Academic calendars, classroom sizes and community involvement were hot topics Tuesday of a community conversation on education, one of hundreds taking place this year across the state of Michigan. This one sought the opinions specifically of Lake Orion area residents.
Twenty-four people attended The Future of Education Community Conversation forum at the Orion Township Public Library, offering up their opinions on education-specific topics and responding to questions with clickers that were provided to them.
Courtney Thompson outreach director from The Center for Michigan, a think-tank focusing on helping citizens drive important changes in the state, was the presenter at the forum. The center has been leading conversations on education throughout the state. Michigan Citizens Advocating for Public Education (MI-CAPE) and Lake Orion Community Schools Involved Citizens (LOCSIC) also partnered to put on the event, and although there was hope for a larger turnout, the hosts were pleased with the attendee’s participation.
“It certainly was interesting. Unfortunately it seems to be the same involved people,” said Kris Murphy, parent, substitute teacher and member of MI-CAPE. “It’s important for us to be heard in Lansing … Yes we are all stakeholders, but we aren’t all getting a voice.”
Many of the attendees were Lake Orion Community Schools staff and school board members, but there were a few parents in the mix. One of the Lake Orion parents in attendance was Eric Davidson.
“I thought this was great,” Davidson said. “I just want to get involved.”
The information that was gathered from the event will be pooled with information collected statewide and presented to state lawmakers. Attendees discussed their opinions on the Lake Orion school system, but most of the polls were geared toward education statewide.
The questions in bold below are a handful of the questions asked at the conversation, followed by input from the attendees. Not all questions are verbatim.
In terms of improving student learning outcomes, how important is it to provide stronger support for educators?
Fifty percent said providing stronger support for educators is crucial, 33 percent said important and 17 percent of attendees said somewhat important.
Tom Tobe, interim principal for Lake Orion High School, attended the community conversation and said that encouraging family involvement, and building relationships and understanding of curriculum with the teachers can make a significant difference.
Similarly, one of the teachers in attendance said: “It’s a societal shift; it’s a shift in how we’re raising our kids. It’s a shift in what matters … in my emails to parents I say you are their first and most important teacher … supporting teachers comes from the parents as well, not just our government.”
In terms of improving student learning outcomes, how important is it to hold educators more accountable?
Seventeen percent said holding educators more accountable is crucial, 38 percent said important and 33 percent said somewhat important. The other 12 percent thought that holding educators more accountable was irrelevant or not important.
Tobe said teachers should be held accountable for student progress but instead of looking solely at scores on big tests, parents should look at how much the child has grown since entering the teacher’s classroom at the beginning of the year.
“It’s like we start a race and expect everybody to finish at the same time,” Tobe said of the perception of student’s learning abilities.
To improve school learning, how important is it to change the school calendar?
Thirty-eight percent felt changing the school calendar to a year-round calendar is important, 14 percent said crucial, 24 percent said somewhat important, while the other 24 percent did not agree with the idea.
Many attendees commented on Carpenter Elementary School’s calendar, which is year round with a six-week break in the summer and multiple two-week break intervals throughout the school year.
“It’s a more balanced calendar,” Stadium Drive Elementary teacher Patti Lareau said, complimenting effectiveness of Carpenter’s calendar. Lareau compared her teaching experience at Carpenter to her current position at Stadium Drive. “There’s a lot more re-teaching (when kids have a three-month summer).”
Likewise, Davidson said that he is a parent of a kindergartener that goes to Carpenter and if there were similar calendar options at the middle and high school level then he would choose to send his child there.
A couple of audience members were strongly against the thought of their children or students going to school year round.
“There’s so much living to do outside of that (school) building,” Scripps Middle School teacher Kelly Cerny said.
“Let them forget about it, let them unwind, let them have adventures,” she said.
To improve school learning how important is it to reduce class sizes?
Forty-three percent of attendees thought that reducing class sizes was crucial, while 35 percent said it was important. Seventeen percent of attendees responded that reducing class sizes is somewhat important and only four percent thought it wasn’t important at all. Though the topic wasn't discussed at length, attendees voted saying that reducing class sizes had the highest potential to increase student learning out of all the options presented.
To improve school learning how important is it to increase school of choice?
About 80 percent of people in attendance felt increasing school of choice was irrelevant or not very important. Many conceded they didn’t believe locally students would want to switch out of LOCS, but still responded that it was irrelevant at a statewide level.
“I think there are so many barriers that when kids do go to other districts they find that it’s so difficult because they are competing at a totally different level,” Tobe said. “They’re lost and they kind of struggle.”
To improve school learning how important is it to expand online learning?
About 63 percent of people responded that expanding the online learning platform was irrelevant or not important. No one said that expanding it was crucial and 36 percent of attendees felt it was important or somewhat important.
In terms of in the classroom, attendees were fine with more interactive learning, but the thought of online charter schools is not something they were interested in.
“If there’s an online learning component in the classroom that’s great,” Amy Keyzer, member of MI-CAPE said. “But they need a teacher, you really need someone to focus the child … if my child is sitting at home … I know my kids they would get lost.”