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The Holidays are Here.

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     As a former teacher, I along with other educators struggle with the topic of social promotion.  In elementary schools,  teachers identify students with difficulties within weeks of their arrival in their classrooms.  Assessments are done and  individual plans are created.   These students receive additional help from their teachers, coaches, mentors, and paraprofessionals, but as work becomes harder and the achievement gap widens, students give up.   Do we pass them on to the next grade, or give them additional time to master the grade level?
     In the thirteen years that I taught elementary students, I faced that question several times.  This difficult  decision was made jointly with parents, team teachers, the principal and myself.     Retention affects a child‘s life immeasurably.   Passing a child who has not reached a basic understanding of the curriculum is known as social promotion.     In the event a child has been retained once, they will not be held back a second time due to the stigma attached to being an older student in a classroom.  The retention problem is compounded when a child changes schools, because the classroom teacher rarely receives the student’s record.   This means the child must go through yet another assessment period to determine his/her needs.  
     Last Wednesday at the swearing-in of new members of  the Missouri State Legislature  House Speaker Steve Tilley (R-Perryville) addressed education issues which will come before both houses this session.   He stated, “There is a need to strongly consider adopting policies to address social promotion. We are doing our children an injustice by merely passing them along if they can’t meet the minimum standards.” 

     Social Promotion is a problem in  every school, in every school district in the country.     Adults tend to forget that education is an upward spiral.  The further you get in your education, the more difficult it becomes.    An excellent high school math teacher began in a new district.  At the end of the quarter, the majority of her students received failing grades.  Their work was incomplete.  Their test grades poor. While parents were outraged, should the teacher have passed those students?
    Attendance also plays a role.  A child cannot learn if he/she is not in class, yet this is what our teachers face everyday.   Teachers are expected to pass their students whether they complete their work or not.    If a student passes the final exam, should they be penalized for incomplete assignments?  Our children are ill prepared for college when we allow this to happen.   A child’s success is hindered by using a pass/fail method of grading.   It is very judgemental and every student can “pass”.    A percentage based grading system shows the student’s progress in a subject and identifies specific areas of concern and proficiency.  Graduating students should not be starting college requiring math and english remediation.
     Until students see their education as the path to their future, until discipline improves so teachers can teach the curriculum and until the community understands the pros and cons of social promotion, our students are at risk and our district’s accreditation is at risk.
    We also have our success stories and we’re proud of them.   Students have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, and very successful members of society.  The majority of our students have the capability.   The historic changes that occurred in the district last year have settled.   All students can experience success when their needs are met.  The question is how do we do it?   Do we pass them on regardless of their performance?  Do we lower our standards?   Do we demand success or do we find someone to blame?   As a member of the community, what would your recommendation be?  If you were on the Hickman Mills School Board, what would you do?

It’s sad to think that no matter what we do, it seems like we are fighting a losing battle. Our district has worked hard to tighten its’ belt over the past two years. The drop in property values and the loss of business revenues have hurt terribly. We have cut staff, reorganized buildings and we are still looking for ways to cut corners. It has been announced that the state is also planning to make cuts again. Now our student transportation system is threatened. Family’s depend on our busses to make sure their children arrive at school safely and on time. It is going to create many hardships on our parents, students and the district as a whole, if these cuts are severe as expected. As a district that is held harmless, we will not be seeing any increase in revenue from the state for several years. However, we certainly can’t afford to lose any more.

Now is the time for everyone to contact their state representatives and the governor’s office to let them know that we do not want them cutting the school transportation budget. We need your help. Only by contacting those making these decisions, can we hope for relief.

The state does have a shortage as well, but our children’s education and safety are the most important things to us.

It is official.  This morning was the first day to register for the Hickman Mills School Board race.  It will be quite a race.  As of today, there are five people running for three seats.  I am currently in the middle of my third year.  It has been a very rewarding experience as well as a very stressful one.  I initially ran for the school board to save our teachers.  Today, it is as simple as saving our district. 

At the last school board meeting, Tony Stansberry from DESE (Dept. of Secondary and Elementary Education) came to speak to the board.  Last year, had the state come to evaluate us, we would have become unaccredited, because our points fell in the 1-5 range. This year, we would have become provisionally accredited.  We received 7 pts., out of 14.  If our students get 50% of their work correct, they fail.  Applying this to our district, we are failing our students.  However, we are taking baby steps.  That is how we were successful at reaching the 7th point this year.  Because of our progress, though small, we have been given a reprieve and will not go before the state board until next November.  This will give us the opportunity to raise test scores this year and bolster our points.

We have had many problems to overcome.  Though we passed a levy the year I was elected, with the intention of raising teacher salaries, they have been frozen for the past two years.  Teacher turnover is excessive.  Last year, with the need to support our accountability plan, more attention was given to the restructuring of the schools.   Discipline must be addressed.  Though the board has policies to aid in this area, implementation by some administrators is lacking.  Our financial situation continues to deteriorate.  The number of empty homes in our area is excessive.  We continue to lose businesses.   Both of these factors affect our tax revenues.   For the third year in a row, we are facing massive cuts due to a decrease from the state funding formula.   Our staff need support. 

On the upside, the district is making small victories.  Our new Freda Markley Early Childhood Center opened this year and is one of the districts shining accomplishments.  Paid for through a bond issue, district patrons can be proud of this addition to our district.  The goal was to be as green as possible.  The design of the building is receiving a lot of attention and is going up for awards.  Our early childhood department is strong and thriving. 

