ROCKLAND — Donald Kanicki, superintendent of schools in SAD 5, cautioned Sunday against putting too much stock in recent criticism leveled at the school district by a retired educator.
“To criticize and say people are not doing a good job is always easy,” Kanicki said of the remarks made last week by South Thomaston resident Audrey Buffington. “Everything she had to say could have been said about any school district in the country. These things have been used for criticism of education for years.”
Kanicki added that for educators, criticism come with the territory. “If you are in education and afraid of criticism, you are in the wrong area,” Kanicki said.
At last week’s meeting of the SAD 5 school board, retired teacher and Rockland District High School educational volunteer Buffington suggested that district students were not being challenged by their teachers. Buffington also claimed that district teachers lacked creativity. She was invited to address the board by Chairman Wayne Gray.
“She made an excellent presentation,” Gray said Sunday. “I’m not going to tell you that we would accept everything Audrey put forth but we certainly are going to listen. There is always room for improvement and we are looking for ways to improve our educational system.”
Buffington had a career teaching mathematics and served as state supervisor for math in Maryland schools for seven years. She retired to South Thomaston in 1995, but ended up volunteering and tutoring hundreds of hours at the high school.
Buffington told the board that the district should demand its teachers to be more creative, develop stronger training methods and require teachers to take sabbaticals as a way of focusing their interests. She also recommended that more emphasis be placed on elementary math.
While acknowledging that the district needed to be vigilant, Kanicki insisted that many of Buffington’s recommendations had already been adopted. He said the district’s Learning Results program has created specific committees for math, literature, technology and staff development. He added that 25 district teachers went on retreat this weekend.
“We already have these things in place. We’ve been working with this for some time now,” Kanicki said. “We are asking our teachers to change the way they’ve taught over the years. We are asking our kids in much more different ways to think on a higher level.”
Kanicki admitted that Buffington’s observation about elementary math had some merit. He said a starting elementary teacher earned $22,000 per year and was required to prepare “six or seven” different disciplines each day. He said that math is one subject where creativity could be lacking.
“Coming out of college are we getting the most creative people? When you look at what we are paying, you have to wonder how we get as good quality people as we do,” Kanicki said.
He noted that Buffington has worked at the high school, not in the elementary schools. And, unlike elementary teachers, Buffington has concentrated on a single subject, mathematics.
“She’s right,” Kanicki said. “The one area elementary teachers are not trained in is math. You can be a much better teacher when you are an expert in one subject. We have some excellent teachers in our elementary schools and to say they lack creativity is unfair.”
Board Chairman Gray said the recent decision to adopt “block scheduling” that expands classes from 40 minutes in length to 80 minutes would “fit particularly well with math classes.” He said longer classes will enable teachers to delve into concepts and problems that are difficult to teach in shorter periods.
Gray noted that Buffington was an experienced educator and that her observations should receive special attention.
“Given Audrey’s background, I think the school board would be remiss in their duties if they didn’t seriously consider her proposals,” Gray said. “We have to accept the fact that we are in competition with private schools. We have to improve on our educational system.’