Thursday, November 28, 2013

Anticipation


November WCASD Board meeting:

In Attendance:  Vince Murphy, Dr. Maria Pimley, Sean Carpenter, Ed Coyle, Sue Tiernan, Maureen Snook, Linda Raileanu
Superintendent's Report:  Dr. Jim Scanlon reports on the many ways WCASD schools are  "giving back" this holiday season:  blood drives, care packages for our troops, help for the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, etc.  The superintendent also takes this opportunity to thank and commend outgoing Board members Dr. Maria Pimley, Sean Carpenter and Ed Coyle - all are presented with plaques.  Outgoing Board member Karen Miller, who resigned earlier this month, was not present but was also commended for her service to the WCASD and will be presented with a plaque.   WC VOTE joins in thanking our outgoing Board members for their commitment and service to the District and wishes them success, health and happiness in all future endeavors.   
Approval of a Resolution Opposing High School Graduation requirements: The  resolution to oppose Keystone Exams in Algebra, Biology and English Composition as a graduation requirement was officially approved and will be sent to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), PA Department of Education and the PA General Assembly.  As most of you are aware, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted, 3-2, on 11/21  to approve the use of Keystones as graduation requirements, but WCASD will go on record as voicing their opposition to these requirements and we salute them for doing so.   Thanks to everyone who heeded the call and contacted the IRRC to voice their concerns. Special thanks to WCASD Board member Sue Tiernan for hauling herself to Harrisburg for the 4 hour plus meeting to provide public comment on behalf of our district.

Noting the overwhelming amount of public comment on the IRRC website conveying opposition  to the use  of Keystones as graduation requirements - not to mention those opposed to PA Core Standards-  you may be asking yourself how this happened.   How is it that  five people , two appointed by House and Senate Democrats, two appointed by House and Senate Republicans, and one Governor-appointee, have the final word on using the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements?   How is it that parent/taxpayer letters, school board resolutions,  and superintendents' position letters carry such little weight for these five people?  How is it that the PA Department of Education/State Board of Education  can confidently promise producing a new and improved college-and-career ready student, yet cannot come up with a more creative and equitable way to assess our schools, teachers and students than through the continued use of high-stakes testing?   Discouraged?  In  times like these, we recommend finding some comfort in the inspiring national grassroots movements to end high-stakes testing at  United Opt Out
Approval of Advanced Placement Economics Course for the 2014-15 school year:  A new AP Economics Course for the 2014-15 school year was approved.  See November Education Committee summary for associated costs.

Approval of the resignation of a school board member and selection process for vacancy:  The Board approved the resignation of Karen Miller effective November 25, 2013.  The Board will take applications for candidates to fill the vacated board seat until December 4, 2013. The board has 30 days to fill the vacated seat and the term expires in November, 2015.  Public interviews will be held on December 9 and possibly another date depending on need and the Board will then vote on the candidates.    If you are reading this, we know you care about public education and encourage YOU to consider interviewing for this position - here's the application.  It is a rare occasion to be considered for the board in such an “apolitical” manner, and the term is only a two-year commitment.  You like it, you run in 2015. You don't , it's over before you know it.  Good luck!

Policies:  The District Wellness Policy was adopted and is now in effect. Policy KM-School Visitors and Policy KMA-School Volunteers were approved for a first reading and will be placed on December agenda for second reading.  As discussed in an earlier blog, the District hopes these policies will keep our students safer by requiring background clearances for school volunteers. 

Intermediate Unit report: Mr. Coyle reports the IU Board was treated to a robotics demonstration and the 2014-15 IU calendar was approved.

PSBA/Legislative report:  Once again this month, Mrs. Snook presents the trinity of legislative priorities in PA - transportation, liquor privatization and pension reform and reports that at least one, transportation, has been resolved. She continues, making a few comments on the transportation bill and hopes the best for the state's remaining legislative priorities. Mrs. Snook notes the outcome of the 11/21 Independent Regulatory Review Commission meeting and makes general mention of charter and pension reform, which she assumes will be forthcoming.

