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A new school year begins

It’s that time of year again, when school buses and walking children appear on the roads, making their way back to classes for their next school year. For all the students affected, anticipation can be measured out equally with trepidation, anxiety balanced by the enthusiasm to take on new challenges.

It is a time of transition for parents as well, of course. The open days of summer, when they often spend more time in the company of their children, can be both stressful and fulfilling for parents. Finding ways to keep their children active and happy while often juggling work with family time is harder in the summer, when families need to be creative in order to fill the daytime hours and arrange child care that keeps both kids and parents happy. There are no grades to worry about during the summer months, for the younger students especially, so children can spend more time doing what they enjoy most without repercussions.

With school back in session, however, the hard reality of measuring performance at each level returns. Do the region’s test scores, some lower than last year and some higher, and some lower than the statewide averages, some higher, define how the school year should be structured? Each school district should know its own students, and should have planned for the best ways to approach educating them within the framework of the requirements set out by the state. “Teaching to the test” has long been a matter of discussion and disagreement among educators, but in order to be eligible for state and federal funding, there is no doubt that some of that must happen.

But what must also happen is that the whole child and their talents and interests should be recognized and nurtured in addition to coaxing the mastery of those subjects that are defined by the state as necessary for positive growth. Region One last year instituted controversial new practices for grading, scheduling and instruction, and Superintendent Pam Vogel spent the year defending the new approach and expressing confidence that the changes gave students better support and a better learning environment. She received much input from those in the school community, especially parents of current students, on the problems with the program, and has had the summer to fine-tune it for the better. This second year of the program will be the test of whether any modifications will be enough to elicit wider support and acceptance of it, or will lead to more disagreement and the need for more discussion and change.  

And, for anyone and everyone concerned with the best practices for reporting student learning, there is a presentation by Dr. Thomas Guskey at Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30, in Room 133. After Guskey’s presentation, he will take questions from the audience. It’s an opportunity for open discussion on a topic that needs  as much of it as possible.

Here’s to a good and full school year ahead for all.