SPRINGFIELD, NJ—A number of Springfield parents approached the township board of education at its meeting on Monday with questions and concerns about the way the practice of looping is being carried out in Springfield’s elementary grades.
Looping refers to the practice of a teacher remaining with the same group of students for more than one school year.
In answer to many of the parents’ questions, as it had during the school body’s September 18 session with questions on the same issue, the board replied that looping, as a matter of scheduling, is within the purview of school administrators and beyond the responsibility of the school body.
Board members and school board attorney Janelle Edwards-Stewart also contended at Monday’s meeting that many of the answers being sought by the parents would involve speaking about individual students, something they are not permitted to do in a public board meeting.
In reply, parent Sylvia Caggiano, as she had during the September 18 meeting, said board members should be as respectful of parents and their opinions as they asked parents to be of them in statements read by board president Robin Cornelison prior to public comment sessions of both meetings.
Caggiano added that school administrators refused to meet with her both privately and publicly about her complaints pertaining to looping and her support for the school district to provide guidelines for looping,
She wanted to know at what forum she could address her grievances if she could not air them either privately or publicly.
The parent also said that 14 parents had asked for a meeting with Superintendent of Schools Michael A. Davino and their request was denied.
She also complained one of her child’s teachers had taken a poll of students on the last day of school to determine which students wanted to be in the teacher’s class the following year, contending that the decision should not be left up to elementary school students.
In addition, Caggiano contended parents were told the entire class would be subject to looping when some parents were allowed to “opt out” of having their children encompassed in the system.
She also said every child in the class was asked in front of his or her peers to rate the teacher, and her son was pulled out of class and told to give a written summary of an incident in his school without his parents being notified of this demand.
Stewart replied that the board did not have the authority to make decisions on which children were assigned to which class.
Board vice president Scott Silverstein added that it was the responsibility of the board to get policy and it was the responsibility of the administration to administer the schools, adding that “this board believes that the district administrators make decisions that are in the best interest of each child and each group of children.”
Caggiano contended, however, that she was given the opportunity to have her child “opt out” of looping last year but not allowed to do so this year.
Board member Steven Wolcott replied, however, that each child was different and each year’s circumstances were different—-thus different decisions could be made under different circumstances.
Craig Caggiano said, however, that he and his wife were not asking the board to take over the responsibilities of the superintendent—they just were looking for guidelines.
He added, “He (the superintendent) can’t have absolute authority over all placement decisions. We are asking for a partnership here.”
Craig Caggiano also said Davino’s attitude was “I’ll do what I want, when I want and I will not meet with anyone.”
Responding to Silverstein’s concerns about discussing individual children, Craig Caggiano said looping an entire class collectively was not an individual decision, adding that looping was not the conventional way of placing students in classes.
Davino replied that scheduling was a year-by-year experience, based on a number of factors, including class size and other factors.
He added, “I happen to believe that looping is an excellent educational experience and I will use it whenever and however I can.”
The board attorney also noted that, while the board appreciated the parents’ comments, it did not have the authority to act in the way in which the parents wanted.
She added that “opting out” of a looping situation was not a policy or practice of the township district at the current time and the discussion centered in the present, not on the past.
However, another parent, Michele Praport of 103 New Brook Lane, said she had tried to express her concerns about looping by calling her son’s principal several times and “,,,he never answered my questions.” She said he continually told me, “The decision is final, there is nothing I can do at this time.”
Praport, who said she had been a teacher in Elizabeth for ten years and had looped her own classes, added she had issues about her child’s particular class.
She said, “…that of the 20 e-mails I sent, the superintendent never replied once, and the principal replied, but would not address my concerns.”
Then Praport “…concluded what I had to say and got up to go back to my seat. Mr. Wolcott called me back and said, "if your child is struggling, perhaps I should look into special services." I responded by saying that "my child doesn't need special services, he needs a new teacher
Another parent said, however, that her child had had it tough this past year in the class the child was in, to the extent where the child didn’t even know what the homework assignment was supposed to be.
Another parent, who said she had been thrilled with her daughter’s previous experience with looping, noted she was unhappy with the fact that, this year, she was told about the looping decision in a note enclosed in her child’s folder the last day of school—in effect, telling her there was nothing she could do about a decision affecting her child.
Editor’s Note: The article has been revised to reflect Michele Praport’s comments at the Board of Education meeting.