Monday, April 14, 2014

TCA Class Sizes (just my input - not an official TCA document)

Dear Friends at and for TCA,

For time sake I want to make several statements with little commentary. As a TCA Board Member and
Parent, I seek to shed additional light upon this conversation of class size increase. Before my statements, know this, I am a TCA Parent first. I have 5 children, 3 of which are at TCA currently. We have been here for 10 years. I respect every person, every opinion and every passionate desire to be heard on this topic.

My statements are not meant to be completely authoritative. These are NOT official statements of the Board of Directors or Staff.   They are, however, somewhat more informed than most I have heard as of late. Please take the time to read this entire post and give yourself and others the opportunity to move away from a "soundbite controversy" to an informed conversation. By the way, the soundbites that have come out in feedback are filled with heart and passion, but fairly inaccurate and, therefore, misleading in hallway or car line conversations. Please dig a little deeper at this time and be ready with open minds and hearts. There is not one administrative or Board level leader that I know, who does not want to make TCA the best school it can be for our families and students.

Here is food for thought....(In no particular order of importance)

1. PARENT ELECTED: The TCA Board are Parent Elected Individuals (which means the power to make decisions ultimately rests in the lap of the parents who vote for Board Members, run for the Board and participate)

2. PARENT PARTICIPATION: Few Parents run for the Board. (and many don't speak up until a misunderstanding like this comes up)

3. PARENT PARTICIPATION: Few Parents come to the Board Meetings or read Board Communications (which are open to anyone)

4. CLASS SIZE DECISION: No class size decision has been made. (only research, proposals, deliberation, feedback)

5. NO QUICK DECISIONS: An entire staff of TCA leaders has dedicated 100's of hours to protecting TCA from a financial, academic & cultural standpoint. Meaning...the business folks have not come up with the class size increase absent of input from the academic and instructional philosophy folks. This is NOT rash and quick reaction on anyone's part.

6. NOT REALLY AN INCREASE: To the best of my knowledge, the suggested increase is not an actual increase at all. For 11 years or so, TCA ran VERY SUCCESSFULLY at a slightly higher class size. It was only a recent shift backward that seems to be causing much confusion. My family was very involved in the research, conversation and decisions that led to the lower "16" student class sizes. At that time, my child was actually part of a pilot program where key philosophical items were adjusted at lower levels, class size being one of them. From a parent standpoint I said "yes" to the ideas, yet from a TCA Model standpoint I said "not sure" this is going to be sustainable. So, I do not believe it is necessary, nor possible to maintain the model of 16 per class and maintain our present TCA Model, no matter how much I like the class size.

7. WE ARE A CHARTER SCHOOL: The fact that we are a Charter School and therefore have to raise funds each year to be successful is a very well known fact. The staff and administration make this visible and known to every single family in the school, over, and over, and over. And still, we are at less than 50% of families giving to the annual fund.

8. SMALLER IS BETTER: We all love the idea of smaller class sizes, no argument there. Not one person on the Board or Staff are cheering for larger class sizes. The planning process is for a sustainable model, from every aspect, including the cultural, educational and philosophical aspects, supported by the finances, facility, staff, etc....

9. STILL ONE OF THE SMALLEST: If TCA were to raise class sizes by the suggested amounts we would STILL have some of the very smallest class sizes in the district and state, even among Charter and Private Schools.

10. REAL QUESTIONS: The real question may not be, how do we keep this class size. The real question may be, how do we maintain the TCA model of culture and instruction?

11. REAL EVIDENCE vs. PASSIONATE OPINION: There is not one shred of convincing evidence, besides the understandable feelings of some parents & teachers, that a slight increase in class size would damage the TCA model. It will mean change, adjustments and possibly cause a slight shift in classroom dynamics. This is a true statement. However, this does not mean the TCA model is broken, or even seriously affected. There is no evidence of serious impact until class sizes get closer to 25 or 30 kids, at least from the research I have looked at.

12. FULL PICTURE: The TCA staff and board are fully aware of the ramifications of the increase, in regard to the need to increase the tutor population, adjust classrooms, give special attention to students where needed, etc..I would hope we could put trust in our staff to consider the implications of this change and to adjust to protect the delivery of a great TCA education. From what I have witnesses, they are being very detailed and planned out.

13. PERSONAL NOTE: I have a 1st grader who is legally blind. His teacher would obviously have more time with each child, and more time with my special needs child, with classes at 16. However, I am completely confident that my child will continue to receive one of the best educational opportunities in the city or state, even if classes increase to 18 or 20. It will mean adjustments and will take time to figure it all out, but I am confident in the TCA staff and faculty.

15. WE ARE MORE THAN CLASS SIZE: TCA leadership is working very hard to protect other aspects that keep TCA, TCA; like resisting federally dictated Common Core, attracting & keeping Highly Trained and Aligned Teachers and Staff, Unique Curriculum and Philosophy Guidelines, Safe and Secure Campuses, Character Focused Culture, etc......these things will be present no matter what the class size is. Meaning, there is not just one key issue, class size, responsible for the success of TCA. Don't be drawn into a "soundbite" conversation where the chant for "smaller class size" comes without consideration of the things being mention here. They all have strong impact on the success of TCA, along with class size.

