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Parents' close examination finds faults with "IPSville'

In response to editor Greg Hamilton's March 3 column, Don't estimate handson learning, about the "IPSville" proposal at Inverness Primary School:

There is no debate. There are only concerned parents who see a program based on the microsociety model being implemented without the benefits of proper funding, without a long-term plan and without the input of some of the most important persons in a child's life: their guardians.

The microsociety model that staff members at Inverness Primary wrote a grant for required certain prerequisites. They included a paid coordinator to head the program, some kind of funding (the grant), 80 percent or more of the staff's signatures with a three-year commitment, and development of a vehicle to inform the parents of the program in order to incorporate them into it. In other words, to help us all buy in and support the program, as in the Chocachatti Elementary School example in Hernando County.

The trademarked program also included a model expert who would help install the program over a three-year period, including lesson plans, teacher training, materials and assessments to make sure the program worked with the school's demographics and weaknesses. While waiting for the grant to install the true microsociety model at IPS, an interim program (IPSville Job Quest) was designed by a few members of the staff over the summer.

There is no doubt that this group worked very hard to create what is the IPSville Job Quest program. But this version does not contain the same prerequisites that the microsociety model contains, and the lack of information on this program is astonishing. Through the summer open house and notices sent home during the year, parents were asked to volunteer time, donate funds and items and teach classes, but they were not asked for their input on the program.

"IPSville and Job Quest'

Inverness Primary did not receive the grant to install the microsociety program. Instead it created something akin to it, "IPSville and Job Quest," with community volunteers, staff members, some parents and little funding. Interested parents, through their own research and probing, have garnered information on the microsociety model, which the IPSville Job Quest is based on.

Two informational meetings were arranged for the parents at their request on this subject. A notice was distributed in January for a meeting that was held Feb. 26 in the Media Center. The next meeting (Tuesday, March 19) also was noted on this same flier. Reminders for the meeting were included as regular text in the newsletter and wedged between events occurring during the Family Reading Night.

Meetings for the IPSville planning team, the persons most knowledgeable about the program, are held at 2:30 p.m., which allows only a few parents to attend. Unlike the Chocachatti Elementary example, parents as a whole have not been able to "buy in" to this program. Now it seems that the parents who have made an effort to ask questions and find information on the program are being ridiculed by the media in order to discredit their concerns.

If these concerns were so backward and shortsighted, why was the security issue investigated so quickly and corrected when it was mentioned by one of our parents? Also, the importance of all the classes having ties to the Florida Sunshine State Standards was brought up by this group of parents as well as the necessity of all the Job Quest classes having lesson plans (some classes are taught by noninstructional staff and volunteers). These are very important components of any model or strategy that is integrated into IPS.

It is said that only a handful of parents and guardians are balking at this program. In fact, there are 30 or more parents asking questions about IPSville Job Quest. Many of them are the same parents who volunteer consistently, donate to their children's classes, as well as the school, and have a high level of concern for all students. These also are the parents asking for a clear understanding of this program, how it is to be funded, where it fits into the overall plan for IPS and why this model was chosen when there are others with better results and more data to support them available.

Real world is too real

Mr. Hamilton is quick to point out that the microsociety portion of IPSville teaches all the elements of an artificial environment in order to give children a real-world experience. Perhaps that is why the judicial and policing elements in this program are so troubling. We were told that the school's demographics would shift next year to 46 percent of the student body qualifying for free or reduced lunch. How is the simulation of the judicial and policing elements of our society going to help some of these children whose lives are already colored by these systems?

It is not enough to live in poverty, be part of a custody problem, have family members in jail, see drug or alcohol abuse and deal with visitations by social workers; now it needs to be simulated at school. How much more of the real world do these children need? This facet of IPSville hinders the concept that our school is a safe, nurturing place for learning.

The last two points Mr. Hamilton makes is that we complain that IPSville is of little or no educational value and that there is only a loss of two hours of classroom time each week. Because Mr. Hamilton has been to none of the meetings we've attended, his first point is based completely on hearsay. To set the record straight, no one has said that the program is entirely valueless, just that these classes should meet the same standards and criteria as any other lessons taught in the classroom. There also should be some way to measure those skills because the administration of IPS has made it clear for the past few years that strategies applied to the curriculum must be data-driven. The recent FCAT scores and our "C" status indicate that our weaknesses are still in the "Three Rs," not in attendance or misbehavior, which are clearer indications for applying the microsociety program.

Because we've had to ask the hard questions, attend meetings where we were met at times with some animosity, we have helped to create some changes for the betterment of all students. The administration has guaranteed that if this program continues in some form, all the IPSville Job Quest will have links to the Florida Sunshine State Standards.

Also, the instructional staff will partner with noninstructional staff and volunteers to help them create appropriate lesson plans and there will be some kind of grant or private funding to lesson the burden on staff and parents caused by fundraisers and out-of-pocket expenses.

All of this will have to be incorporated into some long-range plan, including ways to assess the program.

Class time already scarce

The last point is the loss of two instructional hours per week. This seems very trivial, but in reality the children are missing 56 hours of solid instructional time for the year. Any teacher in any grade level would give his right arm for a two-hour block of uninterrupted instructional time with his own class.

Children are pulled out of their classrooms throughout the day for ESE, Reach, speech, tutoring, mentoring, special programs, field trips, book sales, and all the other events that occur during a school year not to mention the holidays, half-days and teachers' work days. Between these distractions and the meetings, trainings, paperwork and lesson plans that are required from the teachers, they also must find time to teach the subject matter that is required by the state. These hours are very important, and unless the children are guaranteed the same quality of instruction or experiential learning from these 56 hours, you're comparing apples to oranges.

So, Mr. Hamilton, understand us when we say that we are not a couple of disgruntled parents, but many concerned parents who want to be part of their children's education. Contrary to your assertion, parents and guardians do have a fundamental right to know what's going on in their children's school, and any input to make things better should be welcomed, not mistrusted.

The supposition that the only right we have is to transfer our children when we question something at their school is ludicrous. What a poor lesson in life that would be if a child were taught it is easier to give up and leave than to work hard to make things better.

Our children love their school, teachers and friends. Tearing them away from "their" community would create more harm than would the answers to any of our questions.

_ Sophia Diaz-Fonseca lives in Inverness. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.