Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Poorly Conceived Solution is No Solution at All

The third part of the cyber series from the Express-Times: School districts look to retain students by offering own alternatives to cyber schools - Part 3 of 3

I went to the VLINC meeting that Bangor School District held in January. I was appalled at what they were trying to pass off as a reasonable alternative to traditional cyber charter schools. I am shocked that after that meeting, there were actually parents who were willing to move their kids to that program. It makes me wonder what kind of cyber schools they came from. :o Though, honestly, some of the parents surprised me at that meeting. One mother even said she resented having to educate her own children. :o What kind of place do I live in where people would say that about their own children?

Imagine my surprise this winter, when I was invited by the Bangor Area School District to an informational meeting about a new cyber school option they were offering! I know what’s involved in the cyber school process after nearly 3 full years of cyber schooling Spawn. I was skeptical that Bangor could compete at a wholesale level as well as our cyber school with their offerings.

I was correct to be leery. The meeting began with a representative from the school (Bangor Area Assistant Superintendent Patricia Mulroy, I think) standing up and saying they know they’ve failed us in some way and that they have to work to get us back. She also mentioned how poor the district was in her opening statement to the assembled cyber school parents. When the meeting was opened up to Q&A, we asked common questions that we would ask while interviewing any cyber school - about attendance, teachers, funding, and again and again were told by Mary Beth Bianco, assistant executive director for IU 20, and Ms. Mulroy that they could not answer our questions. Was this informational meeting convened just so we could sit there and stare at each other then?! 

The few questions that were answered baffled me – students and parents wouldn’t have direct phone access to teachers if they had questions. The questions could be called in or emailed to a guidance counselor who would forward them to the teacher – after school hours because, of course, the school wouldn’t be employing teachers solely to cater to those cyber-schooled during daytime hours. Cyber-schooled students enrolled in the IU’s program would be second-class students whose education was secondary to those who attend brick and mortar schools because those brick and mortar teachers would be offered the chance to ‘pick up’ classes for a little extra money. It is possibly one of the most poorly conceived concepts for a cyber school system that I’ve ever seen. I wish I could tell you more, but no more information was made available at the meeting and I'm the parent who asked most of the questions. I was very disappointed - especially since there was so little information about VLINC available online.

At this ‘informational’ meeting, I asked Ms. Bianco if there was a sample student account available to view so I could see the interface the IU was using. At first, I was told no. Just no, but then the IU representatives relented and 'tried to find a way around it' because the interface and vendor is dependent on the teacher(s) the student is assigned to. So, my son could potentially have to learn how to use multiple interfaces through multiple vendors based on the classes and variety of teachers assigned to him by a guidance counselor who doesn’t even know him?1?! :o

Then, another IU representative told me she’d figure something out and asked me to sit with her while she tried to log in to an administrator account. Not a student account. When she did finally find a student account view, it was of a 4th grade lesson – not 2nd grade so I could compare apples to apples with the lessons my son is currently taking. What a poorly planned attempt to bring students back! While I waited indefinitely to get a look at a sample interface, parents paired up with guidance counselors to set up a meeting at the school to get more information. (ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME? I went to one informational meeting already and got no answers!) By the time I was done looking at the interface on Blended Schools (which didn't thrill me), all the guidance counselors who had come to speak to parents had set up their meetings and left - I guess no one wanted to take my meeting. ;) Except the one guidance counselor I know because we've been friends since junior high. Unfortunately, she doesn't work at the elementary level at Bangor, so I couldn't set up another informational meeting with her to find out more either.

I was given an informational packet (a folder full of handouts). In the folder, one side pocket was filled with about 20 pages to inform me of the process to re-enroll my child. (This would be an appropriate spot to roll your eyes - I did.) On the other side of the folder were 3 pieces of paper – one was a mis-informational handout of myths and misconceptions about cyber schooling that someone copied word-for-word from a book, one was a single sheet, photocopied pamphlet about the IU’s VLINC program, and one was another page about re-enrollment. No joke. It’s all about numbers in this district. Bangor has a lot of nerve complaining about the quality of cyber schools considering the poorly conceived alternative they’re offering!

But the big selling point of this meeting was that as “Bangor” students, children who were enrolled in the IU’s charter through Bangor would be able to participate in activities after school at Five Points and Dominic DeFranco and the students would end their years of schooling with a Bangor diploma.

First, how can you offer extra-curriculars if you’re canceling/scaling back programs like art and music class to save money? As a resident of the district, my son already qualifies to participate in any sports that are offered. (That's why the district of residence gets to keep 28% of the state funds per child.) Second, why on earth would I want “Bangor Area School District” on my son’s high school diploma instead of "Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School"? Choosing a charter school shows prospective colleges that someone cared enough to do the research and give their child the best education possible.

Is it any surprise that I would choose not to enroll my son in Bangor public schools? In the past year, one teacher has OD’d on heroine and a teacher’s aide has been forced to resign due to a pornography scandal. When I was in school, one of my best friends shot himself in the head in the vice principal's office. The current superintendent, Mr. Rinehart, who was my principal at Five Points 23 years ago, is resigning at the end of this year in an effort to save the district money so they might not have to cut teacher salaries. They are sacrificing their most experienced educators because it’s just a numbers game to the district.

Let me finish this by reiterating - at any time, if someone from the Bangor School District had come to me and said, "We're researching alternatives to cyber schooling - an alternative for students to attend through their home district - and we'd like your feedback as a cyber school family to help us improve the quality of the cyber alternative offerings.", I'd have jumped at  the chance to help them come up with a real solution. But this VLINC thing, it's a knee-jerk reaction to the school's new need to compete with radical educational change. Cyber schools are creating an education revolution and I'm concerned that the traditional public schools would rather rant and rave at the radicals who are improving the system through competition than try to effect change themselves and provide children from the Slate Belt with a better education.
Chrissi, Cyber School Mom


Rachel said...

"Oh, but it's for the students..." What a crock, it's so completely obvious they don't care about your son. Keep fighting the good fight!!!

Kelly C said...

Keep fighting Chrissi!!!

Anonymous said...


Many thanks. Our child is in BASD gifted and we have also been having a hard time getting anything such as services or accountability from this district. BTW, did you know that Patricia Mulroy is a Regional Board member of Blended Schools and that Blended Schools does have a pattern of favoring their board members during their awards ceremony? Although I doubt there is a cash payment, the awards do look good as resume padding and so arguably constitute a conflict of interests by encouraging school administrators to promote Blended Schools over other options.

Anonymous said...

I am so pleased to find your comment through a Google search on cyber schools in Bangor. When my son was ready to start school, I insisted he attend Catholic school. We were not Catholic at the time but I have since converted. My husband thought this was such a rediculous idea because we both graduated from Bangor. We went back and forth and he said fine if you want him in another school then you pay for it. He is in third grade at a Catholic school and reading at a fourth grade level and started cursive writing in second grade. When I mention cursive in second, the public school parents look at me like I have two heads. Hmmm! Needless to say, my husband these days is very happy with the school I picked but still doesn't help pay because it was my plan. I can die knowing that I sent him to the best school I could afford and did it by myself. I'm glad I'm not alone in this district! Thanks!

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