Tuesday, September 8, 2009
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
Monday, September 7, 2009
Despite the release of the text of the speech, which puts to rest any fear that it would be inappropriate, the school department has chosen to try to avoid controversy by appeasing those who have complained. This dangerous precedent will provide cover and encouragement for partisan attacks on educational decisions in the future. Today, they object to the exposure of the President of the United States to their kids. Tomorrow, who knows.
There is a bright side here, however. By making the speech an issue, critics have given it increased importance and created some additional interest in the speech, in it's contents, and more importantly, in it's context. School children, especially middle and high school students will learn more by taking an interest in the context of the speech than they ever would have by simply listening to the feel good message of the president.
As a civics educator, the controversy over the airing of the speech provides a much richer and more substantive opportunity to teach kids about politics and government and citizenship. As for the poor kids whose parents are afraid to expose them to the President, I'm afraid they will have much more serious problems getting a decent education.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The president of my school's Parent Teacher Organization forwarded this note about a speech that the President of the United States of America planned to offer to our Nation’s schoolchildren to promote their success in school and of the unfortunate decision not to permit Longmeadow’s schoolchildren to hear the President’s words when spoken (if at all).
Surely success in school rests both with the communities that provide quality education to individual children and with the children themselves. Nonetheless, any message of encouragement to children as they start their school year is appropriate. When the message comes from the President of the United States of America, that message is all the more inspiring.
Although President Obama has a political-party designation (as have all Presidents in this Nation’s history), any President offering a message of support to students at the start of the school year should be considered the message of the Office, not of a party.
How sad that, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we find a school committee shielding schoolchildren from a historic moment – one that is intended for schoolchildren. I did not elect school-committee members to be the guardians of my children from OUR President. I find it outrageous that this is a controversy, and pathetic that the Longmeadow School Committee would pander to the pharisaical fringes of society and enable them to wield a heckler’s veto.
Although I lay this decision at the feet of the Longmeadow School Committee as of today, September 5, 2009, I cannot be sure that it is a product of their deliberation, for there are no posted minutes detailing the Committee’s consideration this matter. I must assume that a district-wide policy comes from our School Committee, and therefore I direct my outrage at them and encourage others to do the same.
Rebecca M. Townsend
From: Donna Hutton <dhutton@Longmeadow.k12.ma.us>
Sent: Fri, Sep 4, 2009 2:36 pm
Subject: RE: Obama's message
President Obama’s Address to School Children
At 12:00 p.m., Eastern Time (ET), September 8, 2009, President Barack Obama will deliver a national address to the students of America. During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.
The U.S. Department of Education invites students of all ages, teachers, and administrators to participate in this historic moment by watching the president deliver the address, which will be broadcast live on the White House Web site (http://www.whitehouse.gov/live/) and on C-SPAN at 12:00 p.m., ET. After the original broadcast, downloadable video of the speech will be made available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/mediaresources/ as well as on www.ed.gov and C-SPAN.org will provide archived and "on-demand" viewing options.
Unfortunately, this speech has generated considerable negative reaction from a variety of political groups and media outlets who have speculated about the content=2 0and/or intentions of the message. Parents are being encouraged to ask school principals not to air the speech or to "Make September 8th Parentally Approved Skip Day.” Since our focus is to keep “eyes on the child – learning” and we pride ourselves on making informed decisions, our district will be taping the President’s message for possible future viewing. As noted earlier, the summary released by the US Department of Education states that the special address will be about persisting and succeeding in school. Longmeadow school principals and teachers will view the video and decide the educational appropriateness of the message for different schools, subjects, and classrooms. Those decisions will be communicated to parents prior to any planned use of the video.
We invite you to view the President’s message and make your own informed decisions about its merit.
Donna L. Hutton
Center Elementary School
It was recently announced that the Longmeadow Adult Center has started a Food Pantry for needy town residents- what a great addition to the services already provided by an underfunded and sometimes under appreciated resource in our town. The new Food Pantry will be affliliated with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and will obtain additional items from this organization for distribution in our town.
The Longmeadow Food Pantry is now accepting donations of non-perishable food, personal care items and paper goods between 9 am – 3 pm every weekday at the Longmeadow Adult Center at 231 Maple Road (Greenwood Center).
As part of the National Day of Service & Remembrance on Friday, September 11 donations will be accepted from 9 am – 3:30 pm (extended hours) at Longmeadow Adult Center. Please consider stopping by on this day with your contribution to kick off this new service.
Further details about Longmeadow Food Pantry and its operation will be announced in the coming weeks. Call 565-4150 with questions. Thank you for your support!