Parents air concerns at School Board town hall meeting on Oct. 27

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County School Board had its first-ever town hall on Oct. 27.

Following a presentation on the state of the school district, residents of Okeechobee were given the chance to address the school board with their concerns.

Common themes brought up by those in attendance were bullying in schools, Common Core math, spelling in grade school and drugs in the high school.

Two members of the local government in Okeechobee were also in attendance, City Councilman Bobby Keefe and County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper. Each of them spoke to the school board as well.

“I’m so thankful that you’re engaging the citizens here this evening,” said Councilmen Keefe. “I appreciate that. Hopefully the city council can take note and start engaging with our citizens at our town halls. Have to start teaching social and emotional learning. We heard a lot about bullying this evening, that’s social and emotional right there. I’m currently a long-term sub for an English teacher who is on maternity leave. Spelling is atrocious among the students. Horrendous. I think it has a lot to do with things like texting.”

Councilmen Keefe spoke about bad spelling following another parent who also brought up the issue to the school board.

“I’m reading some of the stories my son writes and while they’re amusing, his spelling is atrocious,” said Steve Bandi. “And we’re not working on it. My thought was I’d work with him on his spelling at home. But I’m finding that I’m spending so much time helping him with the new math curriculum that we just don’t have time. Maybe it’s new or maybe it has been around for a few years, but this is my first experience with it. I was in shock when he brought that home. I went to the University of Florida, and I’m looking at the new math and I can’t explain it or help my 7-year-old. I think there’s so much time being spent on this new math that some things like spelling aren’t covered as much.”

Common Core math has been controversial since its initial rollout in 2009. In the new math curriculum, students no longer are taught to “borrow” numbers when subtracting. Instead students are taught to add to the small number in the equation to make it a round, even number. Then students keep adding numbers to that smaller number until they reach the largest number in the original equation. Finally students add up all the numbers they added to the original smaller number in the equation to get the difference between the two numbers and the answer to the subtraction equation.

Needless to say, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth rollout for the program in the last ten years.

Common Core math has been ridiculed by parents for being more concerned about kids going through and understanding the steps than getting the right answer.

“There was a lot of federal money tied to Common Core when it came out,” explained school board member Joe Arnold in response to the comments the board received. “I agree with you on the processes of math. But we have to follow what we’re given. This goes beyond us, I encourage you to reach out to your state representative and let them hear your voice.”

School board chairwoman Jill Holcomb backed up Mr. Arnold’s comments.

“I’m all for different ways to do things,” said Mrs. Holcomb. “But I agree, if kids can find the right answer, then that’s all that should matter.”

The school board also received some compliments at the town hall on how they’ve handled security in their schools.

“We’re still relatively new here,” said Adam Cohen. “But things have been awesome for us. There are still issues, but things look good here compared to the school district we’re coming from. Commend you all on the safety measures the board has taken throughout the year, especially expanding the guardian program.”

No formal actions or votes were scheduled to be taken at the town hall.

The Okeechobee County School Board will meet next at its Nov. 12 meeting at 6 p.m. in the board room.

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