EDITORIAL: Waltham Public Schools gear up for a new year
The school year commenced Wednesday in Waltham and everywhere one could sense a certain buzz in the air; excited students filled classrooms as anxious parents cued up outside schools to drop off their children. The first day of school is always a momentous occasion, but in Waltham, as always, it is also an occasion for complaint. Waltham has left some problems from the previous school year uncorrected and created some new ones for its students at the same time. Parents do have some reason to be happy, however, with the recent news that Waltham students' Massachusetts Curiculum Assessment System (MCAS) scores have gone up. But because the scores in the controversial test have not increased by all that much, parents certainly should hold their applause.
The schools issue closest to Brandeis is of course that the city has still not come up with a solution to ease the traffic bottleneck caused by the short driveway of the new Stanley Elementary School on South Street. Parents complained all last year that there wasn't enough room to enter, drop off their children and exit. The state-of-the-art school, which was planned in part at Brandeis, was a necessary and beneficial addition to the community, despite the annoyance of the driveway. But certainly it is easier for parents to complain about what is not right than to be thankful for what is.
Parents and students had one more minor issue to complain about when Waltham officials, in an unusual decision, decided to remove the locks from lockers at the new McDevitt Middle School. They said this was done in order to "improve security and build trust," according to an official quoted in Friday's Daily News Tribune. The article quoted Superintendent Susan Parella as saying students would stop bringing to school what they should be leaving at home. Considering the high cost of books and school supplies, however, the logic of this decision seems flawed, and parents have every right to complain.
In contrast to these relatively minor issues, the MCAS results came as a pleasant surprise to school officials and some parents. According to the preliminary results of the 2003 exam, which is supposed to test students' proficiency in various subjects, Waltham is beginning to reap tangible results of their efforts. According to the Tribune, Waltham students scored higher than in previous years in five of eight scholastic categories, with minimal changes in the other three. This news is tempered in that these results still place Waltham in the bottom fifth of public schools in the state, according to the Tribune.
The MCAS, and the preparation required of students to be ready for it, is not necessarily the best gauge of Waltham students' education, however; the test has been attacked by many as more a diversion from the normal curriculum than an accurate test of students' knowledge. The MCAS has also been called racist, after large gaps in the results were found between white students and their minority peers, although the gap seems to have decreased slightly in this year's results.
Aside from the complaints and the controversy, it is simply the start of another academic year in another medium-sized city west of Boston. But unlike many of its neighbors, Waltham is a city often struggling more than it is rejoicing. Waltham is economically diverse, and with that comes a diversity of problems to be dealt with year after year.
We, as Brandeis students, are often more observers of the city's problems than participants in their solving, as there is often little personal imperative for us to be active in the greater community. But as we plow through our second full week of school and Waltham public school students get through their first, we should remember that we are all living and learning in the same city.