Changing the trend in education

Published 5:29 pm Monday, September 1, 2014

After a long summer, students return to Suffolk’s public schools today for another year of learning.

Community members who care about the quality of education they’ll receive are hoping for a year of change on several fronts, not least standardized test scores.

Official Standards of Learning results were released last week, and while the news certainly wasn’t all bad, there is still much room for improvement — and a growing sense of urgency.

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Math improved almost across the board, but was still short of benchmarks and, for end-of-course subjects, statewide averages.

Reading declined in grades three through eight, including an 11-percentage point drop for third grade. The results were below the benchmark and the statewide average.

Other subjects saw mixed results.

Last week, Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis was right to point out that Suffolk in is the same boat as other districts. Right, that is, in terms of meeting or exceeding pass rates in some areas, and continuing to need improvement in others.

But when one looks at how often the pass rates lagged behind the statewide average, it’s clear that public education in Suffolk needs significant improvement. It’s out of kilter with the city’s vast strengths in other areas. As a result of the scores, Superintendent Deran Whitney expects the number of schools missing accreditation will rise from the current six.

Many in the community will also be looking closely at teacher pay. Specifically, they’ll be looking at the results of the upcoming salary study. For many, it will tell us what we already know, and we’ll be more interested to see if the study is acted upon — a question for city leaders, ultimately.

Teacher pay and test scores are linked. Morale is low, and teachers have been leaving the district for better pay for years. This means more teachers with less experience and less familiarity with the unique needs of Suffolk students.

But parenting also plays a huge role, probably a larger one. Efforts by schools to get parents more involved in their children’s education are crucial, and it has been good to witness lots of these over the past couple of years. Clearly, though, more are needed.

Observers will also be looking at the “majority to minority transfer program,” adopted after the Justice Department called into question rezoning plans for the new Pioneer Elementary School, and intended to further desegregate schools.

Will a significant number of families participate in the voluntary program, and will it make any difference to how well students learn?

People who care about education in Suffolk are also eyeing November’s local elections for City Council and School Board seats. After not seeing enough change in local public education, they’re keen to take matters into their own hands at the ballot box.