By Jane Weinkrantz
The following article is intended as an examination of the Board of Education's and the district administration's current priorities. It is not meant in any way as a criticism of PCT members who volunteer their time to participate in the district Wellness Committee and who have made the the health and well-being of our students their careers.
When PCT members were told last month that they would be required to attend four hours of staff development on the topic of wellness, the reaction was a predictable incredulity. It is a given that no one loves staff development, although it is also a given that we agreed to eighteen hours of it per school year. It is even clear that the district can proscribe a certain amount of mandatory staff development, but to prescribe four hours on the topic of wellness? Most of the teachers I know found the subject irrelevant and the mandate offensive.
Apparently, the origin of this dictum is the 2006-2007 Board of Education goal, which is "Wellness." I am not sure how or why a stated goal is even necessary, but the field of education is pre-occupied with goals and aims. Almost all of my readers are conversant with the teacherís aim which is supposed to identify the topic and objective of the lesson and to appear on the blackboard daily. (My favorite aim ever was displayed by a now-retired social studies teacher; in huge letters above her blackboard was a banner. It read, "Aim: What happened?") So maybe goals are just bigger aims. Who knows?
Anyway, I did a little research into the goals of other Boards of Education and I think we can do better than wellness. Here are some sample goals from Boards across the country:
- Increase student attendance from its current level to 96.5%.
- Make the district efficient, logical, stable and continuous.
- Develop a system of checks and balances between the Board of Education, the Accounts Manager, the Superintendent and the town to establish fiscal support and success.
- Improve public support and confidence in schools.
While wellness sounds like a nice idea, it doesnít seem as educationally oriented as the examples above. And even if the Board is committed to the idea of wellness, why start with the faculty? Does this mean the Boardís goals are really, "All faculty members will have a body fat percentage below 20% for women and 15% for men?", "Faculty members will quit smoking and consume no more than one glass of red wine per evening--- and that glass is strictly to prevent heart disease?" and "Faculty members will increase the amount of fiber in their diets?" If it is the wellness of the children we have in mind, wouldnít planning assemblies on the subject have been more appropriate? Perhaps the district could enlist the help of the PTA in securing guest speakers who deal with wellness-oriented topics to speak to parents? Perhaps we could encourage our students to get eight hours of sleep per night, a novelty for many of the students whose goal is super-achievement. Maybe a review of cafeteria food, the production of which would surely come to an abrupt halt if the deep fryer were to break, is in order. After all, is the curly fry really a necessary food group for healthy bodies?
If the content of this staff development appeared, at best, beside the point and at worst, intrusive, to the teachers of Plainview-Old Bethpage, the mandatory nature of it (and the other mandatory staff development assigned to specific departments) seems needlessly punitive. The required staff development sessions are given only once in the school year with no plans for make-ups. In other words, should staff development fall on a Tuesday, whether you are taking a graduate class on Tuesday or have no child care on Tuesdays or tutor to support your family on Tuesday or take your sick parent to the doctor on Tuesday, that is just too bad. Wellness waits for no man.
Of course, one might argue that the stress of scrambling to make it to these one-shot only staff development courses could detract from oneís wellness. One might even think that not having a teacherís contract in place for the upcoming school year could cause considerable stress for the entire district, not to mention the tension and anxiety generated by fear of potential job actions or a strike. So if the Board of Education were to ask me what I thought the goal for the upcoming school year should be, I would tell them that negotiating a fair and equitable contract with the PCT would be the best goal possible. As for the Board of Educationís touching concern for my wellness, all I can say is, "Fine, thanks. How are you?"
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