Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness

I know I said this is a place to distribute information but I am going to digress and give a little opinion editorial on last night’s budget meeting.

Ms. Cornish gave a very detailed, documented presentation of the proposed budget for school year 2009-2010. She took the information of the past five years and found that the average percentage increase is a little over 4.5%. This year the proposed budget is a mere 2.65%. She went on to say how the money has been spent in years past and where the money will be going this year, as well as where significant cuts have been made through the reduction of staff, expenditures and transportation costs. She made great effort through the use of charts to show the results of the money given to the Board of Education. She stated that because of the money infused into the school system, our districts CMT scores have gone up, removing the stigma of the dreaded label“In need of improvement”. This is all well and good. She received applause when the graph was shown. She also showed the trends in the CAPT test given in 10th grade. These scores too, trended upward with the exception of science which was slightly lower last year than the year before last. She acknowledged this stating that in fact, more attention should be given to science BUT it is not reported on NCLB.

This statement made me angry. I walked away from the presentation feeling like my child is a pawn in a much larger political game. I envisioned every child at school with a speech bubble above their head but instead of knowledge, creativity, or musical notes, I saw a giant dollar sign. I feel like my child is not seen as an individual, a child with a mind to develop, inspire and fill with dreams of larger things but merely a means to an end. A good test score and Ms. Cornish can continue to show detailed graphs, compliment herself on a job well done and receive the coveted funding from the state and federal government.

Rather than taking time to play outside, breathe fresh air, paint a picture or read a fantastic story, my third grader has had time taken out of her day twice a week to participate in CMT study groups to teach her strategies to answer a open ended question in a way that will allow a high score. She has taken many writing prompts, brought prompts home for homework and has said to me many times, “I hate writing”. Will the strategies taught in prompt writing apply to creative writing? Yes, they will. However, when does she have time to write creatively? Rather than have a half hour of artistic expression, her art class began last week with a pep talk about what else….the CMTs.

Our children are discouraged from celebrating Halloween in school. Birthdays cannot be celebrated with food. Holidays are frowned upon because of diversity issues. Yet…March comes and music class is dedicated to teaching children K-6 songs such as "Test us Test us we are ready"! A pep rally is held school-wide to promote the school spirit surrounding a standardized test. Letters are sent home to remind parents of what we already know – that our children need a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast not to succeed in school, mind you. No, they need these to perform well on a test. The first day of CMTs was again celebrated with food and drink. Muffins, cereal bars, juice boxes all greated the children at the start of the day. Presumably to catch those few children who may not have had a satisfying-enough breakfast at home. Lastly, during the test items usually confiscated during the day like gum and mints are allowed freely.

To me, all this nonsense surrounding a standardized test implied that our children are not seen as individuals. The almighty CMT test is more important than our children’s birthdays, holidays and personal individualities.

Remember, a test tells the state what our child knows on one specific day. If he or she is having an off day, does that nullify her validity as a student? Does it lower her net worth as a student because she lowered the cumulative score? Does the anxiety the test and teachers cause justify Ms. Cornish praising our significant increases? To me, it does not.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Petition to Remove Carpeting

Today I began the process of collecting signatures from parents/guardians/concerned citizens to show support for funding the Capital Improvement Plan.

At dismissal 23 signatures were collected. I received a few comments about concern of mold and allergens in the carpets. I relayed my conversation with the BOE and my request to the Heath Department for testing but that as of now, no IAQ testing is scheduled. Several other parents commented about children vomiting on the carpeting and asked how frequently the rugs are professionally steam cleaned. I intend to ask Mr. Tony that question. I will post the answer here!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Budget Meeting

There is a very important budget meeting
THURSDAY, MARCH 19th at 7pm at Stratford High School.
Our Board of Ed is asking for a minimal budget increase of 2.5%. Show your support for our children by attending this meeting.

If your child has experienced anything positive that has been funded by the BOE, such as a tutor, or a mentor, laptop education, Spanish instruction, school sports, new white boards in every classroom, instruction on SmartBoards, technology education and more, please send a short email to Ms. Cornish, our Superintendent at cornishi@stratfordk12.org.

The more parents that attend this meeting, the more able we are to show our support for our children's education!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Update

As many Wilcoxson parents know, I have been researching maintenance issues in our school and wondering how they affect the indoor air quality (IAQ) within our school. I have been asked many times to recount my meetings and findings and thought the best way was to keep a blog.
The purpose of this is solely informational and based on my opinions only. It is meant to update on my findings and does not reflect the views and opinions of others.


To bring you all up to date…….my latest concern began in February 2009 when a third grade classroom experienced a leak which led to ceiling tile falling, wet carpeting and a strong odor. Apparently the roof leaked into the upper floor causing the damage. The ceiling tiles were replaced and the carpet was cleaned. The following week, maintenance crews were in school replacing ceiling tiles in the boys downstairs bathroom during school hours. I questioned both times if air quality testing was being performed in the school. Because I was not able to get a clear answer on this I called the Superintendent’s Office. Again, I was not given an answer and was passed to the office of Mr. Bob Swager.

He and I had a conversation regarding safety. I questioned why repairs involving ceiling tiles would take place during school hours. He defined safety as encompassing issues such as ladders, wires and power tools. I countered that as a parent I also define safety as environmental issues. I live in an 80 year old home and would never work on walls or ceilings with my children present to breathe the contaminants that are released whether it be dust, paint chips or mold. I asked him if IAQ would be tested. He passed me on to the Health Department and the Head Sanitarian.

