Patti Fields Blog

Giving you my side of it all…

Class Size

Posted by pattifields on April 25, 2009

It seems that I have been buried in email for the past week. I am trying to keep up and respond to every email, but it is exhausting.

Many parents and staff are upset about the current proposals on the table.  I understand that it is difficult to accept. It is especially hard when it impacts your own child.  I get that.

I value all of the amazing work of teacher librarians and library staff. They are hub of the elementary school, they enrich literacy and add so many other important skills.

Given all of that, I am more concerned about the combination of the proposed library cuts and the proposed .5 increase in class size at the elementary level. The combination of the two is a double-cut to elementary schools and I think it is too much.

Plus, the class size increase creates too much inequity in sizes across the district. In one set of grades (5th/6th), class sizes are going to range from 20 students in a classroom to 31 students in a classroom. I recently asked the question at a work session, “how can we think that is fair?” I was told that there is more research that says the quality of the teacher has more of an impact than the size of the class on achievement.

I can agree with that to a degree, but we can’t say that all teachers in our district are the same either. And, I think that a class of 20 (11/12-year olds) is different that a class of 31 (11/12-year olds). And,lets look at all of the other factors like physical environment (Van Allen v. Longfellow), the number of IEP’s in the classroom, the proficiency percentages, or the number of integrated special education students (they are not included in the class size but spend time in the classroom for integrated subjects) which can impact space if nothing else.

After long discussions (which always leads to more questions), I think that we have to re-examine the way that we are approaching class size. It seems that if we are really going to do what is right and what will impact achievement, than we need to look at other factors for classroom when determining class size.

I would like to start with percentages of proficiency and the number of IEP’s. We talk about the importance of differentiated instruction in the classroom for student achievement and to address proficiency, but at the next level up we stop all differentiation and uniformly assign class size. That doesn’t make sense to me, we should differentiate at the next level also.

We know that when there are a large number of students in a classroom that are not proficient, one of the best interventions is small group work.  That is what reading recovery and Title I interventions are all about.  But once students are in the upper elementary grades, we make the class sizes bigger so they have less opportunity for the small group work and there are less opportunities for outside of classroom support.  What happens for the students that aren’t yet proficient?

And what about the GAP schools?  We have identified and invested time in identifying the schools where we are trying to close the achievement gap with interventions, strategies and by developing Professional Learning Communities.  All of this is based on best practices developed to address achievement.  We aren’t considering that in class size either.  The teachers in these buildings are working extra hard through all of this, so I don’t think that we can say their classrooms are the same as classrooms at schools whose proficiency is at higher percentages.

I think it is time to admit that our classrooms across the district in elementary are not the same and by applying the same ratio for class size, we aren’t addressing the issues and we aren’t doing what is right.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Taking a break this Saturday afternoon

Posted by pattifields on April 18, 2009

This weekend is the first of many Cubs-Cards series this summer. There is always something special about the first series, it sets a tone and expectations for the year.

I am a Cubs fan, I have been for as long as I can remember. I loved the Hawk, Gracie, Ryno, and Dunston. I watched intently to see the Shawon-o-meter go up (and down). There was Jody Davis, Greg Maddux, Joe Girardi, Jerome Walton and Sammy Sosa. How could you not love a guy that sprinted to his spot and sent currents of energy out into the crowd? Can you believe it only took a trade for George Bell to get him?  I know he took quite a fall from his pedestal, but he wasn’t the only one. Sammy Sosa was the first baseball player that Xavier could name.  And Zachary learned about the Crime Dog (McGriff) at first game at Wrigley.

This year’s team has great personalities too.  I’m a big fan of Rami (can’t believe that they dropped him down to 5th, but he is showing him that he is still an RBI-machine).  Zachary loves The Riot and Xavier is a big fan of Fukudome.  I can’t tell you how much my heart swelled when Xavier informed me last week that he only needed one more Cubs tshirt to have a weeks work of Cubs gear, so he wouldn’t have to wear anything else.  That’s my boy!

Today, I am preparing to take a Saturday afternoon for myself and enjoy the game with our dog, Wrigley Fields.   I am happy because win or lose–I love the Cubbies.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know.”

Posted by pattifields on April 16, 2009

I find it difficult to say, “I don’t know.”  I almost always have an opinion.

This goes farther than that, I struggle with not knowing an answer or a direction to go. I feel pressure (mostly from myself) to have answers and to be “all knowing.” I am a member of the school board, I have all types of information and understand how the process works, shouldn’t I know?!?

But I have to say with all of the major issues that are swirling around the school district, I feel myself thinking, “I don’t know,” more often than I would like.

I don’t know if the board should go back and apply the policy of all new high school students will go to City High School while we wait for a high school task force to ponder short and long-term recommendations. It seemed much clearer three years ago when I thought it was the best solution to address immediate needs while we took time to long-range plan.

That policy didn’t go as well as I thought and there were bumps and bruises along the way. I think it was difficult for families. Now, we are facing that same request from a group of citizens who are advocating to stabilize City High enrollment while we wait for the task force’s work.  We haven’t completely reversed the policy but we have been phasing it out.

And, my answer is, “I don’t know.” I don’t know if it makes a big enough impact to justify more disruption for families. I don’t know if our high schools are ready to go back to that policy, feedback from administrators says, “no.”

