I have heard from several parents regarding the cancellation of Halloween parades and parties for this year; and last night when I had a little more time, I wrote a detailed explanation for this very difficult situation. I sincerely hope it helps everyone to understand how the decision was made.
I did not mean to top-down mandate the culture of the district. Nor was this a malicious or punitive decision. This was simply a decision that needed to be made quickly, among many decisions made this week, and I took responsibility for it. There were many factors to consider, such as teachers needing to finish-up units for the end of the term, which is right upon us… such as our pending Veterans Day celebrations scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Monday for which the teachers and children need to carefully prepare… and the reality that so many parents have already had to juggle their work schedules for the past five days due to our closures.
Additionally, I grew up believing that the cure for chaos and misfortune was a return to routine as soon as possible. I did not personally cancel Halloween to advance an agenda; and had the storm not wiped out five days of classes, all the Halloween celebrations would have gone on as scheduled. But, unfortunate circumstances did intervene; and for that I am sorry, but not to blame. I know that parents may not understand this, but four days lost in November are not really equal to four days made-up in June. It’s not a one-for-one trade, and any teacher you might speak to would quickly confirm that.
Finally, when I came to Orange, I did not come as a dictator. I listened when teachers said they did not have enough time to complete the curriculum. Some teachers told me they could not fit in daily math instruction, which distressed me. Yes, I did set three district-wide goals this year, and protecting instructional time is one of them. But, what I meant by protecting instructional time is centered on a former practice in which the teachers were too often pulled from their classrooms for curriculum writing and professional development activities at the district level.
In addition to this key change at the district level, I asked teachers to plan activities with a clear curricular objective or target and write it on the board, so that students can refer to it. Learning does not have to be contrary to either self-expression or having fun.
Finally, I asked our teachers to protect instructional time by being selective and choosing the most rewarding activities among the many possible enhancements. We can’t do everything that comes along; therefore, we must choose the best.
These objectives are clearly documented in my opening day talk to the teachers, which you can find on the webpage or linked below. I will try to continue to live by these principles because I deeply believe in them and I think, at heart, the school community does as well. I canceled the Halloween parades and parties because it will be November 7th, not October 31st; because Veteran’s Day is immediately upon us the next day and worthy of our careful attention; because also upon us is the end of the term; and finally, because the school Halloween events had gone off without a hitch the weekend before Sandy hit, “Truck or Treat” was being offered by a volunteer parents and our First Selectman Jim Zeoli at High Plains this Saturday, and the real ‘Trick or Treating’ in neighborhoods was still taking place. I was also thinking about our parents who have had to request time off this week and are likely to be feeling a squeeze when requesting additional time. Many are planning to come with their family members to the Veteran’s Day celebration as well.
When you get a chance, please take a look at these ‘celebrations’ of the Orange District. They represent a side of me that seems as yet to be unknown to you. I do support enrichment activities. I do understand that learning takes place outside of the textbook. I have never claimed it’s all about the test scores. (I also included my Opening Day message to the teachers, in which I talked about protecting instructional time, so you can see it was not related to Halloween or any agenda.)