Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A message from Longmeadow School District

The message below is from Ms. Jahn Hart, Superintendent- Longmeadow Public Schools concerning President Obama’s Address to School Children.

As you know, the Longmeadow Public Schools will be taping President Barack Obama’s national address on Tuesday for future viewing after review by the principals and their staff. Our administrators will determine the appropriate venue and logistical arrangements for sharing the speech. The stated purpose of the message to speak to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school is, of course, one that we support and value.

The decision to postpone the airing of the speech was not a policy decision by the School Committee, but an operational decision by the administration. Let me clarify the reasons for that decision, which involved much more that a reaction to concerns about the message and which were guided by a desire to provide the very best educational setting for our students to receive the message. Here are the multiple logistical challenges that faced our schools:

• The communication about this speech from Secretary Duncan was made directly to school principals in late August. School superintendents were not contacted. Several of our principals did not receive the original communication and did not learn about the event until Thursday, September 3rd. That allowed them 2 days to make all of the necessary preparations and to communicate with parents about opt-out provisions for their children.

• We did not hear from Commissioner Chester, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, on this issue until midday on Friday. His message includes the following key statements:

“If the timing of this speech works with your school schedules you may want to make arrangements to allow students to view the speech. . . “ and “That said, we recognize that the speech has generated some controversy . . . Commissioner Chester asks that if you do have students watch the speech, to please respect the requests of any parents who ask that their child not participate.”

• The President's speech is intended to be part of a larger classroom activity that involves writing and discussion. None of our schools has the capability to air the speech in every classroom at the same time. It would need to be viewed in larger group settings that would not support such learning activities.

• Our schools are not equipped for instant, live viewing of broadcasts in large group settings. When we made arrangements for viewing the Presidential Inauguration, we had almost 2 months to accommodate our technology and logistical needs.

• This event will occur during the noon lunch time. Arranging for students to view the speech “live” would require changing school schedules, including lunch, with very short notice at the beginning of the school year.

• Since many parents have requested that their children not view the live broadcast, we would have to make arrangements for those students to be identified and separated from their peers into another location, supervised by adults and engaged in an alternate activity.

• Reviewing the speech will allow our principals and teachers to determine the best settings for using the message in the classroom to integrate with curriculum - by grade level and subject area and will allow us to plan the most appropriate and respectful venue for those lessons. Also, our teachers would have an opportunity to modify the recommended lesson plans as appropriate by age and for alignment with curriculum. In addition, we will be able to manage the technology requirements for viewing.

• Our school district respects the President and believes that the stated purposes of the speech are worthwhile. Nevertheless, (1) we are challenged by the constraints of our technology to offer all students equal access to the live message in the appropriate classroom setting and (2) we look forward to the opportunity to make informed decisions about the best use of the speech in an appropriate classroom environment.

• While we would prefer that this event were devoid of political overtones and controversy, it is not. Therefore, we must make decisions in the context of that environment. It is our hope that after viewing the speech and learning of our plans for utilizing the message in the classroom setting, the concerns of parents will be allayed and the environment in which children view the speech will be conducive to learning, rather than confusion and possible tension.

• Once plans for future viewing of the speech are made, they will be conveyed to parents, who can then make an informed decision about their child’s participation.

• On Tuesday, parents are welcome to dismiss their children from school prior to noon to view the live broadcast at home, if they wish.

Please note, however, that the speech will be available on the Internet and on television for later viewing, and we would encourage parents not to dismiss their children, but to take advantage of the opportunity to view the message with their children after school, and to await announcements about our plans for school viewing.

• I should also add that ultimately the decision to postpone the airing of the President’s speech and to have the administrators jointly decide how to best plan for future airing within each of their buildings was mine – that of the Superintendent of Schools. I chose not to put each of them in the difficult situation of having to handle those plans alone and without collaboration.

• To reiterate, the administration of the Longmeadow Public Schools has great respect for the President of the United States and looks forward to viewing his message and to planning the appropriate use of the message at a future date.

E. Jahn Hart/ Superintendent, Longmeadow Public Schools

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