Charter School report:   Mrs. Tiernan takes the hints dropped by Mrs. Snook, fleshes them out and leads us from the tunnel of obscurity to the light of clarity.   In recounting her attendance at the 11/21 IRRC hearing, she reminds us that the costs of remediation associated with the Keystone Exams for  WCASD are between $366-498,000/year.  (One wonders whether the proposal to hire three  secondary Biology specialists at $250,000+  is included in this estimate.) Mrs. Tiernan  continues, informing us that SB 1085 is out of committee and PSBA continues to  work with legislators to attempt to craft a better version of this charter/cyber reform bill.  During its time in the Appropriations Committee, SB 1085 did see some changes to the pension piece and added a provision to form a commission to study the issue. Opposition to the bill still exists from public education and charter/cyber advocates. Check out Education Law Center  and PA Families for Public Cyber Schools  for  arguments and keep an eye out for action/inaction in Harrisburg in the few session days left before the holidays.

Public Comment:  Residents give thanks to outgoing Board members and, in particular, express gratitude for Karen Miller's work on Board.   The remaining comments duplicate much of what has been said in the months leading up to the election:  teachers, parents and students calling for "transparency", healthy negotiations, an end to politics on Board,  etc.  Difference:  this time, the remarks are expressed with the conviction that the incoming Board will deliver just that.   
After the comments, outgoing Board member Ed Coyle provides some parting advice for remaining and incoming Board members.   Mr. Coyle asserts that, per the Affordable Care Act, the insurance plan the teachers are asking for is considered a "Cadillac" plan that will end up costing WCASD taxpayers over $175,000/year.  He informs us that PC 320, the insurance plan accepted by all others in the district, is not considered "Cadillac".  Board member and healthcare expert Linda Raileanu  reinforces Mr. Coyle's statements.   Meeting adjourned.

Some teachers attempt public "comments" after adjournment and an explanation/rebuttal appeared on the WCAEA website following the meeting.   

The incoming Board will be sworn in on December 2 and much is expected of them.   While one is confident all Board members will work together to continue to move this community forward,  change will not be immediate.  And while some may feel they have "won" because the election is over,  please do not use that temporary bliss to justify dormancy until the next round of seats is up in 2015.  Each and every one of us  remains a critical part of the process of change, and we encourage you to remain awake and involved in that process. 

Have a safe and beautiful holiday weekend - see you in December.



"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."  John F. Kennedy   


Friday, November 15, 2013

A Strong Finish: Support West Chester Students.Oppose Keystone Exams as Graduation Requirements

November Pupil Services Committee Meeting Summary

Wellness Policy - Second reading
There is brief discussion on this policy as it relates to classroom celebrations. Pupil Services Director Dr. Ranieri states such celebrations remain building level decisions.

Pupil Services Initiatives

·       Dr. Ranieri discusses the increasing need for mental health services in district schools.  She reports the District is looking into ways to  offer students services in a manner similar to the delivery of services at the Trans. Ed. Academy at Melton Center, which allows our students to receive necessary services while remaining in the WCASD curriculum. This is simply a proposal and request for permission to investigate feasibility of such as program for the 2014-15 school year.

·       Work is beginning on the six-year Special Education Comprehensive Plan, which  is due to the PA Department of Education in May.

 
November Education Committee Meeting Summary

In a continuation of last month’s Education Committee meeting, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Fraser, Elementary Education Supervisor Dr. Missett and Secondary Education Supervisor Dr. Sokolowski present Part II of the Student Achievement Report.  Dr. Missett discusses “interventions” in elementary buildings where Math and Writing PVAAS ratings showed “no growth within year”.   Interventions in writing consist of practices such as :  students participating in writing activities every day, supervision by District ELA Supervisor Susan Elliott, sending teachers to buildings that “model” good writing practices, and  teacher book study groups utilizing Common Core Writing Book.  Math interventions include teacher workshops and differentiated instruction.

