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Nov 9, 201211:27 AMEducation Matters

Parents Urging Change at Silver Spring Middle School

Nov 9, 2012 - 11:27 AM
Parents Urging Change at Silver Spring Middle School

It started with the overflowing trash cans, the cracked and crumbling cement stairs, the rusted basketball hoop without a net, and the heavy growth covering the fence surrounding the cracked tennis courts at Sligo Middle School in Silver Spring.

But those were just the outward signs of problems that include issues with discipline and classroom management, high teacher turnover and a lack of academic rigor for advanced students, says a handful of parents who have been advocating for change at the diverse school.

These parents have been meeting with Principal Richard Rhodes and other Montgomery County Public Schools officials since September, seeking improvements and a culture change. Rhodes did not respond to a request for comment on the parents’ concerns.

While school officials have tackled some of the physical problems in recent weeks, the big issues still remain, the parents say. They note that at least three dozen teachers and administrators have left since 2010. At the beginning of last summer, only one teacher remained in the math department. And scores on state standardized tests show that Sligo ranks second from last of all MCPS middle schools.  

The results of a 2011-2012 school environment survey filled out by 32 percent of staff are telling. Seventy-six percent of respondents disagreed that Sligo students “behave in an orderly manner.” Nearly 67 percent disagreed that “staff members consistently enforce school rules.”  Nearly 74 percent disagreed that “staff morale is positive in this school.” And nearly 53 percent said the school leadership did not support them in student discipline matters.

When asked to grade their school, nearly 61 percent of the 256 students who responded gave Sligo a “C” or “D.” By contrast, 83 percent of the 832 responding students at Bethesda’s Thomas W. Pyle Middle School gave their school an “A” or “B.”

“We want to see improvements,” said Melissa Polito, the mother of a Sligo seventh-grader and one of the Silver Spring parents who have been meeting with school officials.

“We want to make sure our school has the necessary resources and is managed well,” added Alice Witt, another member of the group and a parent of a seventh-grader.

Although Rhodes did not respond to a request to talk, his October message on the school’s website spoke of “much that has changed at Sligo this year,” resulting in “a positive energy in the air that reflects the mindset and behavior of students, staff and parents.”

Rhodes wrote that the school is focused on engaging students, staff and parents in “school improvement efforts with the primary aim of ensuring that all students learn and achieve.”

Improvement goals “continue to focus on increased literacy, enhanced mathematics, and improved school climate. We seek to do this by emphasizing critical thinking across content areas and collaborating to build positive relationship amongst stakeholders. Teachers are planning and delivering rigorous and engaging lessons that utilize questioning techniques to encourage student discourse in order to challenge and expand student thinking,” he wrote.

The parents disagree with Rhodes’ assessment. They want to see better enforcement of discipline and ability-grouping for advanced students who aren’t being challenged in classes, especially in science and social studies.

The calls for change at Sligo are similar to those made last June by a group of parents at Newport Mill Middle School in Kensington. Those parents also were concerned about discipline issues and a lack of academic rigor at their school. After meeting with several of them last summer, Newport Mill officials agreed to offer advanced English classes based on student “performance.”   

At Newport Mill and now Sligo, parents say that the issues boil down to a simple concept: making sure there is equity for all MCPS students.

Or as Sligo parent Sallie Buck of Silver Spring puts it: “Everybody gets the same dish of vanilla ice cream.”

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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
Nov 9, 2012 12:50 pm
 Posted by  MH

My son was bullied out of Sligo MS last year. We applied for and were able to transfer him after 17 separate, documented instances of bullying between September and March. 17. We tried everything to work with the school, but they were unable to do anything to stop the problem. In fact, Principal Rhodes never met with us a single time, even after I directly requested a meeting, during the entire ordeal. At my son's new school, we have not had a single instance of bullying. None. I'm glad some parents are trying to change things at Sligo. There is a huge problem at that school.

Nov 11, 2012 08:38 am
 Posted by  2boysmom

As a parent who pulled my child out of Sligo, I couldn't agree more with the issues and concerns raised in this article. A number of parents of talented students at Sligo pulled out our kids this year in response to the substandard educational experience we felt they were getting. My child now attends a MCPS middle school in Bethesda and it is night and day. There is more homework -- much of it project based -- a well-rounded and diverse offering of after school programming, and, as my child put it, "I never feel like I might get beat up." The school culture is so much more challenging, positive and enriching it is hard to believe this is the same county system. I find it depressing and frustrating that there is such disparity in the county. What about all the kids whose parents don't have the means to pull their children out of Sligo or other under performing schools? How is this fair to them? It is simply unjust that the kids who arguably need a strong school with inspiring leadership the most are not getting it. I hope the parents mentioned in this article have success in achieving change -- they are doing the school and broader community a real service with their efforts.