Another issue is bell schedules and busing.  I have to say that I lean toward making changes, considering the savings and that the more that is saved on that end, the less we cut in the classroom.  I will say that I was surprised by the sentiment of some audience members on last Tuesday that were willing to “axe” the Regina families to save themselves discomfort.  I was criticized for discussing a “relationship” with Regina that spans more than a decade (at least).  I was told to think about our “own” families.  Last I knew we all lived in the same community.  But, regardless, it is an almost perfect example of where community opinion lies right now.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Independent Thought and Decisions

Posted by pattifields on April 13, 2009

I am an independent thinker and as a board member I make decisions based on all of the information I have, community input and with the best interest of all 11,750 students in the district.

I recently received an email that said,

“Has the board acted to stabilize the City High faculty as more than
820 voters have asked in writing for them to do? Or, have they
followed the pattern of many previous years and cut proportionately
more teachers from City High than from West High because of the
worsening enrollment disparity that they have failed to address?

Is it true that the board is planning to cut nearly 10% of the special
education faculty district wide as some people “in the know” have

These are closely guarded secrets. The superintendent won’t say. The
principals won’t say. The school board won’t say. And, as a result,
the public won’t know for sure until sometime Tuesday.

I think that lots of us should plan to show up at the school board
meeting on Tuesday night (7 PM at 509 S. Dubuque St). LOTS OF US. It
will either be an opportunity to publicly thank the board for their
responsiveness to our input — or, an opportunity to express our
displeasure IN PERSON about the continued erosion of the faculty and
curriculum of what was once one of the finest high schools in the
country. We may also have the opportunity to object to the continued
erosion of our commitment to students with special needs throughout
our district.

As we wait for the District’s school staffing announcement on Tuesday,
PLEASE continue to explain the issues to people that you know and ask
them to sign the COPE petition online ( I certainly
hope that the board has stabilized the faculty of City High so that
the community can have some time to come up with a durable solution to
the enrollment disparity problem. But, if they haven’t, it will
ultimately take VOTES to change things. Let’s keep aggressively
collecting petition signatures now, so that our community will be well-informed and motivated for the school board election in the fall.
Let’s collect 180 more signatures while we are out and about on this
beautiful holiday weekend, and get the total up over 1000.

Finally, please consider buying a “Save Our Teachers” yard sign
(pictured below) and displaying it prominently in your yard. They
cost $18 apiece and are durable enough to last until the school board
election (and maybe even the election 17 months from now). If you
would like one, send an email to and we’ll make one for you.”

This email was not meant to receive answers to the questions, it was a not-so-subtle message.  You cannot consider this even a “veiled” threat towards board members. I can honestly say that I do not make decisions based on who will like the decision or who has threatened to vote or mobilize against me.  We have an anti-bullying policy that covers our students,  it doesn’t cover board members.

I honestly believe that we all act with the best of intentions, I have to believe that.  I understand that when someone is passionate about an issue it can be difficult to look at things from a district-wide perspective.

I cannot make decisions based on a single elementary school, junior high or high school.  I cannot make decisions based on what I think will benefit my sons. I am not performing with due diligence in my role of board member if I do.

I find it sad that these kinds of tactics are acceptable to a large group of community members.

I continue to encourage public input into all of the school district issues and decisions, it is an important piece to the work.  It is best for our students if our community is engaged.  But with anything in life, if the decision doesn’t have the result that you want or lobbied for, it isn’t personal and we lose civility if it results in threats.

The decisions that I make may not be far off from what different groups want, but they will never be personal.   I make those decisions based on information, knowledge, community input and what I have determined is best for all students in the district, not because someone else told me what to do.

I represent one vote from an independent thinker.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Reactions to a Joint-Government Meeting

Posted by pattifields on April 9, 2009

I have been asked to blog before and I have resisted, but I am no longer resisting after the Johnson County Joint-Government meeting yesterday.

I am a person who collaborates and wants to work with others, it is what I do professionally.  However, after sitting through a Power Point presentation given by the City of Iowa City giving the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors information on how to make decisions, I am feeling stung.

I completely agree that schools are important to neighborhoods and to communities.  I want to work with other governmental bodies so that we can all fully understand the issues we are facing.  The Iowa City School District is at a point where we are facing enormous challenges and decisions that will obviously have an impact on our community.

The City of Iowa City spent a large amount of time and resources to put together the 1997 Comprehensive Plan. There were 10 Vision Committees that invested time and energy helping to vision for the city. There was not a Vision Committee for Schools and/or Education. I have to question, if we are to be told that “schools are the most important component of a neighborhood,” and “they are about more than just education,” why wasn’t there a Vision Committee for schools?

The next slides in the Power Point were about the 2008 Central District Plan, and again there were significant pieces that dealt with schools. I have been on the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors since 2005 and I have never been approached to provide input and be a part of any City of Iowa City comprehensive planning. As a citizen, I have read postings in the newspaper and been invited like any other citizen to provide input.

But I ask the question, if the City of Iowa City wants a strong say in how schools are in neighborhoods, shouldn’t there be at least one direct link from the School Board involved in that process?

The Iowa City Community School District has a High School Enrollment Advisory Committee that is forming and we have asked for city representation from Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty to participate.

The answer to my questions yesterday was, “our staff need to communicate more.” Well, I am sorry but last I knew the Iowa City City Council and the School Board are the two governmental bodies that are charged to make decisions. Too often, we are accused of “rubber stamping” administrative recommendations but if we were to follow that plan, then that is exactly what we are doing.

The Iowa City School District does not have a planning department, we have our Superintendent and his staff who are also trying to run a school district.

I will say that one City Councilor acknowledged that each governmental body is ultimately responsible for its own decisions and that neither group can make decisions for the other.

So, after all of this discussion and presentation the next Joint-Government Meeting was planned for the third Wednesday in September at the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building (4:00 pm).

The School Board has a lot of important decisions looming between now and then, and I wonder what the next Power Point presentation will be about…

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »