Conversation with Haverford Township School Board Candidate Helene Conroy-Smith

by Christopher Paslay

Transparency by school district administrators, attention to the needs of special education students, and fiscal responsibility are Conroy-Smith’s main concerns.

Helene Conroy-Smith, a special education teacher and mother of three from Delaware County, PA, is running for a seat on the Haverford Township School Board this November. A lack of transparency by Haverford Township School District administrators, along with a controversial Black Lives Matter BrainPOP video being shown to fifth graders in the school district, is what prompted her to run for school board.

“In my opinion the board and the school district administrators were not listening to the people, and so I decided . . . to run for school board,” Conroy-Smith said, explaining that her concerns over transparency and the controversial BrainPOP video were not being adequately addressed. “Once you close out parents in your community and only listen to a small body of your constituents – and it’s a very small vocal body that has political ties to large organizations – then I became the mom who was annoyed, and I had enough, and I had to step up.”

Conroy-Smith decided to become more vocal at school board meetings, presenting concerns from the “silent majority” – parents who did not like what was happening in the school district, but who were afraid to speak out.

“People are afraid to be cancelled, people are afraid to be talked about in moms groups – my name would get dragged through the mud in moms groups . . . parents are afraid, people are afraid,” Conroy-Smith said.

Because of “whispers” from concerned parents that things were going in the wrong direction, she now spends time working with moms and dads in the Haverford Township School District. “People are no longer feeling empowered,” she said, “so I’ve been working on educating them, helping them, talking about the points of their concerns and how to frame them to the school board. I have been behind the scenes working with many families.”

Many have thanked Conroy-Smith for giving them a voice.

Conroy-Smith has started a parents group called, “Give Kids Education,” which aims to put both rigor and transparency back into instruction. She believes in “equality” over “equity,” because all children are unique and are not going to end up in the same place.  “Not every kid is going to go to college, not every kid is going to join the Marines, not every kid is going to go out and get a job right away. . . . We need to look at this and say how can we give every kid an equal opportunity.”

Critical Race Theory, and its various offshoots, have made students overly race-conscious, Conroy-Smith says, which can be polarizing to children and disruptive to learning. She believes in the traditional colorblindness of the Civil Rights Movement, and supports Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Dream” of judging people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.  

She also supports diversity, and feels strongly that all children should feel welcome. However, diversity should be organic, and not contrived through identity-based school models tied to CRT.

Conroy-Smith has three major issues on her platform: One – more transparency from school district administrators, especially when it comes to curriculum and so-called “teacher resources,” which can come in through the back door from activist groups pushing CRT and other agendas. Two – more attention to the needs of special education students, who don’t always receive the rigor of instruction they need. And three – fiscal responsibility.

“When you’re implementing programs or purchasing curriculum, teachers should be appropriately using those programs,” Conroy-Smith said. “Because when you’re not using it with “integrity,” the kids are not going to necessarily learn, or have the outcomes that we usually see.”

The Haverford Township School Board general election is November 2, 2021.

Eye on The Notebook: Are Philadelphia School Teachers Really Bigots?

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

To help The Philadelphia Public School Notebook bring quality and equality to all public schools, I am posting a regular forum here on Chalk and Talk called Eye on The Notebook.  Its purpose is to provide The Notebook and its readers with constructive feedback from teachers who work day-to-day in real classrooms and experience the district’s problems firsthand.  Although The Notebook analyzes a wide variety of educational issues, too often their conclusions are limited in scope and perspective. 

 

Eye on The Notebook will attempt to bring a more grounded analysis of issues that face our city’s public schools.  I will dissect selected Notebook articles and add depth to their findings.  In tandem with The Notebook, this blog hopes to uncover the true root causes of problems concerning the Philadelphia School District and offer practical, realistic solutions.

 

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In their recent article, “A national trend: Black and Latino boys predominate in emotional support classes,” the Notebook explains that a disproportionate number of black and Latino boys are placed in special education.  Although they effectively shine a light on this issue, they oversimplify the problem by blaming it primarily on racism. 

 

“Many say racial biases among those who refer and evaluate students for special education are a factor,” the Notebook writes.  They also suggest there is an “unconscious racial discrimination by school authorities.”

 

As an experienced, hard-working teacher in the Philadelphia School District, I find this reasoning off-base and offensive.  There may exist a cultural gap between students and teachers, but to insinuate that minority students predominate in emotional support classes because they are being discriminated against by racially prejudiced teachers and counselors, most of whom are white, is insulting and intentionally misleading.     

 

The Notebook is too far removed from the day-to-day reality of urban classrooms to accurately diagnose problems, and as a result, they offer generic solutions. 

 

There are two layers to the problem of minorities and special education.  First is the fact that black and Latino males are “acting out” too often in school.  Second is that teachers are sometimes misinterpreting this behavior.  The Notebook does a marvelous job of overlooking the former and highlighting the latter.  Even if we succeed in reducing the number of black and Latino boys in emotional support classes, their unruly behavior will still remain.  And where will we be then?   

 

In the end, the student’s behavior is everything.  No employer is going to put up with a young man who continues to act out.        

 

So how do we change a student’s behavior? 

 

One solution is providing students with Positive Behavior Supports.  According to a plan designed by the Institute for Human Development at Northern Arizona University, “Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is an approach to helping people improve their difficult behavior that is based on four things:

 

1.  An Understanding that people (even caregivers) do not control others, but seek to support others in their own behavior change process;

 

2.  A Belief that there is a reason behind most difficult behavior, that people with difficult behavior should be treated with compassion and respect, and that they are entitled to lives of quality as well as effective services;

 

3.  The Application of a large and growing body of knowledge about how to better understand people and make humane changes in their lives that can reduce the occurrence of difficult behavior; and

 

4.  A Conviction to continually move away from coercion – the use of unpleasant events to manage behavior.     

 

PBS is effective because it treats the problems (poor communication and anger management skills)—not the symptoms (a false label).  If used correctly, it can literally change a student’s entire life. 

 

Instead of making sweeping generalizations and pulling the race card, The Notebook should focus its attention on a process that can rectify misbehaviors and give students back control of their educations.  Doing so might be more beneficial for students, and less offensive and insulting to teachers.