May 30, 2020

Parents in SAD 23 still question educators

HERMON – After 18 months of upheaval in the school district, questions still are being asked about changes made at the high school during the last year.

Earlier this week, the Hermon school board approved responses provided by administrators that will be sent to a group of concerned parents and the SAD 23 board of directors. Both groups sent a series of questions and concerns to the Hermon board in November.

Communication between the board and the community broke down in the spring of 1999 when the contract of Tony Zamojda, a retired Army officer who headed the Junior ROTC program at the high school, was not renewed. Angry parents led a successful recall effort that removed three members of the board in August 1999 and three new members were elected the next month.

A switch last year to a new computer program to keep track of high school grades and academic records has created problems for students and staff. This year, the opening of school was delayed two days when the new scheduling software would not print out student schedules. The two days must be made up at the end of the year. Also, 14 new classes and modular scheduling were implemented last fall.

In October, controversial Superintendent William Ziemer resigned. “Policy differences and differences about the direction education in the school system should take” were the reasons cited for his leaving. Patricia Duran, the former high school principal and assistant superintendent, was appointed to serve as acting superintendent.

Mark Burnett, who serves on the SAD 23 and Hermon boards, said Thursday afternoon that the SAD 23 board, made up of Carmel and Levant residents, submitted a list of questions and concerns brought up by board members and parents. A list of questions also was submitted to Hermon board Chairman Douglas Smith by about a dozen parents. High school principal Wilma Lombardi and her staff prepared answers to questions from both groups.

Most of the questions focused on changes implemented in the last year, especially the new scheduling system and the problems with implementing the new software program to manage students’ records. SAD 23, however, brought up a tension that at least one board member said has existed in the community for decades.

“The vast majority of our kids [from SAD 23] go to Hermon High,” he said. “They make up 52 percent of the students. … There has always been a low grumble about how our kids are treated, especially in athletics, but now there is a real concern that more students will request to attend a different high school, such as John Bapst. In the past, we’ve averaged about a half-dozen kids per year going somewhere other than Hermon.

“This year, we anticipate 24 or 25 will make that request,” he added. “The deadline is not until March 15, but a lot of parents have already informed us they intend to switch schools based on the scheduling debacle. Whatever could go wrong did go wrong.”

Problems that still have not been solved include a way to accurately track dropout rates and create transcripts for juniors and seniors applying to colleges. The transfer of computer information from three previous computer programs into the new system has not been completed. Transcripts are being typed out upon request.

Students will get next year’s schedule by June 1, according to Burnett. A subcommittee also is working on modifying the present schedule to address the need for longer lunch periods and more time between classes, according to answers provided by Lombardi.

A new program will be implemented this month to help SAD 23 students become familiar with and adjust to Hermon High School. Eighth-graders will meet with Lombardi next week, then groups of 10 middle-school pupils will shadow a ninth-grader for a day at the end of the month. High school guidance councilors will meet with middle-schoolers in March and the traditional “step-up” day will be scheduled for late spring.

While many of the questions pointed to perceived problems at the high school, at least one board member did not view them negatively. He pointed to the series of questions as an indication that the atmosphere has changed for the better since the recall election.

Ralph Carr, a Hermon board member for 18 months, said it was “a good thing that people feel free to ask questions. They’ve been asked and now they’re answered. People feel more confident now asking questions than they have in the past.”

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