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School Committee: Cameron and Coury

May 27, 2011

This post has been edited since being originally published.

There are three candidates running for two open seats on the Walpole School Committee. One is an incumbent running for re-election.

I was concerned when I read about incumbent Susan Flynn Curtis in her Candidate’s Profile in The Walpole Times. She stated that Walpole school students are suffering when class sizes rise. “Nobody does better in a large classroom and I don’t think you can dispute that anywhere,” she told the Times.

Actually, it is fairly easy to dispute that. I wrote an editorial about this very subject in The Walpole Rebellion a few months ago. While elementary school students may do better in smaller classes, there is evidence showing that higher-aged students do not perform better in smaller classes.

An excerpt from the editorial:

A major way that the Walpole school system may be able to cut costs this year in an innovative way without negatively impacting student performance is by implementing what US Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls “smartly targeted increases in class sizes.” A commonly held perception that school educators and parents in Walpole and elsewhere have believed for decades is that lower class sizes translate into higher student achievement. But Duncan, in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in November, criticized this long-held philosophy, saying “one of the most expensive assumptions embedded in school budgets is the belief that reducing class sizes improves student achievement.” According to Duncan, who had been hailed for his work turning around struggling public schools in Chicago before joining the Obama administration, smaller class sizes have not correlated with higher student performance, as evidenced by states like California spending billions to reduce class sizes with no meaningful improvement in student achievement. In fact, countries that are ahead of the US in terms of academics have classes that are far larger than in the US.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for example, South Korea and Japan, home to two of the best education systems in the world, consistently average between 33 and 36 students per class in secondary schools, while primary schools there have slightly smaller classes. Duncan told the AEI that teachers in those two countries sometimes request larger classes because they believe a greater distribution of students and skill levels can improve learning.

Christine Coury, on the other hand, had it right when she told the Times: “As long as students are receiving their quality education, their class sizes shouldn’t matter – there could be 50 students in the class, there could be 10 students in the class. It honestly depends on the quality of the teacher and how well their classroom management skills are. I can say that with experience.”

I too can confirm that from experience. When I was writing The Rebellion editorial, I interviewed students and found that not one student I spoke to thought that larger classes were worse than smaller ones. A teacher I spoke to said he did not care what size the class that he was teaching was. The only people who are whining about class sizes are the parents, who went to school decades ago.

We need more people like Coury who are willing to take a make decisions not out of emotion but out of reason. Curtis’ assertion that we must have lower class sizes will translate into a never-ending push for more money and more overrides so that we can continually keep class sizes down, while our students see no major gain.

I urge you to vote for Allan Cameron and Christine Coury:

Allan Cameron is a good choice for School Committee because he brings extensive experience in both teaching and school leadership. Cameron previously served as a teacher in Westport, Connecticut, before moving to Massachusetts to be an assistant principal in Brookline. He now serves as the principal of Deerfield Elementary School in Westwood. His school is the highest-performing elementary school in the state for MCAS scores. He has also had to deal with severe budget cuts, and has been praised for his work in generating efficiencies in the operations of his school. Cameron has said publicly that if elected to the School Committee he wants the entire school budget to be more closely scrutinized. I think we can all agree.

At a time when transparency is sorely needed from Town Hall, Cameron is one of the few school principals I know in the area who maintains a blog.

Another reason to support Cameron is that he has been a vocal critic of associating the Walpole Rebel mascot with the Confederacy. This has been a particularly controversial issue in Walpole, as The Boston Globe published a front page story last year about a local resident who maintains a large confederate flag on his property overlooking Turco Field. Two years ago, Cameron wrote a letter to The Walpole Times, calling on Walpole residents as a whole to publicly disavow the flag and its connotations. “Our students’ many significant accomplishments should not be blemished by a divisive flag,” he wrote. Cameron has not advocated for the complete elimination of the Rebel mascot, but would instead like it to be changed to promote the American Revolution. I hope all reading 180 can agree that the Confederate flag should not represent our athletic teams.

Cameron’s background in education, along with his position on the Rebel flag issue are two good reasons to support Cameron for School Committee.

Christine Coury is a good choice because, as stated, she believes smaller classes are not necessarily beneficial to student learning and that class sizes should not be the emphasis of our school financial decisions. She appears to want to take the emotion out of financial decisions, and look at facts instead.

Coury is the only candidate in the race for School Committee who has attended the Walpole Public Schools. She recently graduated from Bridgewater State University with degrees in Elementary Education and Political Science with a focus in Public Administration. Unfortunately, she has already opened the door to higher fees, by saying that she believes they will have to be implemented to address a budget shortfall next year.

I am disappointed Coury has not offered any suggestions for efficiency in our school district, but her background as a public school student in Walpole and her degree in education each make her worthy of a post on the School Committee.

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