Our CODE program also shows wonderful results.The students involved in this gifted program consistently shows evaluated test scores on both MAP and ACT tests.   It  focuses on both academics and the arts.  Again, the staff and support of parents make this program a success.  

Problems that were suspected to occur with the reorganization of the secondary schools did not happen.  Students have adapted well to the blending of the students.   However,  discipline problems continue to be encountered. 

As a former classroom teacher, I have worked hard to help other board members see our weaknesses from a teacher’s perspective.  The stress placed on our staff is extreme.  The amount of testing in classrooms and restrictive teaching methods is impeding our teachers, preventing them from incorporating their talents into their teaching.  Not all teachers teach the same, just as all students do not learn the same.   I also challenge costly expenditures that I do not see as necessary.  We have spent tremendous amounts of money on computers in the last three years.   Our technology department continues to grow.  This should not be the focus of our tax dollars.   The success or lack of it should be our primary concern.  Not more and more administrative programs.

I was pleased to accept an invitation to be the board representative to the Hickman Mills PTA.  I was also asked to join the Federal Advisory Council that evaluates our programs in the district.  Both of these positions, I accepted and will do my best to be effective.   In addition, I continue to be an advocate for our teachers and staff.  I support collective bargaining and the need for a master contract.   In the last three years, I have attended many Meet and Confer meetings.  At our MSBA (Missouri School Board Association) conferences, I used my time wisely by attending numerous seminars that address collective bargaining, social networking and other topics that effect today’s districts, staff and students.   I continue to expand my knowledge.  In addition, I have attended every monthly board meeting.  To do a job well, one must make such a commitment.

I have pledged my experience, time and effort to being an active member of the Hickman Mills School Board.   We must save our district . My duty is to support the staff, our students and the members of our community that elected me to this position.  I will continue to do my best to serve you.

Debbie Aiman

Veteran’s Day Remembered

Today is Veteran’s Day.  There are so many things that we have to be grateful for in our country.  Since our country began, our men and women have sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we have today.  My father fought in WWII.  My grandfather and my uncles all fought in the wars, experiencing the nightmares that never go away.  They did their duty, all fought in the name of freedom.  Even though they did not occur on American soil,  it does not take away from their sacrifices.  In fact, it means more.  Not only did they fight for our fundamental freedoms, but also for those people of other countries whose freedoms were under attack.  Let us not forget that without them, our lives would be much different.  We would not be as strong and safe as we are today.  This world is a scary place and they have seen it first hand.  Those of us who stayed behind will never fully understand the horrors of war.  Whether they served in one of our World Wars to end all wars, the Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, Iran, or any of the many, many fronts, our people have fought for us and continue.   I also want to thank the family members of our fighting men and women, who deal with their absence everyday.  You are not forgotten.

On this Veteran’s Day,  take a moment to thank our veterans for their sacrifices and remember those who never came home to us.  Today, November 11, 2010, I would like to wish them all a peaceful Veteran’s Day.  Thank you for your service.

Debbie Aiman

November 2 Election Results

Today people are heading to the polls.  ‘There has been a lot of negative talk this year.  You would think people would tire of it.  The television ads have been the worst ones yet.  So many things were taken out of context in an attempt to demean a person’s record.  I was surprised to see the number of bills a senator votes on.  There are hundreds of bills that pass before them.   Many have attachments to them to help them pass.  Perhaps there is something the people they are representing feel strongly about.  They may vote for or against something even though there is an addition that will come back to haunt them.  It is not cut and dry.  Politicians know they are not going to make everyone happy.  All they can do is try.  Being on the Hickman Mills School Board is so small by comparison, yet it is difficult for people to understand the complexity of how the system works. 

No matter who wins the elections today, let’s have a little faith that those who voted for them believe that person will do the best job they possibly can.  It is time for our country to come together to solve our problems.  A country divided will falter, where one united will conquer their trials.  Once the results are in, please be supportive.  Our election process is what makes America unique.  Let’s give them a chance.  The one thing we can say is, “Congratulations and good luck.”  They are going to need it.

I am a member of the Hickman Mills School Board.  At the September board meeting, a contract for a reading consultant was placed in the consent agenda.  I requested that it be pulled.   A person, not identified with any company, had been selected as a reading consultant at a cost of $1000 a day for a maximum of four days.  This person was selected due to experience in reading instruction at the high school level.   However, supporting information was not provided. 

My concern…..Why were we bringing in a person at $1000 a day?  Why were we not looking at the experience of our own personnel to address concerns?  Why was the board not provided a description or bio of this person’s qualifications?   The superintendent assured us that the information would be forthcoming.  Instead of waiting to vote on the issue, the board proceeded.  It was approved five to one.  I voted against it.  Mr. Anderson was not on the board at that time.  Bonnaye Mims, April Cushing, Darryll Curls, J.T. Brown and George Flesher voted to accept the superintendent’s recommendation and approved the contract. 

We were never told why this consultant was worth $1000 a day.  Three weeks following the board meeting, we received the requested information.  Some of the information provided should have been discussed by the board.  Now that it’s over, it will never be discussed again.  I am a member of the Hickman Mills School Board and we need to be held accountable for our decisions.  As far as understanding the actions of the board, they don’t make sense.