Nov 11, 2012 12:51 pm
 Posted by  Frankie

Thank you Julie for bringing this conversation to a wider audience. Three things I would like to add to the conversation:
I am the parent of three children who each went to Sligo Middle School and who have been very successful in their educational and life development pursuits. The last one graduated from Sligo in 2010 and Jeff Rhodes was her principal. All three of my children feel grateful for their educational experience at Sligo.
As a reader of this blog, I request some additional reporting which reveals a deeper understanding of how a diverse range of parents - including parents from different classes, as well as race and culture - feel about the school. I also hope Jeff Rhodes and some of the teachers will find the courage to talk more specifically about their efforts to continue building a strong middle school.
For the parents who are feeling so concerned and looking for action steps, I encourage you to research a project supported by Bronda Mills, the community superintendent in charge of Silver Spring schools, called the Piney Branch Elementary School Action Team. This project involved a diverse group of parents, teachers and the principal coming together to build trust and work on concrete action steps to shift the culture of the school so that it served ALL students. If you want more information, I suggest you contact Lanita Whitehurst at IMPACT Silver Spring, who was one of the lead organizers of this project.
Best of luck to all of you who care about Sligo Middle School. I hope you will lead from a place of understanding and positive energy, rather than a place of blame and anger.

Nov 11, 2012 01:30 pm
 Posted by  OlneyMom

MCPS should be horrified. The top kids and top schools get paraded in front of the media. But it is supposed to be one for all and all for one in the county. Obviously not. Time for a supt and a principal to fess up.

Nov 11, 2012 09:51 pm
 Posted by  Karen l.

Unfortunately this article gives the impression Sligo doesn't produce highly skilled, successful students. as a parent of 3 Sligo past/present students I'm offended and take exception. True, because of the two local magnet schools in our consortium, resources are diverted out of Sligo. In addition, demographic changes in the area have left Sligo smaller than other resource rich schools. While a great deal of work needs to be done to bridge the opportunity gap at Sligo, comparing the economically diverse Sligo with the the economically homogenous Pyle shouldn't even happen in sociology 101.

Nov 12, 2012 09:23 am
 Posted by  mom2three

The specific stat compared with Pyle is with student satisfaction. It is a completely valid comparison - even in Sociology 301. Should only "rich" kids be entitled to be satisfied with their educational experience? Should only "rich" kids feel safe at school? That is a victim's mentality. I suggest you read the entire school satisfaction survey - it is available on the MCPS web site. It is horrifying. Sligo does produce may highly skilled, successful students. The community needs to work together to make sure all kids are served.

Nov 12, 2012 10:31 am
 Posted by  muirbrof

The Principal, specifically Mr. Rhodes, should be asked to leave. He has ruined the life of many staff (including teachers, support, building personnel) by ignoring, marginalizing, and insulting people. Mr. Rhodes can make a normal person feel like nothing. Staff and students are NOT supported or encouraged to succeed. Mr. Rhodes has placed himself in a class of his own. He feels entitled and will not get "dirty" by dealing with behavior problems or two weeks of food fights in the cafeteria.

Nov 14, 2012 09:13 am
 Posted by  dad

Our son was at Sligo but is now at a private school. We have not seen much difference in terms of academic rigor but notice a major difference in the way kids are held accountable for their actions. If school work is not done, there are consequences. If kids are disrespectful or misbehaving, there are consequences. Everyone at the school is clear about the expectations and understands they will be enforced. At Sligo, there was a lack of enforcement and it created a challenging environment that I think is reflected in some of the above comments.

Nov 15, 2012 07:11 pm
 Posted by  mom

The assessment of Sligo MS by this writer so far has not reflected my and my daughter's experience. As the mother of a 6th grader at Sligo. I have been extremely pleased with her teachers, the quality of the teaching, their obvious energy and dedication to the kids and learning and the overall positive tone at the school. In fact, she has been switched out of a class that was too big and now has a smaller class with more focused content for a set of kids that needed a different approach. Another class has had its size reduced as well. In the beginning of the year, I asked for Megan to be switched out of algebra to slow her pace down in math and my request was granted with full support. The parent-teacher conference process was thougtfully run on Monday where there were times available in the afternoon and early evening. The PTSA is making efforts to reach out to parents and forge good relationships with teachers and support all of their work with the kids. I am very sad and concerned to know that kids are being bullied at Sligo or any school. I hope that these types of incidents can be addressed and not continue. Mr. Rhoades needs to be held accountable indeed for the past and current troubles at Sligo. I remain very hopeful for a positive experience at Sligo for my daughter, but will remain vigilant and ready to act to help her navigate the challenges of middle school anywhere and at Sligo.

Nov 16, 2012 01:43 pm
 Posted by  silla

This article seems to have left out several important details. About the math department. Two of the math teachers left for promotions (one went to work in the county's central office), one teacher retired, one teacher left before the end of the school year due to health problems, and another went to work at a school closer to her home. A teacher of another subject went to work at another school in a higher position. The administrator that left from last year also received a higher level position with another school system. These movements are not uncommon in the county. Also how can a survey of 1/3 of the staff be "telling"? That is not reliable data.

It sounds like there are parents from a certain population here who do not wish for their children to be in classes with students from other populations. They would like to see homogeneous grouping (of the same or similar nature or kind). MCPS as a whole does not operate like that. They believe in heterogenous classes .(composed of different kinds). Sligo is an extremely diverse school in a diverse community. Perhaps these parents should consider relocating.

Is Sligo perfect? No. Can it use some work? Absolutely! But an unfairly biased article like this is not going to help the necessary change occur. It only creates hostility and divide.

And no, Mr. Rhodes may not have responded to the author of this article but is he allowed to? He works for one of the largest school districts in the country. I'm sure he has to follow certain protocol. I would think the county has a publicity department to deal with these types of things.

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