At the secondary level, Dr. Sokolowski focuses on “AP Equity and Excellence”, providing statistics from all District high schools which show that, on the whole,  AP exam and course participation are on the increase.

 AP Economics Course

Dr. Ozer, Supervisor of Social Studies, requests Board permission to add AP Economics to social studies course offering at the high school level, beginning in 2014-15.  Dr. Ozer states this is a “staffing neutral” request utilizing WCASD staff and several staff members have already expressed interest in teaching the course. Staff will be sent to LaSalle’s Advanced Placement Summer Institute for training which will cost approximately $5,250 total ($1,750 per teacher tuition). Books and materials will cost approximately $23,000/building.  Board approval is given.


Approval of Policy KMA: School Volunteers  and KM: Visitors to the School

Dr. Missett acknowledges the input of PTOs in the drafting of these policies.  The policy distinguishes between “short term” and “long term” volunteers and also “limited contact” and “substantial contact” volunteers:

·       Short term - individuals who provide service, without compensation, on an occasional  basis not exceeding two weeks during the school year.

·       Long term - intent is to use the volunteer over a period of time exceeding two weeks throughout the school year.

·       Limited contact  - volunteers who will work directly under supervision with teacher, administrator, etc.  They will not have unsupervised contact with students.

·       Substantial contact - they may be working under supervision, but will, from time to time, have unsupervised contact with students.

ALL volunteers will fill in a volunteer application and complete Raptor scan (visitor scans driver's license in order to be automatically "cleared").  In addition, substantial contact volunteers will need to submit the following:  Criminal history report from PA State Police, Child Abuse History Clearance from PA Department of Welfare and federal criminal history report (fingerprinting).  The cost for all 3 is $49 and they will be valid for 3 years. 

                                                 Limited Contact                                     Substantial Contact

 
Raptor
Clearances
Raptor
Clearances
Single event
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Short term
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Long term
Yes
No
Yes
Yes

 
Dr. Pimley questions if this policy will discourage parents from volunteering and expresses her disagreement with requiring parents to pay for clearances.   Dr. Missett mentions that PTOs may be able to help in cases where volunteers cannot afford the cost.   PTOs?   PTOs who struggle to find volunteers throughout the year and will now  have the extra burden of finding volunteers who are willing to pay for the privilege of volunteering?   Hey, why not?  We're PTOs and we will find a way.  A couple of thoughts here though: 
  • The policy is set to go into effect  in January, so PTOs will not have budgeted for these costs this year. How many people can we expect will need our help?  The cost could be significant.
  • In reality, would a volunteer who finds the cost a burden approach PTO for assistance or simply be discouraged from volunteering?                                                                         
In the end, we commend the District for taking every possible step to make sure our students are safe,  and we shall see what happens. The Board notes the importance of conveying this information to parents immediately since these clearances take time to obtain.   The administration reports they will place the information on  District website tomorrow, and they did: http://home.wcasd.net/pages/West_Chester_Area_SD/News/Raptor_V-Soft_Security_System_

Dr. Pimley ends the discussion by suggesting that, since we are making our volunteers pay for clearances, the District may want to consider offering  workshops/training to aid them in understanding the expectations/guidelines of each school.  She cites examples of  church and Scout groups - both require such clearances from their volunteers but also provide trainings/guidelines concerning appropriate relations with children.
 
 
Biology Specialists

Dr. Fraser provides rationale  to hire  3 Biology Specialists -one at each high school.  This allocation would be for 2014-15 budget, enabling the district to “meet the needs of our high school students as they relate particularly to performance on the Biology Keystone Exam, much the same way that the current Math Specialist positions are assisting students with Algebra I Keystone Exam performance.”   Budgeted cost:  $251,901 ($83,967 per teacher for salary plus benefits).  There is much discussion and Dr. Fraser reiterates this is not a formal request for approval to Board, but rather the rationale for what may become a proposal in the near future.    