2/25/09

On this date, I met with the Superintendent, Ms. Irene Cornish and Mr. Benjamin Branyan, Chief Operating Officer at the Board of Education.
This is a copy of the letter I brought to this meeting summarizing my concerns:

February 25, 2009

Ms. Cornish,

Thank you for taking this opportunity to discuss my concerns regarding my children’s school, Wilcoxson Elementary.

My concerns initially began when my daughter in 2005-2006 when the All-Purpose Room was being renovated because of a leaking ceiling. Buckets were used to collect water throughout the room. Parents at this time questioned the health of the school and if air quality testing was being done. To my knowledge there was no testing done.

There have been times where I have seen buckets in the main hallway collecting water. There are damaged ceiling tiles in the main downstairs hallway currently. Our school is fully carpeted. Wet carpeting breeds mold. Again, I questioned myself if air quality testing was being done.

Last year, parents approached school administration about the possibility of removing the carpeting from our school to bring it up to conditions of other town schools with tile flooring. Children have tracked in pet feces from the field next to the playground. Children have vomited on the rugs. Mud, dirty and allergens are tracked in to our school daily. When I visually inspected the vacuum that our custodian uses, it did not have any labels for HEPA filtration. When I was teaching in Room 1 this school year for three months, I would have to remove all chairs from the middle of the room as my carpet was routinely not vacuumed in certain areas. Then when the children arrived, they were expected to lie on the carpeting for rest time. When my daughter was a student in Room 1 last year, I opposed this policy of rest time on dirty rugs.

Now my concern is with the ceiling tiles that are breaking on the second floor and being replaced on the first floor. The odor in Mrs. Chacho’s room caused my friends discomfort physically. As recently as the Friday before vacation the odor was still noticeable. Was air quality testing done to determine the cause of the odor? Or was the problem simply covered up with a band-aid of a new tile. Lastly, why is there no policy against performing work that stirs up allergens, like replacing ceiling tiles while students are present? I debated pulling my children from school yesterday because of work taking place during school hours.

As a parent and taxpayer, I would like to see Wilcoxson School brought up to satisfaction environmentally. I would:

· Request that Air Quality/Mold testing be performed
· All carpeting be removed and replaced by tile
· Increased performance levels of our school custodian to include proper vacuuming and cleaning of our building.
· Institute a policy that no repair work be performed inside a school while children are present.

Sincerely,


Jessica Snajder

Our meeting resulted in:
· I was given a list of outstanding maintenance issues for every school in Stratford. On it were 4 repairs involving leaking fixtures.
· The vacuum system used by the maintenance crew is ProTeam with a 99% filtration system, although it is not a HEPA filter.
· Ms. Cornish shares my concern about the carpeting but must hire contractors with money provided by the Town Council. Wilcoxson is on the Stratford Board of Education’s Capital Improvement & Equipment Program for School Improvements, category Replacement of Flooring at Schools, page 7. Funding is proposed for:
§ FY 2010 $100,000
§ FY 2011 $150,000
§ FY 2012 $100,000
However, the Town Council must fund this in order for the Capital Improvements to be made. The cost is so great due to the Asbestos/Abatement process that must be followed. Franklin School had their carpeting replaced over 2 summer vacations.
· The policy of repairs affecting air quality (drywall, ceiling tiles, walls) during school hours would be closely examined.


2/27/09

I called and left a message for the Head Sanitarian on 2/27. She stated that the necessary repairs were made, cleanup was provided and thus, the situation was remedied. Their position is that money was better spent “on remediation rather than to test to see if mold was present”. My outstanding questions are:

1) were the original tiles removed to visually inspect the area in the ceiling?
2) Were the original tiles inspected for evidence of mold?
3) How do you know that the rug is not moldy if no testing was done?
4) How can someone formally request IAQ testing be done?

In the spirit of full disclosure, the Head of the Health Department did return my call and because I was not sure how far I was willing to take this issue, I have not spoken to her directly yet.

3/10/09

Today I met with our Principal to share with her the information I have gathered.
  • The Outcomes:
    In response to the maintenance report: the plumbing issues were resolved over February Vacation with the exception of one bathroom leak.

    We participate in the Indoor Air Quality Program Tools for Schools (TFS) from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but no training has been done this year.

    In regards to the carpeting, I shared that I would like to push the Town Council to fund this project. If I wait for the 5 year plan and hope that money is allotted towards it, my youngest child will be leaving our school. I would like to collect signatures from parents and present these with my support for the removal of carpeting at the appropriate Town Council Meeting (where the focus will be on Capital Budgeting, not Operational Budgets).


    WEBSITES TO VIEW: these are some sites I have found helpful to support my goal of removal of carpeting/improvement of IAQ

    An Act Concerning Indoor Air Quality in Schools Public Act No 03-220 http://www.cga.ct.gov/2003/act/Pa/2003PA-00220-R00HB-06426-PA.htm

    Connecticut Alliance for Healthy and Safe School Buildings
    http://pollutionfreeschools.org/docs/positionstatement2008.pdf

    Carpeting and Children’s Health: How Flooring Decision Can Affect Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality
    www.watoxics.org

    Sick Building Syndrome – Indoor Air Quality
    www.newceilingtiles.com/pages/SBS1.html

    CT Dept of Heath DPH Recommends “Tools for Schools” for Healthy Environment for All Students
    www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?A=3294&Q=415156




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