Sept. 23, 2009: In an effort to prepare for what is likely to be a painful 2010-11 budget process, the Bronxville Board of Education is considering the strengths and weaknesses of each of the district's three schools.
The first to be examined is the Bronxville Elementary School. At the board's Sept. 17 meeting, Principal Thomas Wilson and Assistant Principal Heidi Menzel provided an overall snapshot of the school's programs, successes, and innovations.
The presentation and follow-up questions by board members dominated the meeting. "We want to identify the programs and services that make the most difference," with an eye toward painful choices that might lie ahead, said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Quattrone in introducing the speakers. "The goal [of the presentation] is to help us frame the right questions, not come up with definitive answers."
Wilson noted that administrators have strategically deployed faculty, especially in special education, to handle increased numbers of students. "Staffing levels have not increased," he said, although enrollment is up. This attempt to make do with fewer dollars is part of a "conscious effort on the part of administrators to economize." Indeed, he pointed out, the school's overall budget has decreased by $32,000 since 2004.
Menzel introduced the school's academic offerings, centered on core topics-reading, math, science, social studies, and others. She also described professional development initiatives among the faculty, ranging from training on electronic SMART Boards to book clubs about teaching-oriented books.
Elementary school students operate on a six-day cycle and a "divided session" schedule that splits classes up for certain subjects, thereby enhancing interaction between students and teachers. Many faculty serve as curriculum leaders and team leaders, and all take part in at least one of five curriculum committees.
The school has adopted "pacing guides" to ensure uniform instruction across grade levels, and has chosen a single math textbook series for consistency as students progress from grade to grade.
Menzel called attention to the fact that students in all grades spend time in science laboratories learning how to conduct experiments and write lab reports. In addition to the core courses, elementary school students also take classes in art, foreign languages, library and media arts (including computers), music, and physical education. According to Wilson, this year the school will pilot a "social-emotional curriculum" which covers bullying, problem solving, and conflict resolution.
Wilson also pointed out some of the elementary school's "value-added" attributes. These include an after-school program which serves more than 500 students at no cost to the district, a before-school program (also at no cost to the district) that serves about 80 students from kindergarten through fifth grade, student government, and before-school music performance and computer keyboarding classes. Administrators, he said, aim for "creative use of professional time" to conserve resources.
Board member Pierre de Saint Phalle subtly hinted at the board's real reason for learning more about each school, asking the administrators what one thing they would like to add, and what one thing they could also live without, if needed. "Of all the things we do in the elementary school, the thing we may do least well is allocate the budget effectively," responded Wilson. "We have to be much more practical about linking the money we have to the programs we offer."
In answer to a question from Board President Richard Rugani about the value of the elementary school's foreign language program, Wilson said that students, who had taken advantage of it, found learning languages in upper grades easier, and also that it tied in to the district's goal of preparing students to live in a multicultural society.
Board member Thomas Kenney suggested that administrators home in on specific targets for the budget process, such as how they might react to a 5% or 10% cut in funding. "I'm expecting we're going to simulate a 0% budget," agreed Quattrone. But actually, commented board member Tibisay Guzman, "This year we may have to start at below 10%."
Enrollment and Class Size: Quattrone provided an unofficial update on enrollment numbers. As of Sept. 17, the school had a total of 1,542 students enrolled; this number will not be finalized until Oct. 1. Enrollment in the elementary school was up 5% while enrollment in the upper schools was down slightly. In addition, Quattrone said, class sizes appeared consistent with previous years, averaging 20.8 in the elementary school, 18.9 in the middle school, and 19.3 in the high school.
Rugani questioned whether the board ought to re-evaluate its class-size guidelines. "That would be in the best interest of all three schools," said Wilson, "even if it's a reinvestment in what's already written." Though the elementary school has never exceeded these guidelines, it has "hit the ceiling a couple of times," he said. For example, this year the elementary school has no room to accept any tuition students.
Picutured here: Elementary School Principal Thomas Wilson, and Assistant Principal Heidi Mendal discussing the Elementary School at the Sept. 17 School Board Meeting.
Photo by Meredith Matthews