Fairfield teachers speak up at Board of Education Town Hall meeting
FAIRFIELD — The Board of Education’s fifth Town Hall-style meeting welcomed members of the public to express concerns and ask questions of the board last week, but it was primarily Fairfield teachers who took the opportunity for public comment.
Of the seven speakers last Thursday, Dec. 14, five were Fairfield Public School teachers. They spoke on topics ranging from the addition of an entry-level algebra course for incoming high school freshmen, rethinking the ways in which students and teachers are evaluated, and the termination of a short-lived board subcommittee.
“This must be the night of the teachers,” Fairfield Woods social studies teacher Frank Sahagian began, before criticizing the data-driven ways in which teachers’ performance evaluations are conducted.
“You can’t measure art. That’s just the way it is.” Sahagian said, advocating for more anecdotal research to evaluate educators and less emphasis placed on metrics like test scores. “Ask teachers, is this process improving your performance? Not only that, is it helping students?”
In response to the creation and quick dissolution of the board’s Ad Hoc Operational Effectiveness Committee — which was to include town representatives, Board of Education members, teachers, parents and students to look at school facilities and budget priorities — Fairfield Warde math teacher and Fairfield Education Association President Robert Smoler voiced concerns that school staff now had limited ways of participating in creating goals for the district.
“I think part of the frustration for many of us is, working in the school system, we have all this ideation taking place but there’s nothing to bounce it off of to say that it’s in the right direction or not,” Smoler said.
In a prepared statement, Fairfield Warde English teacher John Whaley implored the board to do away with grades at Fairfield Public Schools and put a greater emphasis on more meaningful learning experiences.
“Fairfield Public Schools should be the transformative catalyst for this new pedagogical paradigm in our county, in our state, and in our region,” Whaley said.
Board members, while mostly agreeing in theory with Whaley, were not convinced.
“You’re swimming upstream in a world that has become infatuated with grades and numbers,” Board of Education Chairman Philip Dwyer said. “If we were to go to an ungraded school system we would be an outlier by a country mile.”
In what was the fifth Town Hall-style meeting hosted by the Board of Education, beginning in 2015, Dwyer said the content of questions asked by those who spoke were of greater educational significance than at meetings past.
“This is not the first, but the first Town Hall meeting where issues of educational substance have been asked about more than individual management issues if you will,” Dwyer said at the close of the meeting.