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Letter to the Editor: Wissahickon SB Member's Response to Mattison Ave Vote

School Board Member Marjorie A. Brown explains her reasons for supporting the elementary school closure.

 

I made the following statement at the January 14, 2013 meeting of the Wisshickon Board of School Directors regarding the closure of Mattison Avenue Elementary School.  I present it here to better inform the community of my reasons for supporting closure of the school.

            First, I want to thank the many parents, students, teachers and community members who have taken the time to attend our Board meetings, write letters and emails, and express their views on this important issue.  Your opinions and the information you have provided to us have been a very important part of this process.

            As school directors, our task is to make decisions based upon what we believe is in the best interest of all members of the Wissahickon community.  Our decisions are driven by our three Board goals: (1) maximizing the academic achievement of all Wissahickon students, (2) closing the achievement gap, and (3) operating District facilities and programs with maximum efficiency and accountability.

            From a financial perspective, the decision to close MA is an easy one.  We have excess building capacity.  At this time, Mattison Avenue Elementary only services 177 students.  Our 4 other elementary schools can easily absorb 400 additional students without impacting current District class size guidelines.  The Mattison building is not ADA compliant – various improvements will be needed to accommodate disabled individuals if the school remains open, including installing an elevator and a chair lift.  Renovations of at least $3.4 million will be necessary, with complete renovations costing $7 million  . . . All this to benefit 177 students who could be placed elsewhere.  Even fully renovated, the physical limitations of the building and building site prevent students at Mattison from experiencing some of the activities conducted at the other elementary schools.  Closing the building could yield a savings of approximately $3.4 million, which could then be applied to other District needs.  There would also be recurring annual savings from closing the building.

            But we know this is not just a financial issue.  It is also an educational issue and a community issue.  Educationally as a District, we seek to provide “equality of program” to all students in all of our classrooms.  In other words, we strive to ensure that all Wissahickon students benefit from the same programs, the same resources, and similar educational experiences.  In my opinion, the students who attend Mattison do not receive the best educational experience Wissahickon can offer them.  There are, I believe, 3 reasons for this. 

            First, the grade span and building limitations place restrictions on the educational programs, activities and enhancements that can be offered at that school.  Second, the transition from 3rd grade to 4th grade is disruptive, both educationally and socially, because the Mattison students are being transitioned into a K-5 setting where relationships have already been established.  This is disruptive, not only for students from Mattison, but for students at Shady Grove as well.  And finally, although not mentioned in the Administration’s presentation, but known to those of us (like myself) who have received formal training to be educators, our public education system today, in fact current educational theory at its core, emphasizes the need for heterogeneous ability grouping in the classroom to maximize student learning.  Stated differently, classrooms today are purposely designed to group together in every classroom students who possess a wide range of different academic abilities.  The intended result is improved performance of all students at all ability levels.  This principle is the cornerstone of our education system today. 

            To accomplish this, a large enough population of students is needed in each grade level at each school from which students of different abilities can be assigned to each classroom.  The small student population at Mattison makes it difficult, if not virtually impossible, to accomplish successful heterogeneous ability grouping.  This is supported by performance data from that school.  The situation can be remedied, and higher academic achievement for all Mattison students as a group can be achieved, by having the students who now attend Mattison transfer to a larger elementary school.

            I recognize that closing Mattison will negatively impact the Ambler community.  The transportation issues that have been raised are a real concern, but there is a solution.  This Board can . . . and should . . . direct the Administration to establish a system, free of charge, for transporting parents who lack other means of transportation to the elementary school their children attend during key school events and activities.    Head Start, which is funded by the federal government and operated by the County, not the District, is a very worthwhile program.  And although Wissahickon has no control over the future continuation or elimination of that program, this Board can . . . and should . . . direct the Administration to take whatever steps it can to facilitate the relocation of the Head Start program to another facility in the Ambler community. 

            The appeal of a walkable school is strong and I know this is what many in the Ambler community desire.   Twelve years ago while serving on this Board, I voted to keep Mattison Avenue Elementary open because I believed, at that time, a small community school was the optimal learning environment for students.  But today is a new day.  We now see from examining District data not previously available that small community schools are not the answer and that Mattison students would be better served in a larger, more academically diverse school.  Even though some members of the Ambler community prefer to maintain the status quo, I cannot in good conscience endorse it. 

