And a Child Shall Lead the Conference

Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board
By Katie Crawford

A dapper and delightful Will Leuthold addressed the school board on Monday night. The fifth grader from Nether Providence Elementary School, with his brothers and father in the audience looking on, spoke of the benefits of students leading parent-teacher conferences at his school, which was the focus topic of the meeting.

Fifth grader Will Leuthold addresses the school board Monday night as Principal Al Heinle listens. Photo by Katie Crawford

Fifth grader Will Leuthold addresses the school board Monday night as Principal Al Heinle listens. Photo by Katie Crawford

Leuthold enjoys being a part of the conferencing process, noting that “Teachers can’t give everything from the kids’ point of view,” and “Kids can tell parents and teachers what works for them.” For instance, he said, he has realized that he does much better on tests when he takes them in quieter classrooms. Leuthold also likes being able to define his own goals, one of which was to stop doodling during math class. He brought his math journal as evidence of his progress showing a recent, clean page of notes compared to the pages covered in doodled stars from several weeks ago.

The student-led conferences are supported by a grant from the Foundation for Wallingford-Swarthmore Schools awarded to NPE principal Al Heinle and 5th grade teacher Mark Rosenberg as part of the schoolwide goal of increasing student engagement. Heinle had experienced student-led conferences when he was an elementary school teacher, and he recalls these conference moments as some of his fondest teaching memories. He highlighted the benefits of having students evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses and being part of the conversation around their learning.

Fourth grade teacher Aubrey Besieger has been holding student-led conferences for the first time in her classroom and has already seen benefits, including increased student ownership of learning and increased self confidence in students. Her students write out an academic goal and a life goal, make a plan for reaching these goals, and then reflect on their progress every two weeks.

In preparation for the actual conference, students write and rehearse a script and gather “artifacts,” examples of their classroom work which demonstrate progress towards meeting learning goals. Fifth grade teacher Mark Rosenberg has included students at conferences in the past, not as active participants, but as listeners who were able to “chime in.” He is looking forward to his students taking a more active role, encouraging students to ask themselves, “What have you done to reach your goal? What else needs to be done?”

Superintendent Dr. Laura Palmer congratulated Strath Haven High School vice principal Chris Brown, who is now Dr. Chris Brown, having successfully defended his dissertation exploring how secondary teachers can use student feedback to inform instruction.

Dr. Palmer also announced a town hall meeting regarding proposed real estate tax reform, convening State Representative Leanne Krueger-Braneky and State Senators Thomas Killion and Tom McGarrigle. The session will be held on Friday, March 24, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Strath Haven High School auditorium. All community members are welcome and encouraged to attend.

SHHS Achievers

Student representative Val Henderson informed the board that junior Dayo Abeeb took seventh place in the New Balance Indoor National Championships in the triple jump with a jump of 47 feet and 4 inches. Grace Hodges, Emma Young, and Janet Kelsey represented SHHS as the only all-female team in the Lower Merion CODE LM programming competition. The team took fourth place. The advanced team of Michael Tang, Maddie Forbes, and Liam Walker took second place, and the expert team of Clayton Francis, Zach DiNardo and Adam Holsinger took third place.

No Exceptions

During audience recognition, Thomas Jenik of Swarthmore addressed the board regarding the handling of his tax bill. Jenik has paid the bill in full in advance for the seven years that he has lived in Swarthmore. This year he realized he had not paid his bill yet on the night of August 31, the due date. He delivered the bill to the tax office on the morning of September 1, but was told that he would still have to pay the penalty.

Jenik wrote to the superintendent in September and again in November with no response and then again to the Board President Dr. Sonntag who informed him that he was still required to pay the penalty. He told the board that he was surprised by the lack of flexibility. Dr. Sonntag responded that he understood his frustration, but that the board sets the policy and the administration must implement the policy. Dr. Sonntag noted that, “every exception leads to other exceptions,” and that, “we can’t act arbitrarily, we have to act uniformly.” The board clarified that payment must be postmarked by August 31 or delivered to the district drop box by August 31.

On Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m. in the high school library, Dr. Dwight DeWerth-Pallmeyer, Widener University professor and WSSD parent will speak about “Cell Phone Dependency and Addiction.” All community members are invited.

One thought on “And a Child Shall Lead the Conference

  1. I have always included my children in their IEP meetings. They should be active participants in their education. The teachers in WSSD have all been very supportive of this.

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