…Ferndale Schools Restructuring Process Continues, Meeting March 9

mbrew brought to you by top adDoing it Different: Ferndale 711 ad slurpeeSchools Restructuring Process Continues, Meeting March 9

(Crystal A. Proxmire, March 1, 2015)

“When most school districts restructure, they look at finances. They see what budget they have, how many students, and how much space and they fit everything together based on what makes financial sense,” said Ferndale Schools Superintendent Blake Prewitt to a library full of concerned parents and teachers at last week’s community forum. “I spoke to other Superintendents who have gone through this process, and that’s how they did it. But we’re doing something a little different. We want to look at the educational piece, and then see what works financially.”

The Problem

royal_servicesLike many schools districts in Michigan, Ferndale Schools is faced with the need to “right-size.” There are too many buildings, and too many expenses, for the number of students. There are about 3,000 students in the district, but enough space for 7,000. Restructuring offers not only the opportunity to reduce the budget, but also to decide what educational model is best for families.

The Goals

Prewitt’s Presentation included “What will we say about Ferndale Schools in five years? The answers paint a powerful picture of what he believes the community is capable of. The quotes included “Did you read about Ferndale Schools in Newsweek as a top school district?” and “Ferndale provides a well-rounded education that embraces diversity.” And “My child speaks two languages and enjoys arts, music and/or sports.” Another part of the vision is hearing people say “I don’t live in Ferndale, but how do I sign up for Schools of Choice?”Sahara ad with wine

Expected changes include moving sixth grade to the middle school, figuring out where adult education, digital learning and University High School will be, and moving the administrative offices to the High School. But the most challenging decision is to figure out what elementary school should be like for Ferndale students.

The Research

In an effort to get as much feedback and information possible, Prewitt and his staff worked with consultants to evaluate the current situation, research education options, and talk to interested parties about what an ideal Ferndale education might look like.

“Teachers are the number one reason we see achievement and attainment,” Prewitt said. “No HowesLocationmatter what we do, we need to give our teachers the tools they need… We have to make sure we are doing what is right for the classroom.”

He asked people to “think about the teacher that had an influence in your life. And think about the teachers that impacted you negatively.”

He also shared what specific things most affected student learning, including vocabulary and reading workshops, the ability to self-report grades, teaching to the developmental level and that the student-teacher relationship. The research showed that within a healthy range, the number of students in a classroom did not greatly impact student success. The reason this is important is that it gives the district some wiggle-room. For example, adding one or two students per class could add up to the ability to have a dedicated language teacher.

Currently Ferndale’s average class size is 21 students. This is lower than surrounding school districts. Berkley’s is 26, Royal Oak’s is 27, Bloomfield and Hazel Park’s are 28, and Birmingham Red Door Realty Ad _own_your_dreamand Clawson’s are 29.

Research also shows that parent involvement plays a huge role. That’s why the district is going to be placing a district-wide emphasis on coordinating volunteerism. “Parents can get involved in what ways work for them,” Prewitt said.

Issues of Division

The issues of race and economics have long plagued Ferndale Schools, and in looking at how to restructure the elementary program it would be impossible to leave out of the discussion. Currently there are two elementary schools, and one has an open classroom program and a lottery for students to get in. The perception of inequity leaves parents and students with hard feelings.

“We asked students ‘what did you like about elementary school’,” Prewitt said. Teachers were the top answer, along with project based learning and community service projects. But when seed021_helaine-zackteens were asked what they did not like, the top answers were disliking the JFK/Coolidge and Roosevelt split, not having known other students sooner, and not feeling like their school was diverse.

A division that also sometimes occurs in schools is putting students together based on ability, though Prewitt presented that “The results show that ability grouping has minimal effects on learning outcomes and profound negative equity effects,” and that “ability grouping limits students schooling opportunities, achievements and life-chances.”

The Three Plans

Model A: Two schools, one K-5 Open Classroom and one K-5 International School

Model B: Two K-5 Neighborhood SchoolsCandlewickshop_May2014

Model C: Two Schools both with Open Classroom and Cambridge Structure, one K-2 and one 3-5

Model A: The Open Classroom would be multi-grade, with focused studies, flexible learning spaces, service learning, and outdoor education/camp. International School would have world language, higher order thinking skills, critical thinking, inquiry-based learning and enough technology for every student to have access. One challenge to this would be the potential to need a lottery, the struggle to determine equity between the two programs and limited opportunities for teachers to collaborate.

Model B: would eliminate the divisions and give every student the same type of education. Building assignments would be made by neighborhood and the curriculum would use Cambridge 934_8600_Gen-Online_Banners4and Harvard approaches as well as honoring the open tradition.

Model C: would use best practices for each age level, with a strong reliance on parent involvement and a combination of Open Classroom and Cambridge curriculum. Benefits would be the ability to balance class size, equity and unity from the beginning for all students, Spanish from Kindergarten, and one to one technology. The challenge would be pick up and drop off times for parents with kids in two buildings, transportation to shuttle kids, and creating K-5 community with having two buildings.

Teachers took turns explaining each program and handling questions and answers, with all the feedback going towards helping the School Board and Administration made the decisions.

“We are very excited about the great new educational opportunities for all Ferndale students through our restructuring process. Wednesday was a great session with the community,” Prewitt said.

What is next?

Ferndale Schools has a page on their website for information about the restructuring, including seed0777_honesty_March 2015resources and a list of dates for meetings. On March 9 there will be another community forum at 7pm in the Ferndale High School Auditorium. There Plante Moran and Michigan Leadership Institute will present final recommendations based on all the information gathered.

Then on March 12th 5:30pm at Harding, the School Board will have a study session to discuss all the information and community feedback.

Along with the resources, there is a “Talk to Us” function on the website where people can ask questions about the process or share their concerns. Visit http://www.ferndaleschools.org/restructuring/ for the latest info.

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