Letter to the Editor: Candace Miller

Down to the Wire for WPS Dear Editor,

I am the mom of a current and soon-to-be WPS student, as well as a public policy researcher who has worked for two decades across four continents with colleagues in government, business, and academia. I became focused on WPS when I realized that across the fifth grade, students were receiving minimal feedback, spending more time memorizing worksheets than engaged in project-based learning, and experiencing increased behavioral problems. Examining MCAS results, I noted that 20% of WPS students who were proficient in math in third grade, no longer met minimal standards by fourth grade, despite the fact that statewide, students perform better from year to year. As a mom, I am deeply concerned to see Watertown children falling behind, disengaged, and exposed to growing behavioral issues.

Watertown Strong Schools formed as parents came together, sharing concerns about increasing class sizes, overburdened teachers, and a decline in student wellbeing.  WSS focused on understanding the situation at WPS, the budget process, and school and town dynamics. We analyzed data, examined budgets, met with leaders, attended town meetings, held community meetings, interviewed administrators, and surveyed teachers.

The data clearly demonstrate that WPS has declined over the last decade forcing administrators to request a sizeable increase for FY2015. WPS is on the edge of compliance for special education, has inadequate staffing, overcrowded classrooms, insufficient guidance staff, and serious safety concerns. In classrooms with 28 students, teachers are unable to implement the differentiated learning approaches needed to motivate students and keep them out of trouble.

The primary problem is that WPS are deeply underfunded. Resources have not kept pace as state mandates have expanded and student enrollment has grown with greater percentages of low income students, English Language Learners, and students requiring individualized education plans.

In 2014, administrators prepared an industry standard budget that articulates WPS needs across schools, grades, subject areas, and special and general education. Increased funding would ensure that WPS are in compliance with federal requirements and state accreditation standards, reduce class sizes, and improve school safety.

We hoped that by sharing accurate data, understanding local leaders’ perspectives, and interacting respectfully, we could build relationships and repair communication so that town officials would fully understand what our education professionals need to operate safe and effective schools.

As we move to the final stages of the FY15 budget process, I am pleased that our town has a better understanding of WPS. I am encouraged by leaders who are working tirelessly to bridge the gap between the town and WPS. I am concerned as other town leaders—elected and appointed—still refuse to discuss facts, continue to discredit WPS administrators, and assign blame for problems created years ago, rather than identify solutions. The old arguments that we debunked using accurate data resurfaced last week in a letter that defended the behavior of town leaders who refuse to acknowledge facts so they may continue to underfund WPS. I urge readers to get informed, rather than believe arguments presented to confuse and conceal the real situation, and undermine our educational professionals.

If by June 10th, we fail to agree on an adequate budget and leaders choose to underfund the schools, our youngest residents will suffer the most, on a daily basis, for years to come. Currently, the Town Manager’s proposed budget is shortsighted, further locking WPS into the downward trajectory of worsening educational outcomes, behavioral problems, and continued teacher and administrator turnover. Be assured, the costs of not funding the FY15 budget far exceed the resources requested by WPS.

 

Dr. Candace Miller Senior Researcher, Mathematica Policy Research Westminster Avenue