Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Churchill High School Construction errors deplete science labs


Testimony before MCPS Board of Education
September 25, 2006
In 2001, Churchill High School was officially reopened in an
on-site modernization. Students began attending a new facility.
In 2003, MCPS heard from the Science teachers at Churchill
High School about reductions in the square footage of science
classrooms during construction. That information has been part of
the Churchill Cluster testimony since that time. Attachment A lists
the deficiencies in the science classrooms that were noted by the
science teachers in the summer of 2003.
According to MCPS' Department of Facilities Management there
are no plans at this time to correct the deficiencies in the science
labs. At a minimum, MCPS would need to commission a feasibility
study to determine the extent and cost of needed repairs. No funding
exists for that study at this time.
In addition to the list of classroom deficiencies on
Attachment A, I have also learned that the Chemical Storage room for
the science department was eliminated during the modernization.
Chemicals are now stored in an inner hallway between classrooms.
Attachment B is from the Maryland Public School publication on the
storage of chemicals in high school science labs. The guideline
specifically states that chemicals should not be stored in hallways.
The deficiency in the science labs at Churchill has meant
that science classes can only perform a very limited number of
laboratory experiments. Attachment C shows the results of a 2000
National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education. In that survey
the average percentage of instructional time spent in hands on/lab
work was 22 %.(C-3) At Churchill High School, 5 labs in a semester is
considered a lot of lab time. 1 to 5 labs per semester equates to 5%
or less of science class time spent in hands on/lab activities.
This deficiency was caused by the under building of the
science classrooms. From the moment the modernized school opened,
the science labs were too small to accommodate the science students
at the school. Overcrowded classes prevent science teachers from
safely conducting laboratory experiments. Attachment D shows
Maryland Public Schools' maximum number of students that are to
participate in a lab.
28 is the maximum number of students a teacher is to
supervise doing a lab at one time, with 24 being the preferred number
of students. At Churchill a classroom of 32 or more is common, thus
severely limiting the amount of laboratory experiments that a teacher
can safely supervise.
The MCPS Science web site lists the 5 E's of teaching
science. One of the E's is extend. Extend is described as:
The "extend" stage allows students to apply their new labels,
definitions, explanations and skills in new, but similar situations.
It often involves experimental inquiry, investigative projects,
problem solving and decision making. Lab work is common. Students
frequently develop and complete their own well-designed
investigations.
At Churchill High School the definition of "common" would be
doing labs in 5% of the classroom sessions. Significantly lower than
the 22% figure shown in the National Survey of Science and
Mathematics Education attached as Attachment C. And in sharp
contrast to the 71% of the science classes that do labs once a week,
Churchill High School students can be exposed to lab work as little
as once a month.
Churchill High School has now gone 5 years without any
capital funding to address this serious physical defect that greatly
impacts the science curriculum and the associated Signature
Program. I am now hearing that parents and community groups are now
beginning to donate funds to the principal to address this problem*,
but without the Board of Education's commitment to capital funds to
fix this deficit, and operating funds to staff the program, the
science classes will continue to operate at a substandard level.
Please make a commitment to complete the science classrooms
at Churchill, as they were meant to be built during the 2001
modernization based on the student population and state guidelines,
and allow the science department to operate at the level to which it
was intended.
Thank you.
Janis Sartucci
*Winston Churchill Foundation, Inc. - Chairman: Robert W. McCann -
fundraising and Churchill PTSA.

 "The role of the laboratory is central in high school physics
courses since students must construct their own understanding of
physics ideas. This knowledge cannot simply be transmitted by the
teacher, but must be developed by students in interactions with
nature and the teacher. Meaningful learning will occur where
laboratory activities are a well-integrated part of a learning
sequence."  The Role of Laboratory Activities in High School Physics
A Position Paper of the AAPT Committee on Physics in High Schools
August 1992 Subcommittee on the Role of the Laboratory: Carole Escobar, Paul
Hickman, Robert Morse, Betty Preece (Approved by the AAPT Executive Board, November 1992)
2006 © American Association of Physics Teachers

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Washington Post: Yeshiva Facility Deals Costly for Montgomery

County Has Spent Millions in Public Money to Help Fund the Nonprofit's Renovations of Two Schools
By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer 
Sunday, August 13, 2006


