, Gloucester, MA

November 6, 2012

Editorial: Essex school shift a good step for needed parity

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — One of the most challenging issues facing any school district with multiple elementary sites is ensuring that the curriculum in each school puts students on a track toward equal footing when they all converge into a single middle school or high school.

And while many folks might not consider recess as part of the school curriculum, the fact is any elementary school recess not only takes kids out of the classroom, but also takes away learning time when pupils are putting on and taking off jackets – especially in the winter, when those outfits include boots, mittens and more.

So, while no one can or should dispute the need for kids to get outside, exercise and enjoy a few minutes of play, the move by Essex Elementary School principal Jennifer Roberts to revise the school’s recess schedule is indeed a good decision.

By basically consolidating the students’ recess time into one block – while not cutting back the overall number of recess minutes — Roberts has seemingly put the school on a schedule that still meets students’ exercise needs, yet also puts Essex Elementary and its students on the same track as their colleagues in Manchester, and that’s significant.

Town and regional school officials don’t like to cite or even acknowledge any learning or program “disparity” between Essex Elementary and Memorial Elementary School in Manchester. But the fact is, the latest round of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) scores show otherwise.

Yes, 4 percent more fifth grade students scored as proficient or better on their math exams than the kids at Memorial, but, overall, an average 13.4 percent more of Memorial’s students scored proficient or higher than Essex Elementary students in each subject and grade — including a 94-62 percent difference in fourth grade language arts. And it’s hard to believe that those Essex students will be on the same level as the Memorial counterparts when all join forces for sixth grade at Manchester Essex Regional Middle/High School.

Will shifting recess times bridge those learning caps? That’s hard to say. But “reorganizing” the Essex schedule so students there and at Memorial are on more similar programs will, as Superintendent of Schools Pamela Beaudoin put it, “on the same page.”

That’s an important step toward the kind of two-school parity the district, students and their parents need.