Testimony of Zoe Rooney to the Board of Education, August 15, 2019

Topics: Extended School Year; Transparency & Communication

My name is Zoe Rooney, and I am an educator and parent of two children in the district.

I was hoping to speak to you tonight about transparency & communication, but as usual there are other pressing issues concerning me and other parents and educators, so I’m going to start with some thoughts on Extended School Year instead.

The last time I spoke to you about ESY, I told you about the traumatic experience my son had in 2018. I can report that this year, he attended ESY back at JB Kelly School and had a more positive experience without the trauma of the previous summer.

The logistics were marginally better in terms of drop off and pick up, and I cannot say enough positive things about many of the staff members he encountered, especially the supportive services staff and the many paraprofessionals who know him from various classrooms in previous years and enthusiastically greet him by name every time they see him.

Unfortunately, that’s about all that I can say positively about ESY.

It was a better summer, for sure, but not causing trauma is a horrifyingly low bar.

As you may hear from others, the actual substance of ESY is still highly problematic.

I am fairly certain all of the provisions of my son’s IEP weren’t met.

I know that the curriculum is not individualized, where curricula is even provided.

I know that the teachers were provided with little to no resources, that students were served unthawed frozen food for breakfast and lunch on multiple occasions, and that rosters were ridiculously high and classes were combined with students with significantly different needs crammed in the same classroom.

Parents don’t even know this is happening in many cases, since many students attending ESY aren’t able to communicate their experiences, and there is no communication coming home from the schools.

The district likes to talk about low attendance, but how exactly do they expect parents who work to make a three day per week half day program with no before or after care work for their families?

This program is set up for failure, and that failure is harming the students who most need support and are least equipped to share what is wrong. This is immoral and it needs to be fixed.

I hesitate to change topics now, because I feel like it dilutes the message about ESY, but I also want to briefly address transparency and communication.

Trying to communicate with this district and this Board as a parent and community member is an exercise in frustration.

As you’ve heard from others many times, the meeting materials online are often incomplete even up to the day of meetings, and not all materials are provided even after.

It’s hard to know in advance what’s going to be discussed with enough time to get involved, particularly for those of us with children and work schedules to accommodate.

There’s also such a rapid turnaround between when things are introduced in committee meetings to when votes happen that it is hard to meaningfully engage, and with only a week between some meetings in the fall schedule, that’s going to get worse.

There is also limited follow through and communication with written requests and testimony.

What happens to written testimony? Who reads it? Is there any process or system for ensuring and tracking follow up?

Right now, it often seems like communication to the district or to the Board goes out into the void, with emails that go entirely unanswered and unacknowledged.

Trust needs to be built between this Board, this district, and the families and communities who it is supposed to be serving, and to do that meaningful improvements need to be made to transparency and communication.