There are goals, there are objectives and then there are “just do its.” The Sag Harbor School District adopted their goals for the upcoming school year on Monday night and contrary to years past, the list is relatively small. Superintendent Dr. John Gratto described them as “overarching,” designed “to improve academic achievement, to ensure sound fiscal and operational practices and to communicate effectively with the community. Under each goal is a list of “objectives” and some of those were eliminated and put into the category of “just do it” by the new superintendent.
“There were some responsibilities that previously had been characterized as goals,” said Gratto. “And I saw them as duties inherent in a position, as fundamental responsibilities.”
Examples of “just do its” include analyzing the sixth, seventh and eighth grade math curriculum in relation to New York State standards or analyzing the need for the use of consultants in the district. Gratto explained that a goal would be “running a marathon” or “kayaking around Block Island” while a “just do it” would be cross training district employees.
The goals and objectives came out of two work sessions at which board members and administrators discussed what should or should not be included. Some of the objectives are very specific and have numbers and percentages attached to them. Under the academic improvement goal, one objective is to “increase the percentage of students attaining mastery level on the Regents chemistry exam by five percent.
There was considerable discussion at a work session last Thursday about the percentage related objectives. Board president Walter Wilcoxen said attaching a percentage to the objectives made sense from the administrative point of view, but perhaps should not be included on a district wide goal list. He said he did not think such goals were “fair” and called them “subjective” and “arbitrary.”
Board member Ed Haye disagreed, pointing out that none of the objectives called for “huge increases” and said it was more about getting them to a “baseline” as opposed to attempting to turn every student into a “stellar performer.” Haye said in his opinion the district is doing a great job with the top performers, and a great job with the worst performers, but it was the “ones in the middle” he was concerned about and that were being addressed in the objectives. Pierson principal Jeff Nichols said the specific objectives were valuable because they allowed him to know precisely where to direct his resources at the beginning of the year.”
At the school board meeting on Monday night, former school board president Walter Tice expressed his opinion about the specific objectives.
“My experience is these tend not to be productive,” said Tice. “My experience is every group of students is different from the group of students that preceded it or that will follow it.”
Tice said demanding such specific, percentage based increases on tests may lead to the teachers only teaching to the tests and neglecting other aspects of a student’s overall education. As a result, Tice feared the specific objectives could possibly “undercut the delivery of information in the district” and distort the educational process.
“I think that’s pretty widely recognized throughout the United States,” said Tice.
“I can’t discount his experience,” said Gratto of Tice’s remarks. “But my experience is sharp focus results in sharp results in skills improvement and the corollary is test improvement too.”
“The fundamental premise is that if sharp conscientious people focus their efforts around a clear goal, they are likely to achieve it,” said Gratto. “In contrast, if people have fuzzy goals like I want to lose some amount of weight in some amount of time, they are likely to achieve fuzzy results. Teaching the skills of a test doesn’t require dull, uncreative teaching. Teachers can still teach in a creative in an engaging way while teaching skills.”
Photo: Board members Mary Ann Miller, Walter Wilcoxen and superintendent Dr. John Gratto