Kansas State Board of Education Member Ken Willard toured Goessel school facilities and met with teachers, staff, and school board members Monday. Superintendent John Fast invited Willard to Goessel in order to facilitate positive connections between the rural 1A district and those setting governing policy.
“We want to have good dialog with those who represent us,” Fast said. “Rural public school districts are getting smaller and urban districts are getting larger. To combat that disparity we want to make sure we get quality time.”
After touring the school campuses and viewing several classes in action, Willard met with 17 teachers and staff members at the elementary library.
“I am a very big supporter of you all and what you are doing with public education,” Willard said. “Not nearly enough people know what kind of good things are going on out here.”
Willard addressed issues such as funding through sales tax equalization, accreditation and No Child Left Behind testing, project-based learning, common core standards, and technology in the classroom.
“As a state board of education member, I have nothing to do with funding formulas, raising money, or telling people how to spend it,” Willard said. “But I can tell you there are good people working hard to give schools like Goessel the same funding opportunities as larger schools.”
He said more state money goes into school funding each year, but the financial base continues to erode because of increased waitings.
“The funding formula has to change,” Willard said. “Everybody is experiencing changes, and they may be painful, but I am confident those in Topeka are working and trying to help all schools.”
Marion County Special Education Cooperative Paraprofessional Pat Nystrom answered Willard’s question about the No Child Left Behind policy.
“It’s a wonderful idea if you can fund it,” she said. “But it would be better if there wasn’t such an imbalance in the classroom.”
She said it was difficult for teachers to nurture special needs children to meet state standards without holding back the more advanced students in the same classroom.
“The ratchet keeps tightening for all kids to meet the standards, but at what cost,” Willard said. “I do not believe judging kids on multiple choice test scores in math and reading is a true assessment of a quality education.”
Willard said he helped the McPherson school district get a waiver from the state to stop standardized testing and he was working to get the whole state of Kansas a similar grant as well.
“The pressure to meet these standards is enormous and it is on the wrong people,” he said. “The kids are stressed about this and that is not where education should be headed.”
Concerning project-based learning initiatives, Willard said he supported this model of education and would like to see it expanded.
“Students get reading, writing, speech, and history, all through the context of working on a project they are interested in,” he said. “Teachers become learning facilitators, and with technology, the whole world becomes the classroom.”
Willard said his first impression of common-core standards was that it was substandard to current education parameters already in place.
“I have a lot of questions about this,” he said. “But I have been assured that good changes are being considered to alleviate some of the problems we have when students move from school to school, or state to state.”
On a positive note, Willard said technology was helping Kansas move to the forefront of education on a national level.
“We can do better, but I am very proud of where we are on the edge of innovation,” he said. “It seems to me we are in some really exciting times in education”
At the close of Willard’s time with staff members, he asked what they would do if they could change anything about education.
“I would like the opportunity to offer more as far as subject matter,” said fifth grade teacher Ilona Abrahams.
“I would like to eliminate teaching to meet test scores,” said fourth grade teacher Tom Krehbiel. “It really narrows down our subject matter when we have to continually prepare students to pass state assessments.”
“We need warm houses for students,” said Title I teacher Mary Schmidt.
Fast added that broken families, loss of parental jobs, and inadequate clothing was a growing problem in the Goessel district.
Willard said he was very impressed with the level of caring he saw in the staff at Goessel.
“I have seen some very caring people here today,” he said. “You have great collaboration between the community, staff, and students. I am here to assist in any way I can.”
Willard encouraged staff to contact the four state senators from the area with educational concerns, as well as keep in touch with him.
“I have thoroughly appreciated my day here. This is how I learn what is going on,” he said.
Willard also met with school board members at their regular monthly meeting, reiterating many of the same statements he made with staff.
“I am amazed at how many people come back to Goessel to teach, to live, to raise their families,” he said. “You are a great model for community collaboration with a small school. I see good opportunities for Goessel to pilot a project-based learning program here.”
In other business:
- Board members approved $136,671 in expenditures for the month, including costs to repair one bus motor, and dent repair on the school Suburban which hit a deer in Colo., on the way back from an FCCLA convention.
- Members learned from Principal Scott Bowen that he and science teacher Mrs. O’Neill were notified their proposal for a 2011-12 Shell Science Lab Challenge Grant made it to the regional finalist stage. The school might win $3,000 if named a regional winner, with larger amounts for national and grand prizewinners.