Jamestown Public Schools. All the current buzzwords were bandied about. The board will create a “positive and inclusive learning environment.” Additionally, “historically marginalized” students will hereafter have a “sense of belonging.” And these marginalized students “will achieve academic success.” That’s an order!

Mr. Pawelski went so far as to say that “[t]he board accepts responsibility” and, moreover, will hold itself “accountable for every student to have full access to a quality education, qualified teachers, challenging curriculum, full opportunity to learn, and sufficient, individually-tailored support for learning so they can achieve successful academic and personal lives.” Whew! How will Mr. Pawelski achieve these lofty goals? Does he have a research-validated curriculum to propose? Or are we just hearing Pawelski palaver?

From a December board meeting, Superintendent Whitaker supplied more empty words: “We have to focus on students and our future.” He added, “Our students are our community both now and into the future. That’s what we need to focus on.” Empty words cover up a lack of knowledge as to how to solve the problem.

Responsibility?! Accountability?! Focus?! The board has had data for seven years that definitively demonstrated an inconvenient truth: Although teachers presumed they were teaching, Jamestown’s disadvantaged children were not learning from district weak programs and weak teaching. The 7-year-failure-rate averages tell the story: ELA 77%; Math 78%. Where were the board and administration during these data years and in the many failing years prior?

“Historically marginalized” sounds so innocuous. Ignore all the empty words. It’s not a matter of being “historically marginalized” or lack of “sense of belonging.” Students were promoted from grade to grade with woefully deficient basic skills. Sadly, many students began to feel dumb. The truth is: Jamestown students in grades K-8 were cheated out of proficiency in critical basic skills. Proficiency in reading, writing, spelling, and math is necessary in order to be successful in high school credit-bearing courses. Harm befell them through board and administrative ignorance. Many students left high school with greatly reduced career goals due to a substandard education and lack of learning.

Remember Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”? Infuriated, she sang that fierce solo, “Show Me,” to Freddie Eynsford-Hill, here adapted for our community: “Words! Words! Words! (We’re) so sick of words! (We) get words all day through. Is that all you blighters can do? Never do (we) ever want to hear another word. There isn’t one (we) haven’t heard. Don’t waste (our) time. Show (us)! Don’t talk at all! Show (us) now!”

Superintendent Whitaker and I met on three occasions during the fall months. I presented a detailed, research-based proposal for upgrading two key areas for the district: student academics and teacher instruction. Since neither Superintendent Whitaker nor any board member has had experience in upgrading schools, it is advised that the district hire the National Institute For Direct Instruction (NIFDI) for initial implementation of Direct Instruction (DI) curricula. DI is one of the most powerful curricula in the public domain. It was created for disadvantaged children to ensure that they would learn the basic skills that Jamestown children now lack.

Engelmann, senior author of DI curricula, stated, “We know that the intellectual crippling of children is caused overwhelmingly by faulty instruction–not by faulty children.” DI addresses the issue of faulty instruction. DI ranks in the top quintile of influences that work best on achievement. Its maxim is: “If the child hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” Sounds like Jamestown.

Here is a summary of the services NIFDI provides: “NIFDI as an organization is much broader in its services than having school districts implement DI programs. NIFDI uses DI published programs to deliver curriculum content, but provides a great deal more. NIFDI…offers a comprehensive approach to the education crisis in America by providing continuous administrative and curricular support to schools and districts as they implement DI programs with students who are performing or typically would be expected to perform below grade level. While…the ultimate goal [is to] mak[e] them self-sufficient, NIFDI serves as a transforming agent to the schools, providing them with the content, skills and organization required to achieve excellence in education.”

With NIFDI providing data analysis, professional development, coaching and support to teachers, academic learning will occur for Jamestown children.

But first, Jamestown children need to get back to school full-time, without masks. It’s doubtful that any learning occurred during this disastrous year just passed. COVID is a temporary annoyance that barely affects young children. Masks do not stop the spread of viruses, but they do curb oxygen, increase carbon dioxide, and create harmful bacteria from saliva. We need to emulate governors from open states, not listen to false science from our locked-down, power-hungry governor!

Since COVID is only a temporary inconvenience, should Superintendent Whitaker be talking about increasing JHS room sizes and 6-feet social distancing for future JHS construction?

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