Recent changes in the school calendar and a reduction of co-curricular activities, including field trips, caused some alarm with a few parents at Westview Elementary.
In an official statement issued by the Excelsior Springs School District, school officials said they made the changes to shift focus back on their student’s core education.
“ESSD made changes this year to our calendar to focus more on core instructional time,” the statement said. “We eliminated early out Wednesdays, modified start and end times, and made a commitment to work on improving our student achievement which needs to improve. We shortened the school year in days but added instructional time within each week. In doing so, we are taking a closer look at time spent out of the classroom to ensure that student learning is kept at the forefront of any decisions made. All requests involving students’ co-curricular activities will continue to be evaluated as we see how our new calendar provides for the best learning environment possible.”
Laura Blevins, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Excelsior Springs, has children who attend Westview Elementary and spoke of her concerns of eliminating field trips. She said concerns expressed by some of the parents include the district’s removal of organized field trips in the shortened school year. Also, she said many parents express concern over the district’s lower than average Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores.
Assistant Superintendent Aerin O’Dell said she began working on curriculum consistency throughout the district when she joined the district last year.
“A lot of it comes down to just having a consistent curriculum; that is, teaching what they say they’re going to be teaching,” she said.
O’Dell said the district must also focus on the core academic areas that will appear on the MAP tests. While a teacher may be providing exceptional instruction to their students, she said, if the curriculum does not include the tested content, the students will not score well on the academic achievement tests.
The district currently researches the data provided by MAP test scores to fill any gaps, O’Dell said.
As district officials look through the data received by MAP testing scores, they look for strengths and weaknesses. When they find gaps in the curriculum, she said they look for possible resources to fill those gaps.
The district employs good teachers and administrators, she said. With the correct support, she said she believes things can improve.
The district also began using their instructional coaches differently. While each school will use their coach in their building, the district currently works to specialize each coach in different academic areas. One coach, for example, works to become an expert in math to better assist teachers to instruct math to their students. One instructional coach will focus on providing assistance to teachers new to the field.
One area that still needs improvement, O’Dell said, involves attendance. If students do not attend class, they cannot learn the academic skills needed to succeed.
Blevins said many parents want to remain positive and work through their issues with the school district. She said research shows how school field trips help mold children into well-rounded adults. While she will make sure her children learn about art and history by attending the symphony, Blevins said, other parents may not have the same resources.
After speaking to her children’s school principal, Blevins said she learned how administrators plan to bring field trip activities to their students. This may include a mobile zoo or authors brought in through the Scholastic program.
Deputy Superintendent Jaret Tomlinson said a recent change in Missouri state law prompted the calender change. Before, the law required students to be in class a certain number of days. Now, the law requires a certain amount of hours. The district removed the early release on Wednesday and made some other small changes to develop the new calendar. The district presented different calendar options to a committee formed of teachers and school staff. This committee, he said, chose the shorter school year.
Because of the shorter school year, Tomlinson said the district must take a closer look to time students spend out of classrooms.
“Field trips will be evaluated on a case by case basis,” he said. “We just need to make sure we are more deliberate with who is going where and how it helps students learn. I think everyone can agree that we don’t want to see resources spent on areas that don’t really help students learn more. With fewer days in our calendar, everyone will need to be more conscious of days out of the classroom.”
O’Dell said parents can assist in their children’s education by being supportive and proactive. They can read to their children at home or communicate with their teachers regarding what assistance their child may need.
“I just think that we need to be together on helping our kids be successful and not at odds,” she said.
Blevins said she agrees and believes parents should take an active role in their children’s education by volunteering with the schools. Parents should simply call their building administrator to see what needs to be done.
With all the changes, Blevins said parents and teachers should work together for the education of their children.
“I just feel like it’s super important that we all work together,” Blevins said. “My family and I are committed to Excelsior Springs and we want the schools to be the best that they can be. Yes, we have concerns about test scores and buildings, but for now, the principals are doing a great job explaining what is going on.”