 
Board resolution opposing Keystone Exams as graduation requirements

During the Biology Specialist presentation, the discussion  is interrupted, turning to a general one concerning the costs of implementing Keystone exams.  The Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) is scheduled to vote on the final Chapter 4 regulations (concerning academic standards and assessments) on November 21.   If passed, Keystone exams will become a requirement for graduation beginning with the class of 2017, thus making them  not only another high-stakes test for our students, but  another unfunded mandate from the state.   While PA Department of Education will continue to argue that these tests should not incur any new costs to districts,  the costs of supplemental instruction, not to mention the loss of instruction time to testing, have been documented by numerous districts across the state.  At this point in the meeting, those in attendance are provided a copy of a letter, signed by nearly all superintendents and Intermediate Unit Directors in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester counties,  opposing the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements and citing the costs, to districts,  of administering those exams.  Dr. Pimley informs us that, to date, Haverford and Radnor school districts have submitted resolutions to the IRRC in opposition to Keystone Exams as graduation requirements and she proposes that WCASD do the same - go Dr. Pimley!  Dr. Scanlon states he will help draft the resolution.  Thank you Dr. Pimley, for your service to the WCASD for the past four years and for ending your term with such a supportive action on behalf of our students and district.  

Please support the WCASD in opposing the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements. 

Contact the IRRC before 10 AM on November 19, urging them not to approve the Keystone exams as graduation requirements.   Not feeling creative?  The Radnor link above has sample letters.  All comments become public record on IRRC website and can be viewed at: http://www.irrc.state.pa.us/regulation_details.aspx?IRRCNo=2976.     
 
To contact the IRRC:
IRRC
333 Market Street, 14th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Phone: (717) 783-5417
Fax: (717) 783-2664





 



 

 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sharing a Common Goal

Property & Finance Meeting - Monday, October 21, 2013 

Committee Members in Attendance:  Sean Carpenter (Chair), Ed Coyle, Karen Miller
Absent:  Maureen Snook
Board Members in Attendance: Maria Pimley, Sue Tiernan, Vince Murphy
Absent:  Heidi Adsett and Linda Railenau

This month's meeting was sparsely attended.  A few teachers, a PTOC rep, a WCV rep (me), a Chester County Republican Party rep, a reporter from the Daily Local and a couple of the Better Direction candidates were in the Cheap Seats.

I have to start out by saying that I am no financial wizard, but I will try my best to summarize the meeting. Our resident WCV financial go-to girl was Robin Kaliner and she has moved onward and upward! Hopefully, she will be taking her skills and expertise directly where we need it the most when she gets elected to the school board in 2 weeks!

First on the agenda was a revision to the Elementary School Master Plan Construction Schedule.  They want to revise the timeline so that they have 3 years to complete the construction of Fern Hill instead of 2 because of their experience this past summer with school construction and trying to get it done on time.  Makes sense since there was a lot of rain this summer and some schools were not ready until a day or two before school started.

There was a Capital Plan Financing Update from the District Financial Management Group representative. He discussed the need for an additional $12 million for 2014 for construction needs that will come from redeeming bonds.

A review of the Budget Forecast Model showed that the District is way behind in revenues from where we were last year at this time.  The real estate market is tapering off and income tax collection is at a lower level than it was last year.

There was also a discussion about a pending expense of an additional $576,000 for Charter School Tuitions.  This anticipated expense is a result of a hearing; charter schools are demanding payment for 3 years of federal programs and IDEA (Special Education) Programs.  The Charter Schools do not agree with the funding formula for tuition rates for special education students that was determined by the State so they are going after school districts for the money.  Our District needs to hold this money aside in case the Charter Schools win the judgement.  This will also affect future fund balances.

