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Superintendent addresses public's concerns



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June 30, 2010 - Superintendent Dr. William Skilling met with 50 concerned citizens for nearly three hours on Thursday, June 24 in the Oxford High School LGI room to address their questions about what is happening with the school district.

Skilling spent the first half hour explaining his vision for the school district and backing it up with everything the district has done to achieve it.

"Never in the history of our district has more been invested in the education of our young people and more opportunities been created in such a short period of time as we have created in the last three years," Skilling said.

When he opened up the meeting for questions, Oxford resident Frankie Thomas asked him why the district was going to make exceptions for the Algebra 2 program when the district has a pre-engineering program in place.

"How is that going to allow students to cope with Calculus 1, 2, 3 and 4, and not to mention Statistics and Differential Equations," Thomas asked.

Skilling responded by telling her that the exceptions for Algebra 2 was only for students who were on a personal curriculum.

"What the state realized (is) that the dropout rate was taking off big time because of this requirement that not all students could make…we can't expect every student to go through Calculus 2 through 4, that is a pretty high level of math," he said.

Oxford resident Rhonda Yell, who teaches in a neighboring school district, told Skilling that she was afraid that if he pushed the kids too fast, too early, they would not have the necessary background information to be able to perform in the classroom.

"I think we have to have a mix of the advancement, but we also have to have a mix of the general overall…because if they have the background knowledge, I feel that the kids would be able to pick up those skills," she said.

Skilling said that when preparing kids for a global world, the student must have an understanding of basic math, be competent in their own English language and have a good understanding of Western Civilization.

"We must complete the basics by fifth grade. If we are still working on the basics by sixth grade, we are doing the kids a disservice…the kinds of goals and things we are talking about don't necessarily create more pressure, it creates such a relevance to their learning that the kids will have more joy in education," he said.

Lisa Kempner asked Skilling how he was going to gain her trust again when she felt that he was not being very transparent with the community and the perception that he is not willing to listen to the community.

Skilling told her that all of the plans for the bond and everything that they were spending would be on the district's website for the public to look at.

Brian Thomas voiced his concern about the spending of the bond money. He cited that they were taking money from other various projects within the district.

He noted that at OES, money was being used for the administration building that was going to be spent on redoing the circle bus drive.

Skilling indicated that the OES site plan change was at the request of the principal because they wanted to do a different design. "Right now the bus loop at OES works perfectly fine," said Skilling.

Skilling then added that during the last board meeting, slides were shown that indicated that all of the bond projects were on budget.

"That's not really true. We are over budget, but we're moving money from not doing the turnaround at OES and taking money from contingency funds from other programs and dumping it into the administration and Pre-K building," Brian Thomas said.

Skilling responded to his question by telling the crowd that the district saved $26 million on the sale of the bonds and that they shaved two years off of paying the debt back. He added that the district can make changes to the bond, but they cannot go ahead and build something that was not mentioned in the bond.

Thomas asked him why we needed to become an International Baccalaureate school when the AP classes and everything were just as acceptable.

"We are moving from a content driven model of education to a process driven model of education," Skilling said. "Knowledge is growing exponentially, you can't keep up with it. We have to train students how to think critically and analytically."

Rod Charles wanted to know how Skilling was going to address the problem of school of choice students and their behavior in the classroom.

Skilling answered his questions by telling him that due to Proposal A, schools have to compete like businesses in order to survive financially.

"Schools shouldn't be competing like businesses...we're in the people business and we're in public education, and in public education, we take any student that comes through the door, regardless of handicaps, disabilities or whatever. It doesn't matter," he said.

Skilling added that the only way a district can survive under Proposal A is by growing it.

"Schools of choice has helped create more diversity in our environment, but it has also allowed us to progress towards our vision and protect our students from all the cuts and reductions other schools are facing," he added.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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