Kris Chambers

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dear Prospective Upper Elementary Arbor Parent,

For third grade, Zac had Mrs. Hindman and she was doing a great job for us. Zac was working far ahead of what they would typically do in lower elementary so Mrs. Hindman got advanced workbooks for him and actually made a book for him called “The Book of Zac” so he’d have interesting, challenging work. She individualized the work for him. Like Montessori is supposed to.

Then in fourth grade with Mr. H, he started the year with a lot of review, nothing new. That’s fine for the first few weeks of school, but this entire year has been review. Instead of individual lessons, Mr. H breaks the kids into groups by age and gender. All of the fourth grade boys get lessons together and all of the fourth grade girls get lessons together. This not only separates the boys and girls and makes tension between them (Zac has never had so many girls calling him fat and stupid and ugly and I don’t think it has to do with them being 10 year olds) but it also means no more individual lessons. Rob and I have both talked to Mr. H and Mary over and over about grouping the kids this way but Mr. H isn’t budging and Mary is backing him up.

I purchased a subscription to an online education site called I printed out some fourth grade review work and Zac didn’t know half of it. He knew none of the history, he doesn’t know how to convert measurements, and he struggled with simple story problems. We had his IQ tested when we were considering sending him to Open Window school, and he’s nearly genius level but doesn’t know how to do standard fourth grade work because Arbor doesn’t teach it. Instead, he spends his time tracing circle cut outs and coloring them to show how big a fraction is, which oddly enough is the same thing Nic our kindergartner is doing at his Montessori school this year.

Mr. H has some personal rules that he insists the kids follow. I sent a mix of multi grain cheerios and raisins with Zac for snack and he couldn’t eat it because Mr. H didn’t have the box and couldn’t see if they were healthy enough. Zac also brought back home sugar free pudding because Mr. H said it had “no nutritional value.” And no lemonade because it’s not 100% juice. At the beginning of the year, the kids had to lay out their food and order it from most healthy to least healthy. They had to start eating the healthiest things and finish with what Mr. H deemed least healthy. That meant if I packed pretzels to dip in peanut butter, the peanut butter had to be eaten before the pretzels. I swear, Julie, I am not making this stuff up. I think enough parents complained about it, though, because now they can eat food in the order they like, as long as Mr. H “allows” that food to be eaten at school.

Oh, and back to the coloring circles for fraction work, Zac did 10 fraction problems which involved him coloring red circles to show the fractions. Mr. H decided that Zac could have fit more than one problem on each page if he had arranged them better so he made Zac erase five problems done in red colored pencil and squeeze them onto the other pages. Here is the email I sent to him:

Good morning Mr. H,

Zac and I are going over what he plans to do at school today. He said he needs to do “multiplication of a fraction by a fraction” again today. His impression is that he has to erase 5 of the 10 problems and do them again so there is less paper wasted. Apparently he used an entire sheet for each problem when he could have fit 2 problems to a sheet. Zac’s feelings are he’s making his math book messy because he can’t erase colored pencil completely and he has to spend time doing the same work again. Is your goal to teach Zac not to waste paper or are there other reasons that Zac may not know? I’d like to know so I can help Zac understand. Thanks for your reply.

His reply:

Yes, Zac finished the fraction lesson today, and yes, he was wasting paper as there was room for several of these problems per page and no need to skip facing pages. If I had to guess the “why”, I’d say possibly he’d hoped to be the first one to complete his second math notebook. Sometimes the guy just needs to slow down.

When Zac got home, he told me that Mr. H pulled him aside and asked why his mom was sending him emails, saying he had no work to do. This makes me nuts because anytime I send Mr. H an email asking him a question, he talks to Zac about it. I had already asked Mr. H not to pull Zac into conversations that he and I are having because it makes Zac uncomfortable and it’s a private conversation between parent and teacher. That’s why I ended my mail with “Thanks for your reply” so he wouldn’t corner Zac and make him feel bad. My email also didn’t mention Zac not having any work to do. And what does he mean “sometimes the guy just needs to slow down”?

So my reply to Mr. H:

Thanks for getting back to me, Mr. H. Zac brought his math book home last night and although he did use the backs of pages, I agree that he could possibly have fit more work on each page. We talked about how you would like him to make better use of the paper in his notebook and Zac agrees that he could also save a lot of time and erasers if he arranged more work on each page. I’m not sure what you mean by him needing to slow down. It looks like his work is pretty neat and done correctly. Do you feel he’s rushing through the work?

Zac also mentioned you spoke to him about an email I sent to you regarding him not having any work to do. I’m confused about that as my email didn’t mention a lack of work. Also, as we’ve talked about before, it puts Zac on the spot and makes him uncomfortable when you question him about things you and I talk about in private. I don’t mention our emails to Zac because I don’t want Zac to feel we are not in agreement with his work. If I have a question about your reasons, I’d like to be able to ask you in private and for Zac not to think I’m constantly questioning your decisions. Once I know your goals, I can help Zac understand.

Mr. H didn’t reply. I’ve talked to several other parents and that seems to be what happens when you send an email asking a question that he doesn’t want to answer. He just ignores it. Communication is horrible.

I know this email is getting incredibly long but if I knew all this when I was signing Zac up for fourth grade, we would not have continued at Arbor. There is a site called They rate public schools based on test scores and allow people to post comments about the school. If you read about arbor, you’ll see the people praising the school are the ones with kids who have learning disabilities or are in the preschool program. I haven’t posted to that site but I agree with most of what is said on it. Here’s the link

Zac and Nic are going to Cascade Ridge next year. When I was dropping off their paperwork, I ran into a former arbor parent. Mary actually kicked them out of the school this year because the parents were asking for more advanced work for their son. They were concerned that he wasn’t learning anything new so they had him tested at Cascade Ridge and he was behind in every subject. Now that he’s at Cascade Ridge, he’s caught up and either at average or above in all subjects.

I’m sure we’ll miss the small, community feel that Arbor has and I know Zac will miss the friends he made but there is no way I would subject him to Mr. H for 2 more years. Good luck with your child. I know I’ve lost a lot of sleep trying to figure out what is best for Zac.