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Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice is sitting at a long table in the community room of the Scranton Library, where once a month he holds a "Brown Bag Lunch" discussion. On this afternoon he is joined by 18 to 20 parents. Very few of them have brought lunch, but all of them have brought questions, comments, and concerns.
"That's why I'm here," he tells them.
When Scarice came into the Madison school district in spring 2012, he wanted to open up a dialogue with the community. He does that in several ways. The open lunch discussion scheduled for the last Friday of each month at noon is one way he believes is very effective.
"I am always interested in talking in an informal way with the community, with parents. You'll find I am never shy to share my opinion," he said.
Bringing questions and concerns forward can bring resolutions. He even has an example.
"Last month at this table, a father raised his concerns about how GPAs and class rankings were handled at Hand. He contended that, because of the way we were doing things, we were actually putting our students at a disadvantage when it came to applying to colleges. He gave very compelling examples. Because of his comments, we researched the issue and last month the school changed its policy. We have some more work to do there, but we made a start. Discussions like this work," Scarice told the parents around the table.
The questions come quickly. Several parents are concerned about this issue-class ranking, weighting grade point averages (GPAs), the effect of advance placement courses on a student's GPA. The competitiveness of the college application process, and the pressure it brings, is apparent from the discussion, and a concern for parents.
High school parents are not the only ones to voice their concerns. More than one parent tells Scarice that some classroom teachers are creating pressures for students. The pressures of constant testing are also apparent. There are the CMTs, the CAPTs, and the constantly changing rules for administering them.
Scarice is outspoken about his testing concerns as well.
?I am getting more calls from parents who want to have their children opt out of these tests," he said. "This is high-stakes testing and it has a real impact on kids and on teachers, who are being held accountable for unreasonable results...because all of this testing continually makes no sense. There is no research supporting the benefits of any of this testing, yet teacher evaluations are yoked to these test results. Their jobs are on the line and the pressure they feel does not help kids. The Board of Education has made an appeal to the Department of Education. We were turned down once. We have appealed again."
There are other questions. What will Hand do about "bridging" classes under the present trimester system when there can be a gap in course continuity? Scarice has asked for a group of teachers to study the trimester model.
"Not a lot of schools use it. It does present some problems, and it has some benefits. By Nov. 1 that study has to wrap up and we have to report to the Board of Education," he said.
Is it true that in the elementary schools students can take no more than three field trips during this school year? No.
"I didn't get that memo, and I certainly didn't sign it," Scarice said, smiling. "If that is a rumor out there, then let me say now that it definitely isn't true."
There are questions about bus drop-offs for kindergarten students-yes, he did sign that memo, but now he'll consider these comments and perhaps change the requirement-the use of cell phones in the classroom, regulated recess time in the elementary schools, keyboard skills for young students, and more.
"Thank you for coming," Scarice said. "It's important for me to know what concerns you and our students. I'm here every month. Come again."
Then he dashed off to a Tiger pep rally.