In 1999, Montgomery County leased a shuttered public school to the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, a deal both sides considered a bargain. The nonprofit group got a derelict building and 20 acres in Wheaton for $1.75 million, with the understanding that it pay the millions more needed to renovate it. The county unloaded a neighborhood eyesore.
Seven years later, the deal has turned out to be costly for taxpayers and a boon for Yeshiva.
The county school system took back the building to ease overcrowding, had to compensate Yeshiva for renovations it had made and spent $12.4 million on further improvements needed to reopen the facility as a public school. The county then leased a second former public school to Yeshiva, where it now operates a private girls academy.
Yeshiva's compensation was a $9.9 million construction contract with the school system that provided nearly enough public money to cover the cost of the organization's renovations at both schools, according to a Yeshiva financial document reviewed by The Washington Post.
A top aide to County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) was involved at every stage of the complex series of transactions. The aide, Jerry Pasternak, mixed policy and political roles, helping to negotiate the leases and the construction contract with Yeshiva, in addition to raising some of the $92,000 that Yeshiva supporters have contributed to Duncan's political account since 1998. Pasternak declined to be interviewed for this article.
Jeffrey Lee Cohen, president of Yeshiva's board of directors, said in written responses to questions that county schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast initiated the move from the first school to the second, not Yeshiva. The construction contract "was executed and performed in good faith by both parties," Cohen said.
In interviews in late May this year, Cohen and fellow Yeshiva board member Dennis Berman said there was no connection between Duncan's support for the leases and campaign contributions to him from the organization's supporters. "It certainly never was a quid pro quo," Berman said.
Duncan spokesman David Weaver said that the county executive had addressed questions for this article in earlier interviews. Weaver noted that Duncan did not act alone; the school leases and the construction contract were approved or funded by the County Council.
"I've spent 25 years working hard to do things for people," Duncan said in an interview in June. "Do people give contributions? Yes. Is there a pay for play? No. Is any decision I make based on campaign contributions? No. I always put policy before politics."
After being elected county executive in 1994, Duncan implemented a policy of leasing or selling unused public schools as a way to return neighborhood eyesores to productive use, he added. "We had people living in [one former public school]. We had syringes in the courtyard, we had mattresses in the courtyard, we had condoms in the courtyard. That's not good for a neighborhood."
Duncan is completing his third term as county executive. On June 22, he abruptly halted his campaign for governor of Maryland, citing a diagnosis of clinical depression.
Montgomery school system officials said they entered into the construction contract so that Yeshiva would relinquish the first school, which Duncan had leased over school system objections. "We had to fulfill a lease which we did not write, which we were not a party to," school system spokesman Brian Edwards said. He said Weast was not available to discuss the issue.
The contract allowed Yeshiva to bill the full $9.9 million regardless of the renovation costs and to use the leftover taxpayer money as it wished. The school system awarded the contract without competitive bidding and waived rights to inspect the project.
"Our clear intent was to reimburse [Yeshiva] for what they had done" at the first school, said Richard Hawes, the school system's director of facilities management. "If they made money off of it, that's the American way," he said.
The financial records reviewed by The Post indicate that in 2004, Cohen wrote checks for $200,000 to two educational organizations in Israel from an account used for renovation work funded by the construction contract. The records also show that Cohen wrote a $220,000 check on the same account to Brit Limited Partnership, a firm he partially owns that has contributed $12,000 to Duncan.
Cohen declined to answer questions about these checks.
Two Deals for YeshivaIn the mid-1990s, Yeshiva was searching for a new home for its girls school. The organization had vacated a six-acre campus in the Four Corners area of Silver Spring and was temporarily housing the girls school at a synagogue.
On Oct. 29, 1998, Pasternak wrote to the County Council in support of a Duncan initiative to lease the former Col. Joseph A. Belt Junior High School in Wheaton to Yeshiva. The proposed deal gave Yeshiva the option to buy the 20-acre facility for the amount of the 17-year lease: $1.75 million. The terms were similar to a 1995 lease between the county and a nonprofit group that defaulted in July 1998.
In the letter, Pasternak said Yeshiva had funds available to renovate Belt; the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission had bought the organization's Four Corners property that year for $1.25 million...

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