Dear Members of the Board,
It has recently come to my attention that Franklin School's rating on the GreatSchools.org website has fallen from an already low rating of ‘six’ to ‘four’ and that is on a scale of ten. What is more, in a recent ranking of high schools by NJ Monthly magazine, Bloomfield ranked 221 on a list of about 315 schools. This is 61 spots below Belleville and 81 spots lower than Nutley, which I personally find inexplicable, as it is my understanding that Bloomfield population does not vary from general population of NJ by any measure – therefore, at a minimum, I would expect at least average performance, and personally, I would hope that we can strive to do better than that.
As a parent of a 4th grade student, and a tax payer who is burdened with a property tax bill in excess of $10,000 per year, I am at a loss as to why there are no more radical changes made to remedy this situation. In my view, our schools are systematically failing the population of this town, and when I am talking about the town, I am not merely referring to students and their parents, such as myself, but all the property owners, because we all well know that the quality of the school system plays a large role in determining property values. Why else would a house on a Glen Ridge side of Essex Avenue be 50%-80% more expensive than a comparable house on a Bloomfield side?
Therefore, I hope that this board and the superintendent are as aware and concerned about those developments, as I am and are taking aggressive steps to remedy this situation with a sense of urgency this warrants.
Between my two kids, we have been at Franklin continuously for the last eight years, and we have seen no such substantive changes in that period. The current rankings suggest we are not addressing this problem. I offer a list of improvements that I would hope to see as a parent:
- It seems to me that different kids have different needs and they learn in different ways, so why not create a magnet system (within the under-performing schools, obviously there are 2-3 schools in town that perform well and we should let them be). The schools I envision would have specializations that align with interests and needs of the student body they serve. So perhaps, we could have a school with bilingual teachers, who could assist children with limited proficiency in English in making a transition; have a separate school for kids who are interested in science and a school with emphasis on art. What all those schools would have in common would be strict, challenging curriculum and teachers who love to teach it. And yes, I would love to see after-school clubs that are not athletic.
- Introduce a real gifted program, surely we can round up 20-40 gifted children at each grade level in a town of 48,000 people.
- Some of the teachers, my children were lucky to have, were easily worth their weight in gold - they loved teaching, they loved working with children, and they instilled a love of learning in their students. Funny thing is that everybody knows who those teachers are and everybody knows, which of the teachers do not fall into that category, but for some reason it seems to be a taboo subject - here is why it should not be: according to Malcolm Gladwell, who attributes this research to Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, "students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year." This is the very reason why we should not hesitate to broach the subject and insist that we modify our current performance evaluation system for the benefit of the students who attend our schools.
- Establish and enforce strict residency criteria, so we can be sure that our property taxes benefit our residents and only our residents.
- Improve school schedule – we have a high number of half-days and seemingly random days off. Certainly, test scores point to our students needing more rather than less classroom instruction and this schedule makes it very difficult for the working parents. I have previously written to the board regarding what I consider a frivolous number of November school closures, I believe when I added up all the full-days and the hours of all the half-days due to parent-teacher conferences, and subtracted all the days off due to a teacher's convention a Thanksgiving holiday - I got an equivalent of 13 full days of instruction during the entire month of November.
I call upon our Board of Education and the school leadership to take the first step today - recognize our dismal rankings for what they are - a failure. And then take the second step - seize upon this failure by not being satisfied with incremental improvements here or there, but as a call to action to take substantive steps to elevate the performance of the school system.