Weekly Feature

2018-01-03 / Education

Williamsville schools Board reviews class ranking elimination

Amherst Associate Editor

As a way to introduce more public participation during its meetings, the Williamsville School Board is reviewing the possibility of adding a second public expression period to each of its sessions.

While one public expression is held each meeting generally within the first 45 minutes, board member Philip Meyer suggested that adding another could be of benefit to the board and the residents.

Currently, the board’s public expression section allows individuals to speak on district related topics for up to three minutes. Each public expression section may last up to 30 minutes; however, a time extension could be granted with a board majority vote seeking to go past the 30-minute limit.

Meyer said that by creating a second round of public expression, it increases the opportunity for the community to address the board. He also said that some people may speak at the final public section because they were unable to be in attendance for the first portion of the meeting.

“Some people may not know that they want to express themselves until they know what happened at the meeting,” Meyer said, adding that those attending might be compelled to address the board after an occurrence during the meeting.

He suggested that the second expression for the public could be added to the agenda either right before or after the “Committee of the Whole” section, which allows the board to openly discuss new ideas and to address topics that might warrant review or revisiting at a later meeting.

“Offering [a second public expression] opportunity comes at no cost to the board,” Meyer said.

The majority of the board felt it was a beneficial idea, and some members wondered if maybe a second expression could be added as part of a trial basis.

“I wonder if maybe we could try it for a few meetings,” said board member Mark Mecca. “I like the points you brought up, and I think it makes some sense.”

Meyer, a lawyer in the Town Attorney’s Office who was elected to the School Board in May, said a trial period may not work because the public expression rules are part of the board’s policies.

Superintendent Scott Martzloff said he could review the district’s policies that relate to public expression at meetings to assist Meyer in possibly creating a resolution that could be submitted for board review.

In another matter, the board discussed expanding its elimination of class rank to all of the high school and its succeeding classes.

The School Board in a unanimous vote on Sept. 12 agreed to eliminate class ranking in its three high schools, beginning with this year’s freshman class.

As a result, class ranking will be used in the district only until 2020, when the current sophomores reach graduation.

The possible expansion of eliminating ranking was introduced by board member Suzanne Van Sice.

“With all of the research that was delivered to the community, the point is that class rank is no longer necessary,” she said.

A parent of a sophomore student in the district, Van Sice said she feels an altogether elimination of ranking would be a better option than the phase-in plan the board approved in September.

Vice President Teresa Leatherbarrow said she was “torn on the issue” and suggested that the district possibly offer a short survey to parents and students of sophomores and juniors before a decision is made.

“I think it’s important to continue in getting the input of the community,” she said.

The question of whether or not to end class rank has been a discussion topic in the district for the past few years, and the School Board at two recent meetings approved tabling two resolutions that sought to end class ranking.

At its June 13 meeting, the School Board viewed a presentation on class ranking provided by Anna Cieri, assistant superintendent of exceptional education and student services, and Marie Balen, assistant superintendent for instruction.

During the presentation, Cieri said an online survey was offered to district parents and students in spring 2016, requesting that people anonymously provide their opinion on whether or not class ranking should be used.

According to Cieri, an overwhelming percentage supported eliminating class ranking, citing the need to alleviate stress and the lack of uniformity across schools on how students were ranked. Also in June, Cieri said class rank holds “a very small importance” to colleges and about 60 percent of high schools in America do not rank students.

During the December meeting, Balen said that because students were already in the process of applying for college, administrators recommended the phase-in of rank elimination.

“We had quite a few stakeholders who were already in the pipeline and expecting rank to be part of the experience and to be used on college applications,” she said. “[Phase-in] was an effort to be thoughtful and deliberate.”

Following a more than 40-minute discussion on the topic, the board agreed to review possible expansion of the ranking elimination at a later date. They also advised administrators to survey students and parents online via their personal Williamsville Information Tracking System pages.

The board agreed to revisit the topic after the survey results are compiled within the next few months.

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