Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Paraeducators are awesome!

Dear Board members,

My daughter has been a student at Running Brook Elementary for almost six years and will attend Wilde Lake Middle School this fall.

The proposed budget reallocates Para-Educators positions next year, in addition to increasing class sizes. I am troubled to find out that a core part of her great experience at Running Brook is being diminished.  When she entered kindergarten, she had the benefit of two college-educated parents who were able to supplement her wonderful preschool experience. Having volunteered in her kindergarten class, I know that not every student comes to kindergarten with those advantages. As I volunteered over the past few years, I saw firsthand how each grade needs its individual paraeducators. Kindergarten and first grade are the foundations of the rest of public education. Paraeducators are not a want, they are a need for this population.

Despite not being certified in education, they are well-educated people, many with bachelor’s degrees, and assist teachers in so many ways. These team members facilitate smaller groups and more individualized instruction for those who need extra help. They are the unsung heroes of every classroom team, although I believe Running Brook does do a great job of recognizing our amazing paraeducators.

People of my parents’ generation often say to me “We had 40 kids in our classes when we were young.” But that was a different classroom without inclusion of multiple cognitive levels and the emotional and socioeconomic factors we encounter today. Paraeducators are able to contribute amongst three or four classrooms in the same grade without disruption to the room. Positions should not be reduced from current levels. This proposal is not a spreading of resources; rather, it is a stretching of already tight resources.

Another concern that has become clear over the past few years is the lack of respect for teachers in our system. The adversarial system is supposed to operate in our legal system, not our educational system. These one-year contracts, programs like the Elementary School Model and disrespect for fine arts teachers and paraeducators are driving teachers away, whether to other counties or other professions.  

Please consider that our current status as a great school system is rooted in decisions made several years ago. Those policies have been working. Adding additional proven programs is fine, but not at the expense of ones that have a proven track record.

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