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Upton Sinclair

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The Broken Rung

During the last month, the administration at Housatonic has moved to revamp the class schedule to implement personalized learning. The new schedule must necessarily be an extended period schedule (block schedule) in order to provide time for extended instruction. Parent complaints about this change are mounting. I believe that the community should be aware of some aspects of the situation that may not be obvious, to the parents or to the boards of education.

For some years now, the schedule of such classes at Housatonic has been controlled by the teachers union. Teachers at the high school should teach five courses by contract. However, any teacher must be given preparation time before classes or their workload can be reduced to four, or even three, classes. And scheduling conflicts occur.

Some years ago, as a member of the Region 1 Board of Education, I became concerned with the very high cost per student at Housatonic. As a result, and with help of the superintendent, I did a detailed study of our budget by sitting down with the business manager from another comprehensive high school. We were spending about $500,000 in excess of the monies necessary to run our classrooms.

When I disassembled the high school schedule, I found that it had been used to create as many conflicts as possible in order to maximize teacher employment. Indeed, a majority of the monetary excess came from such conflicts either through direct poor scheduling or anticipation of higher attendance. The schedule was being built as though little private school loss would happen.

This situation has not changed significantly over the years. Just two years ago, over half of the teachers at Housatonic were teaching four classes or less due to schedule conflicts created by union control of the scheduling program. That is about four extra teachers in case you were not counting.

The change to block scheduling at the high school would remove most of the scheduling conflicts with a subsequent reduced need for teacher positions. With the declining enrollment at Housatonic, this change would be even more obvious.

I believe that the teachers’ union, for obvious reasons, does not wish to accept the change to their employment. They seem to have spread false information among parents in order to cause the reversion of the schedule to their own control.

As Region 1 Chairman Andrea Downs said in a letter to the parents of Housatonic students, “Unfortunately, it would appear that a lot of misinformation was disseminated throughout our broader community in a way that is causing all stakeholders to feel fearful and anxious about this change.”

Meanwhile, the performance of students at Housatonic continues to be unacceptable, both at the low end with too many failing grades, and at the high end with really poor AP performance. Change is needed through knowledgeable administrative function, not union coercion. Please act according to the better interests of the students. Thanks.

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