Support for teachers and year-round schooling were just a few of the topics members of the Dexter community weighed in on Monday at the Dexter District Library.
The group of about 16, which included school board members and parents, were participants in a community conversation facilitated by the Center for Michigan, a think-tank based in Ann Arbor. The forum, co-sponsored by Patch and the library, was one of 250 that will be held this year throughout the state.
Attendees at the forum weighed in on local issues with hand-held voting devices. For instance, when asked if the current pre-K-12 education system offers taxpayers a good return on their investment, 57 percent said they agreed, 7 percent strongly agreed, 21 percent disagreed, and zero percent didn’t feel strongly either way.
For the most part, attendees said they felt more confident in their local school system than the education system statewide. Fifty-three percent voted to give the local public education system a “B” letter grade, while 40 percent scored it an “A” and 6 percent a “D.” By contrast, no one gave the state education system an “A,” 60 percent gave it a “B,” 33 percent a “C” and 6 percent a “D.”
Parent Michael Wendorf said as a state, Michigan is failing 30 to 40 percent of its students.
"By many objective standards, we're not meeting the needs of 70 percent of kids in the state, while in Dexter it appears to be quiet the opposite. Ninety percent or more of our kids are graduating on time and are motivated. I see that through kids I know, and anecdotally through my own kids who have gone through the system."
While many questions gauged participants’ feelings toward their schools, other questions presented by moderator Amber Toth of the Center for Michigan touched on more dramatic revamps to the education system, such as year-round schooling to keep students engaged during the summer.
"Changing the academic calendar is a national issue," resident John Hansen said. "If you change the academic calendar in Michigan and other states don't change, you are wasting your time."
One audience participant suggested the state allow schools to test different pilot programs to develop data in order to form a concrete argument of benefits to students.
On holding teachers accountable for student success, the group was mixed, with 53 percent voting in favor of accountability.
Superintendent Mary Marshall cautioned the prospect of holding teachers accountable based on standardized test scores, which she said is only one variable to measure academic growth.
Wendorf agreed, comparing accountability to an ice cream man who has infinite funds to purchase the best ingredients for his product.
"Public educational systems don't have that luxury. We take all the blueberries — the bruised ones, the small ones, the plump ones, the ones that are dried out — and is it fair to hold a teacher accountable when they have students who don't fit the ripest or juiciest of students and are laboring in classrooms with a whole variety of kids?
"I'm not sure how holding someone accountable for how every kid in a particular classroom does on a standardized test is an accurate way to reflect a teacher's skills."
Parent Chris Gordon said he would like to see more collaborative efforts among teachers.
"We need to find ways to encourage a colllaborative environment, for new teachers in particular, who can then work with more experienced teachers in the district rather than look outside the district for professional help," he said.
To see a complete breakdown of how Dexter parents voted, read our previous story online.