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Letter: Support Advanced Learning Opportunities As Alternative to Redistricting

The creators of the Advanced Learning Opportunities program say this alternative to redistricting addresses capacity issues as well as offers a challenging curriculum.

The recent redistricting dilemma prompted us to seize the opportunity to offer a NEW alternative to redistricting. Our Advanced Learning Opportunities program (ALO) is a voluntary and flexible school assignment model, which addresses current and future capacity issues, AND provides equal access to a challenging curriculum.

An ALO program solves the problem by getting critical masses of children to the identified schools, without the need for redrawing district borders. The program ALSO addresses another issue, which is providing equity of opportunities for challenge for children who demonstrate readiness. A recent NY Times Op-Ed piece written by Chester Finn, a former US Assistant Secretary of Education, states:

”Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity. But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools. They depend on public education to prepare them for life. Yet that system is failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys.

Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we’ve failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.”

According to 2012 MCAS scores, more than 55% of Winchester children achieved a score of “Advanced,” and “demonstrate a comprehensive and rigorous understanding of in-depth subject matter and provide sophisticated solutions to complex problems.” An ALO program for those children who test sufficiently and demonstrate readiness, will allow the district to provide this population with the opportunity to excel.

The program has built-in flexibility, allowing the district to adapt the qualification criteria on a year-by-year, and school-by-school basis, thus responding to the current need for redistricting problem, now, and in the future.

We will expand the application of block scheduling (scheduling several grade levels for math and English at the same time), and multi-age classrooms more equitably in the Town. For example, Lincoln has a successful and sought after multi-age classroom, and Ambrose’ offers block scheduling for some math. The ALO program will utilize the same curriculum that is currently used throughout the district, and children will all participate in the same field trip, access the same specialists, etc.

Further, while simply redrawing borders in the town may solve a current enrollment problem, it will not create a more diverse culture equitably across all elementary schools. An ALO program is need-blind and race-blind, which will lead to a more equitable distribution of resources, and allow for our elementary school children to grow in an environment more representative of the global cultures we are preparing them for.

In conclusion, we believe that an ALO turns a PROBLEM into a 21st Century Educational OPPORTUNITY. 

Sincerely,

-Catherine Valega, parent

Carrie Boyd, parent

Gang Xing, parent

Gerry Mroz, educational consultant

BAV October 16, 2012 at 11:09 AM
This is a great idea educationally. However, I do have concerns as it relates to redistricting and I am not sure it solves that problem. What if not enough people choose to sign up? How then do we get people to VO? (We are required to fill VO to get reimbursed by the MSBA). And what if too many people sign up? Will we then have two tiers of education? Realistically, we should enact this type of program in every school. If this is an educational advance for the town, we should roll it out everywhere. If this is just a gimmick to get people to move schools, then it will fail.
Jean October 16, 2012 at 11:45 AM
Doesn't every child deserve to be taught at his or her ability level? Sadly this population has been ignored for years in Winchester. I suspect the demand for this program will be high, not low. Instead of families being dragged to VO against their will, they will be clamoring to get in. Wouldn't that be great! And it would increase everyone's property values as the program would be open to the entire district. And if it works well, consider it a pilot and duplicate the approach then. We won't do this because we fear it might be too successful? I think this creative solution could be a win-win. Why not try it for a year or two? If it doesn't work, then redistricting. At least we would fill VO and qualify for reimbursement now.
Lisa October 16, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Not even including all the other arguments as to why this ALO plan is not a good idea, the one thing that could make ALO not needed is to do subject blocking at each school from 3rd - 5th grade. This would allow for neighborhood school while also providing tracked academic learning environments.
outsidein October 16, 2012 at 03:42 PM
I agree with BAVs comments. Its potentially a great idea for the town, but its not a redistricting solution. You will not get the right number of students by grade, by school to sign up to balance class sizes. So essentially, you have limited slots by school and grade based on overcrowding. That would leave many Lynch and VO kids with little opportunity to participate. I do think this should be seriously considered as a town-wide initiative with the proper teacher training, curriculum vetting, and facilities required. I think its a significant investment that needs to have the right amount of discussion and planning.
Jean Batty October 16, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Doing something in all the schools would be wonderful, but Winchester hasn't been able to even coordinate a social curriculum across the elementary schools. How many years have we been waiting for that? I like the pilot approach—at least something would be done.
Lisa October 16, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Exactly outsidein---ALO does NOT solve redistricting---it is apples and oranges and the proponents are looking at redistricting as an opportunity rather than focusing on them separately. There are too many arguments as to why it wouldn't work (subjectivity, location, paying for busing, movement between schools and the big one, the continued possibility of overcrowded school facilities). As to the "how many years have we been waiting" and "housing prices will go up with ALO" argumenst, those are very weak at best. Ambrose has instituted math blocking for 5th grade which IS a pilot in essence, and the SC has taken interest. Versus turning the town upside down, why not redistrict AND do blocking? If drawing lines is unpalatable, at lease the K-flex plan takes overcrowding into consideration and is more viable as an alternative to those who are against hard neighborhood lines.

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