Issues in Education
Modern schools are complex institutions facing a myriad of issues. School Board Directors are most effective when they are well-versed in these issues. Karen's long-term involvement in public schools is a true benefit to her role as a School Board Director. Check back soon to learn more about Karen's thoughts on some of these issues or reach out to Karen with any questions you may have.
While we have noted a slight reduction in standardized test scores since the pandemic, our teachers and administrators have worked diligently, using data, to identify students who are struggling. These students have been provided with additional resources and are making progress. I will continue to support the resources requested by our administration to assist these students.
Educational research indicates that a focus on the whole child, including social-emotional wellness, is as important as academic resources when addressing learning loss. For example, an elementary student who was frustrated by a math topic might benefit more from a lesson in dealing with anger or dealing with anxiety, rather than an additional math lesson.
Finally, I will note that the board majority's focus on culture war issues over the past 2 years have distracted the district from our core mission of academics. When I am re-elected I will return the focus to our core mission of educating students.
Over and over again in recent years we hear about student mental health. It has become a constant refrain on today's youth. In my own family we have struggled to help my youngest son with mental health issues. There are very few people who understand the impact mental health can have on a child's education as I do.
What is most helpful to a student struggling with anxiety or depression, for example, is having someone available to work through the emotions in the moment. Too often we are unable to respond to students when they need it. Don't get me wrong; I understand school districts can't provide counselors on call to all students.
But Central Bucks was significantly behind other districts in mental health staffing. In my first term I was proud to support the addition of three social workers, one per cluster. Social workers can provide therapy but also work to assist families to find community resources for mental health supports. Unfortunately, our community resources often have long wait times.
During this school year, we approved the hiring of a mental health counselor for each middle school. The 3 social workers will continue to provide therapy at the high schools. While this is a significant improvement over the past, we still have a ways to go. Some districts use support staff positions called Registered Behavior Technicians or Climate Specialists to provide additional mental health support to students. In my next term I would like to explore this option.
A social emotional wellness program is also an extremely important part of the solution for mental health. Students need to learn coping mechanisms, how to manage emotions, how to recognize signs in their behavior of when to ask for help. While I understand this is not in the traditional reading-writing-arthimetic curriculum, neither are social media or online interactions. Today's youth face many new stressors and it is important we work to provide students the tools to handle these issues.
When I am re-elected, our student's mental health will remain an important priority for me as I truly understand the tremendous impact mental health can have on learning.
While I can understand the desire for a test which makes it easy to compare all students in one state, I have never been a fan of standardized tests. A standardized test is not the most accurate measure of what a student knows and is able to do. It is a snapshot on one day, and is very restrictive in the types of assessment. Educators across the globe agree that standardized tests are not useful in guiding their work. When the test results come back in the next school year, how can a teacher use that information to help their students?
Performance based assessments are much more accurate in demonstrating to teachers exactly what their students know and are able to do, and where they may need more instruction. These assessments also allow for all types of learners to perform well on tests. The results are available to our teachers quickly and can be used to re-direct instruction.
School choice sounds like an appropriate solution for schools that are struggling. Every child deserves a good education, and why shouldn't we allow parents to choose a different school if their local school isn't performing well? Because there are never enough spaces in the charter school or the private schools for all of the students in the under performing school.
School choice, or vouchers as the program is sometimes called, does nothing to correct the issues with struggling schools. Some students may be able to move to a better school, but what about all the students left in the struggling school? We need solutions for these students, families and schools that help everyone, and not just a select few.
Central Bucks is a very good district and school choice is not a significant issue here, but it is often a national education topic so I wanted to include it for that reason.
School Resource Officers
I support the use of school resource officers, and I voted for the one at CB South last year. I do think they are an important part of a robust school safety program.
Currently, the district is in a planning stage to expand the program to CB East and CB West. I have not made any public comments either for or against expanding SROs at East or West. Like many board decisions, I would need the contract details before committing. I think you would agree it’s important to fully understand the implications of a decision before a vote.
I do feel a comprehensive training program for SROs is very important and would want to see these details included in a proposal.
The Superintendent's New Contract
I made the following comments at the board meeting before the vote on the Superintendent's new contract.
"I could not quite believe my eyes when I received our copy of the agenda for tonight’s meeting and read the line about this contract….because that was the first time I was hearing about a potential new contract. The board majority made this decision outside of the public eye without the involvement of the entire board and regardless of whether or not there was discussion, these actions violate the intention of the sunshine act.
The most grievous part of this proposed contract, however, is not that it was shrouded in secrecy. It’s the absolutely grotesque salary increase… when the district is struggling desperately to retain and attract employees at every level. Particularly support staff. We have over 100 support staff positions open currently.
We worked as a board during contract negotiations to keep increases for all staff at a similar number, around 2.5%. Yet this is an increase of 40%... $90,000….a raise that is more than most of our teachers earn in total….for a position that is already at market value.
There is no rationale that makes this level of increase acceptable. It’s insulting to all of our staff. If we can’t afford an employee within the reasonable, market-value salary parameters we have set, and that employee wants to leave, there’s the door."
Central Bucks is one of the four districts which make up MBIT, or the Middle Bucks Institute of Technology. MBIT provides vocational education opportunities for students in grades 10-12. MBIT students attend either CB East, South or West for half the day and are then bussed to MBIT for the other half of their school day. You can see all of MBIT program offerings here.
I was proud to serve as one of the 3 Central Bucks representatives to MBIT for 6 years. I learned so much about all the wonderful options to students there, and my son eventually attended MBIT. Did you know that 70 percent of MBIT do go on to attend college or pursue additional training? Or that by taking 2 classes through BCCC and MBIT students can bypass two years of college and matriculate as juniors at select PA colleges? Such a cost savings!! MBIT offers students many additional pathways to pursue their goals.
Enrollment at MBIT is currently at a peak which is wonderful to see. Please encourage any 8th or 9th grade students you know to explore the options at MBIT! In my third term I will continue to support the growth of this valuable educational opportunity.
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