16. AGREEMENT: Not everyone will agree. There is no way over 2500 families will agree about class size. So, this can't be our goal. However, I am fully aware, unfortunately, that many of the educational, informational, and investment opportunities afforded to parents are not taken advantage of. This leads to more disagreement, more soundbite conversations and more uneducated opinions about the success factors and future decisions of TCA.   Complete agreement cannot be our goal, Success, based on our Core Values has to be our goal.

17. GET EDUCATED: How many parents have read and understood the core values document, the parent agreement, the instructional philosophy information, the various parts of our educational delivery system and the writings of people like Dr. Coulter and others? How do we know 16 students in 1st grade is the magical number? How do we know 18 or 20 is bad? Do we really think our amazing staff are so weak and shallow that they cannot figure out how to deliver excellent results with the added children? Do we really believe the Board, Staff and Teachers are willing to sabotage the TCA we have come to love?  Have we talked to Elementary teachers from other schools, districts and states, in order to truly compare?  I would suggest that the right people are doing the right work and the right conversations are being raised. The "alarm" that some feel about classes RETURNING to the class size that made us so successful, is good. It makes everyone stop and think, to rethink and to think again. But, I challenge everyone to depart from simple sound bite opinions and to get educated about the details.

18. DROP AND GO: How many parents come to drop their kids off and rarely darken the doors of the campus, except to see their kids play sports, activities or attend parent teacher meetings?

19. NO SECRETS: No one is holding back information about class size changes. The PROPOSALS necessary to make budget decisions for next year, 5 years and 10 years are what have been looked at. Nothing more.

20. POSSIBLY MOST IMPORTANT:  Please follow this carefully. The main drivers, from my vantage point, for the class sizes being RETURNED to the size TCA had them for most of our successful years, are for...

* Teacher salary & compensation (our teachers are underpaid with few increases in recent years and steadily falling further and further behind other schools,while being asked to deliver a higher level of work, investment, time and energy)
* Short & Long Term Sustainability (EXPERTS who love the TCA family and philosophy have worked hundreds of hours on what it takes to keep TCA, TCA, from both a financial, academic, philosophy and culture standpoint. This is not a rash or quick decision or shallow conversation. The EXPERTS we have entrusted to lead our school, as well as those at large in school districts around us, have all led to common conclusions about long term sustainability)
Recurring Per Pupal Revenue from the State is our number one source of income, inside a $24 million budget, that sustains our main recurring costs. And we must fund recurring costs like teacher salaries with recurring sources of income. Even if we double or tripled the parent given in Annual fund, our teacher salaries would suffer and this level of parent given cannot be predicted from year to year. 

21. OUR TEACHERS: Our Teachers are worth more, deserve more and must be treated better, from a salary and compensation standpoint, This creates better classroom education through better retention and attraction of the best teachers.

22. HEROES OF TCA: MANY parents, teachers, staff and students are involved, give, serve, lead and sacrifice for the TCA Community. It is my desire to honor the hard work of this growing minority, and to make the best decision for the long term success of TCA, not the short term, fear based, decisions that will ultimately make TCA a more difficult place for my 1st grader to grow up. We are in this together.

23. WHERE WILL WE GO from here. If TCA raises class size at early grades to 18, or even 20, we are still one of the best schools in the State, with the best teams, (don't discount their ability), the best philosophy, the best parents, the best structure with the best kids. What school will I take my kids to with smaller class sizes? What school will I go to with better character education, or community? Where is the better school, just because of class size?  I suggest that it is very hard to find.

24. TCA IS NOW AND ALWAYS WILL BE A "SMALLER CLASS SIZE" SCHOOL.  No matter what happens, TCA will always be smaller in class size than your average public, charter or private school. We will always focus on the core values we have grown to love and will always focus on the key areas that cause the success we have enjoyed to this point.

25. Think about these soundbites as your conversations continue......think about how important these are, how educated you are, and how much you care about each of these items.

* TCA is a parent/school partnership, where parents elect leadership, thus have ultimate authority over Board Level Decisions. Daily Operations is delegated to President & Staff.
* TCA attracts and hires some of the best administration, teaching and coaching staff.
* TCA is a character development driven community.
* TCA is a classical education experience
* TCA is a charter school institution with the rights and burdens granted by this fact.
* TCA is not a prep school, drop and go school or wealthy choice-in school.
* TCA uses Socratic method in classroom instruction.
* TCA uses Charlotte Mason educational techniques & philosophy
* TCA is a young school institution working hard to make sure it lives strong another 15 years
* TCA has only half of parent participation in the annual fund
* TCA sports & activities are not part of the financial issues, they are mostly self supporting
* TCA is built upon servant-leadership, which means we ask questions that are good for us all, not just my family, my kids, my grade level, my feelings or my opinion. We serve the community as a whole.

IN THE END....Class sizes may go up, they may stay the same, either way, TCA is one of the best schools in the country. I hope all of us will keep this in mind. There is huge opportunity for mistake or panic at this point. I suggest we support accurate research, professional staff, invested stakeholders and the surrounding community to plan for a future that allows us another decade of success.

Feel Free to Email me with comments or concerns.

Again...THIS IS NOT THE OFFICIAL STANCE OF THE TCA BOARD OR STAFF...just one man's thoughts on the issue.....


@BillyRamsdell
Billy.Ramsdell@Gmail.com



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