Monday, May 28, 2007

MCPS & Community Involvement - Letter from MCCPTA

May 28, 2007

Martin Creel, Director, AEI
Montgomery County Public Schools
850 Hungerford Drive
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear Mr. Creel:

I am writing with regard to the Accelerated and Enriched Instruction
Advisory Committee. As you recall, when you first contacted MCCPTA to
ask for two representatives to sit on this advisory committee, you were
advised that the proposed meeting dates of the fourth Tuesday of the
month were extremely problematic for our organization. The fourth
Tuesday of the months of September, October, November, January,
February, March, and April are our Delegates Assemblies.

I informed you at that time that MCCPTA desired to place two
representatives on the advisory committee who were active within MCCPTA
and who would be able to report to our delegates at the assemblies as
well as take parent input back to the advisory committee. You were also
informed that any MCCPTA representative who was active within MCCPTA
would have schedule conflicts and would also not be able to report to
our delegates at the assemblies as they would be attending an advisory
committee meeting on the very same evening.

You expressed an understanding of these conflicts and agreed to revisit
the dates of the meetings. It is my understanding that the committee
did vote to continue with the fourth Tuesday of the month. It is
disappointing that the group was not apprised that this meeting date
severely compromises MCCPTA’s ability to fully participate in the work
of the advisory committee.

As we move forward, I will likely have to replace one of our representatives, if not both on this advisory committee due to the scheduling conflict. I also want to be very clear regarding the
consequences of meeting on the fourth Tuesday of the month. If the
occasion arises that the advisory committee wants comments or input from
MCCPTA, there will be at the very least a two month turn around time.
If information is released for comment at an advisory committee meeting,
MCCPTA will be unable to discuss this information until the next month’s
delegate assembly and then, even if we ask our delegates to act on any
recommendations or endorse any comments without having had the chance to
take the information back to their local PTAs for discussion, our input
will not get back to the AEI Advisory Committee until the next month’s
meeting. If issues arise that delegates want to be able to discuss with
their local PTAs, this turn around time will be increased to at least
three months.

I am belaboring this point because I want it to be well understood that
when the time comes to offer comments on the final policy on accelerated
and enriched instruction and MCCPTA includes in their comments that
their ability to solicit feedback and give input into the policy was
knowingly limited by the choice of meeting dates, that the advisory
committee was advised of this conflict and the problems it posed before
the committee began its work.

MCCPTA is still hopeful that another day of the month could be selected
for these meetings so that our 52,000 members can be fully represented
on this advisory group.


Jane de Winter

Cc Dr. Frieda Lacey
Ms Nancy Navarro
Ms Sharon Cox
Mr. Steve Bedford
Ms Kay Romero

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Kingsley Wilderness Project prepares to close

Barring a change of heart by the county school system, the Kingsley Wilderness Project, which began as a three-year experiment in preventing juvenile crime, will close in June after 28 years.

‘‘In the initial years, there were people who were against the program,” said Jim O’Connor, director of the program for its first 18 years. ‘‘I argued how much it would cost for incarceration ... That program is cheap when you think about what incarceration would cost.” The program was started with federal and state crime prevention funds with the understanding that if it worked after three years, the county would take responsibility for the program.
‘‘These kids were tested coming and going — the results had to be there and they were,” said Milt Thomas, the project’s work and outdoor education director for its first 26 years.
The county Board of Education voted in February to close the Kingsley Wilderness Project, despite pleas from parents, alumni and the community to keep the Boyds school open.
‘‘It’s sad, I’m really sad,” Cathy Jewell, site coordinator, said at the time. ‘‘It seems like we have a tremendous resource that we’re going to just let go ... It doesn’t make sense. We spent all this time and put all this effort in — I don’t get it.”
School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast recommended closing the program and sending students to the county’s other two alternative programs or back to their home schools. He based his recommendation on declining enrollment and poor performance on tests.
‘‘When I think they’re just letting this go for a couple of bucks — they think they’re saving money on — it just galls me,” O’Connor said.
Kingsley opened in 1978 with nine students, some of whom were hardest to reach in the county, O’Connor said.
In the early years, the program accepted any student who thought he or she might benefit from it. More than 75 percent had coded learning disabilities, many with more than one disability, O’Connor said.
They also had behavioral problems and many admitted to drug use, O’Connor said.
‘‘These kids were damaged seriously in terms of feeling comfortable at regular school and were acting out,” O’Connor said.
He decided not to put academics first since the students were participating in Kingsley because they had been defeated by academics.
‘‘Kids like that, the first thing that’s needed is healing,” O’Connor said. ‘‘Once that’s done they will take an interest in academics.”
Some entered the program with the reading skills of a second-grader, Thomas said. At the end of the year they might read at a third grade level or better.
To expect Kingsley to bring those students up to grade level within a few months is unreasonable, he said. Failing to meet state testing standards that are required for high school graduation is one reason cited for closing Kingsley.
‘‘We started with finding ways to get them through a day where they were feeling better and better about themselves, then they would ask for the academics,” O’Connor said.
That’s where Thomas came in.
From the beginning, physical labor and outdoor adventures such as skiing, white water rafting and backpacking became an important component of the program. The outdoor trips were intended to encourage activities students could enjoy throughout their lives. The activities were intended to build self-esteem.
‘‘When those kids hiked up a mountain, they may be complaining on the way up, but when they got home they were proud of themselves,” Thomas said.
Several graduates have made careers as rock climbers, skateboarders and cyclists.
The school was initially located near Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg, in an old house and adjacent buildings on the Moneysworth Farm. The plan was for the students to develop the undeveloped park.
Although work was a key component of the Kingsley proposal, somehow no one had budgeted money for tools that first year, Thomas said.
They borrowed tools from the park, chopped up the dead trees on the farm and sold the firewood. Chopping firewood has remained a popular Kingsley activity and continues to provide money for Kingsley tools and activities. Students earn a small salary for their work.
The first year Kingsley students cleared ballfields in the park. The second year they built tent pads at campsites, built a bridge and cleared trails.
When Black Hill Regional Park opened, Kingsley students cleaned up the area around Little Seneca Lake, planted flower gardens, laid sod and built bridges, Thomas said.
They continue to do trail maintenance at both parks, he said.
The program changed every year according to the needs of its students, O’Connor said.
Until four years ago, Kingsley staff interviewed students who wanted to be admitted to the program and made admissions decisions. The school always had at least 25 on a waiting list, Thomas said. The school can handle 27 students.
Four year ago, the county school system central office took over the admission process and enrollment began dropping.
‘‘In the 18 years I was there, there was no issue of closing it,” O’Connor said.
This year the school has 16 students.
‘‘Out of the hundreds of kids that went there I can only recall one kid who ended up incarcerated,” O’Connor said.
Last year, that former student returned to the school with his wife and mother and talked to the students about his life and the opportunity they had, Thomas said.
‘‘We were phenomenal at taking kids that would have fallen through the cracks and ended up with big success,” O’Connor said.