Fairfield BOE restores math academy

Fairfield Public School's math academy will return to Holland Hill next year after the Board of Education approved the superintendent's recommended budget adjustments Tuesday, May 25

Fairfield Public School’s math academy will return to Holland Hill next year after the Board of Education approved the superintendent’s recommended budget adjustments Tuesday, May 25

File photo / File photo

FAIRFIELD — Math academy will return next year, after it was one of the more controversial cuts to the upcoming year’s budget.

The school board voted to restore the math academy in a split 5-4 decision this week, following two hours of discussion that garnered a lot of praise and scrutiny towards the program.

Math academy is an opportunity for qualifying students to participate in an accelerated mathematics class starting in the fourth grade.

“I was concerned about our ability to support the needs of those students without the program being in place,” said Superintendent Mike Cummings. “With further conversations over the last few weeks, I have solidified my support for reinstating this position.”

The meeting opened with a call-in public comment section where many parents expressed their desire for the math academy to stick around.

One parent told a story about the social, emotional and academic impact that the math academy has made on her son’s life. This parent said he did not want to go to school despite his academic prowess.

Her child felt frustrated and alone, but once he started to attend math academy the gifted classes were the highlight of his week. Being around like-minded students changed her son’s attitude towards school. She said she believes the academy extends beyond learning three years of math in two years; it gives her son an academic and social home.

Another parent also expressed the same sentiment believing that until the board can figure out a clear and systemic path to create a program like this in the elementary school, the board should not end a program that is widely successful and is fulfilling the needs of the children.

The math academy being restored was such a big area of conversation that it even prompted a student already in the math academy to call and voice her opinion. The student relayed that she and her math academy classmates were so upset after hearing the news that they created a petition, designed “Save the Math Academy” posters and created a website.

Cummings said they weren’t able to finish the proper work to integrate the curriculum to the other schools, and so proposed reinstating it during the board meeting.

“When the budget was presented to the board for consideration in January, we had reduced the grade 4 math academy position at Holland Hill with an expectation and understanding that we would be able to complete the necessary work to integrate the math academy curriculum to the other 10 elementary schools,” Cummings said. “We were not able to meet that expectations due to other demands that were put on the staff in response to the pandemic and the different school learning models.”

Some board members disagreed with the desire to reinstate it, pointing to some of its flaws.

Board members questioned how qualified students who don’t decide to leave their home school to attend the program are able to get the advanced math curriculum they should be receiving.

Board member Jeff Peterson, said “this has been a recognized issue since the start of the math academy.”

Cummings and other board members said this is the best option for providing the appropriate curriculum for these students next year.

“I firmly believe that a budget must express the values of the students and the community it serves,” Cummings said. “It will provide direct instruction for the students and provide us the necessary time to support the grade 4 teachers in the district who adopt the math practices and the curriculum necessary.”