Melynda Wilcox's statement at public hearing on budget

posted Sep 24, 2010, 6:44 PM by Chris Miller   [ updated Sep 24, 2010, 6:58 PM ]

Statement for Public Hearing on the FY 2011-2012 Budget 

Melynda Wilcox, President, Alexandria PTA Council 

September 23, 2010 

Good evening.  My name is Melynda Wilcox and I am President of the George Washington Middle School PTA. While I certainly haven’t missed testifying before you over the past year, I’m very happy to be representing GW tonight.

The opening of the second year of the new middle schools at GW went more smoothly than last year, but there were a few glitches that we hope can be ironed out for next year.  Bus schedules were never mailed to homes, so there was a good deal of confusion among new parents, particularly those without internet access, about when and where to have their children catch the bus on the first day of school. There was also a lot of uncertainty and confusion around class schedules, mainly because families didn’t learn until the last minute that schedules would be distributed on the first day of school. Earlier communication about these sorts of details would be welcomed by parents, and the PTA stands ready to assist in these efforts.

We had a very successful and well-attended Back-to-School Night last week. I heard from a number of parents who were impressed by the energy level and enthusiasm of the GW faculty.

Our primary concern heading into the school year is class sizes, which seem noticeably larger than last year.  Campus enrollment is just shy of 950, about the same as last year. While the PTA applauds the decision to reduce the teaching load of math and language arts teachers from five classes to four, there is a growing sense among parents that the consequence of that staffing  change is larger class sizes, which may work at cross purposes with the goal of greater individual attention to students.  In GW1, for instance, all four sections of Algebra 1 have more than 25 students.


We’re pleased with the addition of two new guidance counselors this year, although even with four counselors across both schools we are still well above the 180 students-to-1 counselor ratio that Dr. Sherman described as the new standard at our recent PTA meeting. Using that formula, we currently should have a 5th counselor to share between the schools (or a part-time counselor at each school).  We hope that you will take this into consideration for the 2011-2012 budget.

The PTA remains supportive of a successful intramural sports program at GW, but we’re convinced that the odds are against this unless there are stipends available for teachers who are willing to coach. After all, teachers who tutor after school receive stipends, and teachers who coach middle-school intramurals in neighboring jurisdictions receive stipends. There was a meeting of interested parties on this topic last evening, and a small group is being formed to draw up a proposal on how to fund and staff intramurals.

The final point I’d like to raise is the issue of field trip funding. Currently, the combined GW campus receives about $7,000 to allocate to field trips. Most of this is spent by the three music programs—chorus, band and orchestra—to attend the District X festivals as well as other festivals and local competitions. (The overnight competitions are largely paid for through fund-raising efforts.) GW is a “Blue Ribbon” school that has received superior ratings by all three music programs at the District competitions, and this is a source of great pride for the entire city.  Unlike a typical field trip, these events provide important opportunities for students to perform and to be adjudicated, which are SOL objectives, and they heighten awareness in the community of the excellent quality of our school division’s music programs.  This is a case where we clearly derive tremendous benefit at a modest cost.

Unfortunately, given that the field trip budget has been declining in recent years, only a few crumbs are left over for the rest of the teachers to use for field trips.  As we move closer to the IB Middle Years Program, a greater emphasis will be placed on community and service learning and other hands-on activities off campus, but the current funding level is insufficient. We would like to propose that the Board consider a different approach where the roughly $7,000 that is needed for the music programs is set aside as a separate travel fund to cover those expenses, and that a similar amount of funds be set aside for service learning opportunities or field trips for all students. This fund could also be used to pay for students in the AVID program to visit a college campus, which is a key element of that program. Last year the AVID students at GW would not have spent a wonderful day at Gettysburg College if not for the PTA and a few individual donors.  I would be happy to discuss this further with any of you if you like.

Thank you. I look forward to working with you all this year.

Chris Miller,
Sep 24, 2010, 6:55 PM