SCHOOL COMMITTEE RACE: Bryson Shares Thoughts On School District’s Homework Policy

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple recently asked all six Wilmington School Committee candidates about the feelings on the district’s homework policy.

This week’s response schedule is as follows: Sabrina Hewitt (Monday), Jennifer Bryson (Tuesday), Steve Bjork (Wednesday), Kathleen O’Donoghue (Thursday), Rhonda Musikar-Rosner (Friday), Amy Largenton (Saturday), and a recap (Sunday).

Below is the response from candidate Jennifer Bryson.

Jennifer Bryson

QUESTION: The School Committee “establishes and periodically reviews policies for the schools in the district.”  Policy making is one of the most important roles of the committee, but it’s often overlooked.  Let’s use a prime example… Review the district’s current policy on Homework (IKB & IKB-E).  Would you change anything?

ANSWER: My educational expertise as a teacher, director of educator preparation and faculty member at BU, and committee member at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will provide the School Committee with a valuable perspective on education. My knowledge and experience as a parent of two children in our school system also enables me to deeply understand family/caregiver concerns in our district. As a faculty member, I am accustomed to voting and determining new policy such as GPA requirements, syllabi statements and graduation prerequisites. This experience will serve me well as one of the school committee’s primary roles is to develop and review policy. The homework policy has recently received attention in our district as inconsistencies across classes, schools, and houses in the middle school have come to the forefront.

The purpose of homework as described in the Wilmington Public Schools’ policy is to enhance students’ achievement, to help students become self-directed, responsible, and independent learners, and to communicate with families about what is happening in the classroom (WPS homework philosophy statement). The approved homework policy includes a philosophy that is consistent with the district mission statement: Wilmington Public Schools provides a challenging, relevant, personalized educational experience that promotes both the academic success and the social and emotional well-being of all students. I support the policy, as it is written, because it suggests that homework should be meaningful, connected to classroom learning, and allows teachers and families to have some control over the role of homework in our children’s lives. My concern, therefore, lies in how this policy is implemented across all of our schools. The district should be collecting data across schools to better understand how the homework policy is actually being enacted. It is important to know if the policy is being implemented in similar ways across schools and if the types of assignments and time spent on homework is appropriate for each level. It would make sense to collect survey data from teachers, caregivers, school leaders as well as students. I think we often exclude the opinions of those who matter most – our children.

As I have been speaking with Wilmington residents, there are clearly some inconsistencies across the district in approaches to homework, time limits, and amount of communication between schools and caregivers. I am concerned about this inconsistency. The policy specifically outlines administrative, teacher, family and student responsibilities as well as a suggested time length per day for each grade level (see below).

Kindergarten: Occasional assignments, Grade 1: 15 minutes (Monday-Thursday), Grade 2: 30 minutes (Monday – Thursday), Grade 3: 30-45 minutes (Monday – Thursday), Grade 4: 45-60 minutes (4 times per week), Grade 5: 60-75 minutes (4 times per week), Grades 6, 7 & 8: 75-120 minutes, Grade 9-12: 90-180 minutes.

To make this policy more successful, there needs to be increased collaboration between schools and families, which will lead to stronger implementation of the policy. The policy specifically includes family responsibilities and I’d like to highlight this one in particular; Families will: Evaluate their children’s activities to be sure they have sufficient time to study and participate in family or outside activities. As a school committee member, I would urge families to review the suggested times allotted for homework per day in order to provide feedback to your child’s teacher if these time lengths are not consistent with your observations. I would also be a voice on the school committee for continually evaluating school policies, like the homework policy, to ensure that they are meeting the needs of all students and families.

The effectiveness of homework has long been debated. Yet, there is a substantial amount of research to inform our policies, I would argue that we must be mindful of both the positive and negative effects of homework. For instance, while homework can serve as an important extension of classroom learning, it is also important to promote reading for enjoyment each night as well as physical activity beyond school hours. In recent years, many school districts have replaced traditional homework with increased time to read and engagement in physical activity, especially at the elementary level. I would support a similar policy, to increase reading for enjoyment, engagement in extra-curricular activities, a focus on heart healthiness, and assign homework that closely aligns to our policy. I am also opposed to homework that is simply busy work. If a student cannot clearly articulate the objective, I question the value of the assignment. The school committee can play an important role in this by making clear that homework should extend or build on meaningful learning in the classroom.

I am certain that our community is committed to engaging our children as life-long learners and preparing them to question, solve problems, seek knowledge and participate as deeply invested citizens of our town, nation and world. Homework may seem like a small piece to this puzzle, but how our children are engaging in learning outside of school is deeply important.

I am hopeful that I will be elected to represent you as the school committee engages in the important work of addressing the town’s educational goals and policies, approving the school budget, supporting our new superintendent, and school improvement plans. Please consider me for one of your school committee votes on April 22, 2017. I would appreciate your vote and would be honored to serve on the Wilmington School Committee.

To learn more about me, please visit https://www.facebook.com/JennBrysonForWilmingtonSchoolCommittee/

Very truly yours,
Jennifer (Jenn) Bryson

Jennifer Bryson
Jennifer Bryson

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