Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Consolidation is an issue at MUMS

I recently retired (June of 2020) from MUMS after 31 years as the school’s guidance counselor and am very saddened by the recent article in the Addison Independent as well as the presentation that Fawnda Buttolph made to the ACSD board.

My practice each fall was to interview half of the newly-arrived 7th-graders to see how their experience was going. The majority loved their new school. Many were anxious about this major change but were pleasantly surprised with how positive an experience it was. I attribute this to the wonderful facility that the community built in the late 1990’s and more importantly the wonderful educators who work at MUMS. They believe in high academic standards, knowing their students well and having a strong understanding of the unique developmental needs of this age group

I worked with Fawnda Buttolph as a parent, foster parent and substitute teacher and respected her in all of these roles. Consequently I respect her report on the climate at MUMS to be one that I trust. The comment that she made that she will no longer sub at MUMS saddens me.

The explanation from Dr. Burrows in response to Ms. Buttolph’s concerns is that these difficult behaviors are the result of a shortage of substitute teachers, paraprofessionals and the return to in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic. Certainly all of these are factors influencing the challenging situation at MUMS, but he failed to mention the most significant change that has occurred at MUMS this year, the addition of the 6th grade. This increases the student population by 50%, moving from around 230 students to 378.

When this change was made it was planned that there be no additional classroom space and no increased staffing. Consequently, in previous years there were two subject area teachers per grade or four for the school. Currently there is one teacher for each subject per grade or three for the school. For example, last year there were four science teachers for 230 students, now there are three for 378. A teacher who previously had 65 students that they were responsible to know and understand, now has up to 130. At the middle level, having each student have a personal relationship with one adult is essential. I would think that this has become increasingly more difficult due to the increased number of students.

At first the plan to move 6th-graders to MUMS was a part of an overall plan to reduce per-pupil costs as directed by ACT 46. I understood that the consolidation of the elementary schools would occur in conjunction with the 6th-graders moving to MUMS. The consolidation of elementary schools was postponed this year as I understand due to the disruption of COVID-19, however the move of the 6th-graders to MUMS moved forward as originally planned. Dr Burrows explained in an article in the Addison Independent this fall that the move of the 6th-graders to MUMS enabled the district to have all students in the International Baccalaureate Program’s (IB) Middle Years Program (MYP, grades 6-10) to all be at MUMS or MUHS. Not to mention that increase in enrollment has occurred during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am confused by the district’s direction. Are the district’s goals to reduce costs, or fully implement the IB program? I do know that there are at least four new coordinator/tech positions to support IB. These are not student teaching positions and make the reduction in the number of classroom teachers concerning. In my opinion the district has placed what I believed were some of our most talented classroom teachers in these positions.

I imagine that I should have spoken up about these concerns when I was working at MUMS, but I assumed that others knew best and I know that these concerns were raised by others.

At this point, all of this change and expense does not seem to have made for a better educational experience for students. I also find this very hard to understand with the prospect of closing the smaller elementary schools. I do believe that the board should look past the explanations of “all schools are having these problems” and that there is a shortage of subs/staff. MUHS does not seem to be struggling with the level of behavioral problems that MUMS is experiencing. After watching the video of the last several board meetings I am surprised that none of the board members have raised these concerns. Since the board is entering the budgeting period for the 2022-2023 school year and any future planning would need to happen soon, I encourage the board and administration to evaluate both staffing and space concerns at MUMS.

Jeffrey Murawski

Cornwall

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