                                Marjorie A. Brown, Member, Wisssahickon School Board

John Eric Schneider January 18, 2013 at 09:46 PM
I applaud school director Brown for recognizing that closing Mattison will negatively impact the Ambler community. What she failed to mention was, in part the decision to close was based on a hermeneutical process as applied to the cultural evolution of the microcosm of a society living in a 'declining Ambler boro' surrounded by a more affluent population living in Whitpain and Lower Gwynedd. In plain English, this is called discrimination; and the school board may have violated section 5 of the ‘1965 Voting Rights Act’ since the current board calling for closure of Mattison, had no elected representatives living within Ambler boro’s limits; leaving the question, was the vote to close legally valid or not? As Ms. Brown further points out, the idea of tradition, progress and finance intertwined happily around the fulcrum of a quality education is not a new idea. Somehow though her premise is lost in the notion that a municipality as large as Ambler, having a fluid population will be left without an elementary school that has a safe walking distance for small children of the boro. Lunacy. Perhaps the board’s energy would better be spend creating an overall strategic plan that would show a better balance between capital expenditures, day to day cost overruns, general maintenance, and salaries. A plan that would include the needs of all communities within the districts limits helping to define a strategy based upon the best direction for taxpayers and students.
andthatsthetruth January 18, 2013 at 10:36 PM
The reason why Ms. Brown voted differently years ago is because the School Board had already removed part of Ambler Boro from Mattison Avenue to attend Lower Gwynedd and now forgot that they had removed them. Thus if this population number was a problem, they should have been reverted back to Mattison to complete the deficit problem. OR ENHANCED KINDERGARTEN ENROLLMENT to continue Mattisons population problems. NO Brainer! The government had provided funds to upgrade schools to standard for disabilities. Where did that grant go? Head Start is not a taxi cab service. What are you thinking? And as for providing transportation to Shady Grove to view plays or other outstanding things that their child is doing will not go over with me as well as others. Are you providing our/my transportation also? Paying out of your pocket? How can you speak for the administration about transportation? Ms. Brown, I realize at this point after reading all this stuff, as well as hearing it, you feel a bit of remorse for your vote. It's too late. And to justify what you have done needs to be resolved from the government level where the charges are coming from. No one can help bale you out nor would they want to.
Wendy Flickinger January 19, 2013 at 12:36 AM
I also find her premise condescending that parents only desire or are deemed worthy enough to attend select, school-wide functions. Whatever happened to classroom volunteering, book fairs in the library, cultural sharing, etc? Parental involvement on an individual and personal level is now totally eliminated for a huge segment of the Ambler population! Hasn't the Board read the research which clearly states parental involvement is the #1 factor to a student's success? Regardless of what Mr. Park rambled about his family's sacrifices when he was young, much of the Ambler population is pedestrian and wants to be involved. This is why they chose a small town lifestyle instead of a vehicle-dependent township lifestyle. This is the sacrifice they made for their kids and six Board members have declared this invalid.
Liz Kunzier January 19, 2013 at 01:25 PM
We, the residents of Ambler borough have no representation on the school board. We can’t cry about it now; we fell asleep at the wheel. We had faith in the people that were elected, we had no choice. Marge Brown said she voted to keep Mattison open the last time they attempted to close it, sure she did – there were representatives from Ambler sitting beside her at that table last time; not anymore. It is a new day indeed. They don’t want to hear from us, or our representatives. They: be-littled Todd Stevens, and never responded to Senator Greenleaf’s multiple attempts to reach them, and completely ignored Mary Aversa , Mayor Bud Wahl, and County planning commission. They won’t listen to us and they won’t listen to you; unless you agree with them. The school board is a little monarchy controlled by one particular group. We haven’t had our taxes raised in quite a while, and for that they are very proud. Well, that ship has sailed. We are getting a new high school. It’s going to cost over a 100 million. The school board can get a loan without involving the community. But we will have to pay it back- it, and all of the other improvements topping 65 million . This has nothing to do with education or educating the whole community or even the best utilization of our tax dollars. This is a plan. While our school community is pre-occupied with in fighting and back biting over whether closing this little school is worth it - they plow through with their agenda
T Graefe January 19, 2013 at 03:52 PM
Rest assured that the WSD Admin. is moving full speed ahead with their plans for a new H.S. using the same architect and engineering firms as UD. As a mother of 3 young children I am all for M.S. & H.S. renovations that they will benefit from. The problem is that there seems to be no solid plan in place for how this will all be financed and paid back. I do not trust that our Business Administrator, Wade Coleman, will make fiscally responsible decisions. He is the former Business Administrator of UD and was the one in charge of building their new H.S. Anyone who reads the paper can see the price the UD residents are paying for their new H.S. In the end it is the students that will ultimately suffer, in the form of budget cuts, if our school board does not start setting limits for this Administration.
Kimberly January 20, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Ms Brown states that "classrooms today are purposely designed to group together in every classroom students who possess a wide range of different academic abilities. The intended result is improved performance of all students at all ability levels. This principle is the cornerstone of our education system today." Then please explain why in Shade Grove Elementary, all the learning support and gifted children are placed in two classrooms per grade. This does not sound like the description of "current educational theory at its core," nor an "'equality of program' to all students in all of our classrooms." Shady Grove has the highest capacity of our elementary schools. If this heterogeneous teaching environment is not in use there, why should we believe it will exist anywhere?
penllynjohn January 24, 2013 at 08:02 PM
Elimination by distance,forcing the Latinos and African-Americans of West Ambler to leave the Wissahickon School District and relocate their poverty families in other School Districts where the grade schools are closer, or be uninvolved with their kids ,day to day, because Shady Grove is too far, is both racially discriminatory and inhumane. It seems designed to get WSD's Middle and High School PSSAT scores up in 10 years, by forcing out the WSD poverty population,thus raising scores by eliminating the low scoring families. Great education never has been about new buildings. This WSD Board majority has gone much too far and should be voted out. I also am starting to question what sort of human values prevail in WSD administrative positions.

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