As of now, there is still a $3,877 million gap in the budget for the 2014-2015 school year.  It is being assumed that there will be a 0% increase for salaries.

Superintendents's Recommendation for the 2014-2015 Building Budget Funding:
Total Building Budget Funding is slightly less than it was last year.
Per Pupil Allocation will remain the same as it was last year - $134.20.
Fixed Activity Budgets for Secondary Schools will add $1,500 per school to cover the competitive cheer teams which have recently become PIAA sports.

Kevin Campbell presented an update on the Land Development of Excess Land at Rustin High School. Fifty lots have been approved for the property by Westtown Township.  Houses will be in the $400-600,000 price range on 1/3 - 1/2 acre lots (closer to 1/3), house will be approximately 3,000 square feet in size. Property should be developed and sold by May 2014.  It is estimated that the sale of this property will bring in about $5 million (money cannot go into the general fund but can be used for construction and one time projects). It was mentioned that the land for the "Proposed Athletic Field" near the school entrance was offered to Westtown Township at no cost, but Westtown would need to pay the School District for field maintenance.  Westtown declined the offer but talks are still ongoing.


Personnel Meeting - Monday, October 21, 2013 

Committee Members in Attendance:  Karen Miller (Chair), Sean Carpenter, Ed Coyle,
Absent:  Maureen Snook
Board Members in Attendance: Maria Pimley, Sue Tiernan, Vince Murphy
Absent:  Heidi Adsett and Linda Railenau

There have not been many Personnel Meetings in the past year since most have been "Executive Sessions" and thus not open to the public.

Only one item on the agenda, 2013-2014 School Board Goals.  Ms. Miller read the goals although it seemed like she deferred to Sean Carpenter to explain the goals and answer questions.  Most questions from the public were pertaining to "Fiscal Responsibility" and "Student Achievement". Although the Goals are fairly vague, questions arose about the philosophy behind some of the numbers. Teachers in attendance questioned the assumption that Student Achievement is the responsibility of the Board.  Mrs. Pimley explained that the School Board is ultimately responsible for student achievement.  Mrs. Tiernan reminded us of the roles of a School Board.
In essence, school boards have three functions: planning, setting policy and evaluating results.
  • Planning -- Boards are required to engage in strategic planning by regulations of the State Board of Education. Appropriate reports of the results of such planning must be filed with the Department of Education.
  • Setting policy -- The central responsibility of a board, both in theory and in law, is to be the policy-forming body. Policy means actions of the board that set written goals and objectives for the school and parameters for actions.
  • Evaluating results -- The board must evaluate the results of planning. Evaluation “ completes the loop ” and, in fact, leads inevitably to more planning. Evaluation occurs all the time, both formally and informally. As a group, the board is not an administrative body; neither should it be a “ rubber stamp ” for professional educators. The selection of competent administrators who understand their role is to carry out public policies established by the board is one of the board ' s most important functions.                                                                                             (source: www.PSBA.org )
Click here to view the 2013-2014 School Board Goals.

Seeing this year's Board Goals reminded us of last year's Board Goals.  When asked we were told that the Board evaluates themselves and that they would post the results online.
Click here to view 2012-2013 School Board Goals.

I think it's great that the Board sets goals for the upcoming school year.  I would hope that they are not just going through the motions to create a list of goals that is too broad.  It would have been wonderful to see something regarding rebuilding and repairing the damaged relationship with the teachers as part of "Board Engagement".  Whether they want to admit it or not, the teachers in this District do not feel the love that this Board claims to have for them.  There have been many derogatory statements made and a general tone of discontent that has made the employees in this District feel unappreciated and disrespected.  It is harmful to the District as a whole to not address these issues.With all this talk of PLCs, Common Core, testing, accountability and added technology in education, we can't ignore the fact that learning and achievement take place when a teacher works directly with the students.  Teachers who are frustrated or feel that they are not appreciated will not put forth the same effort into their jobs and it will affect student performance. Everyone should feel valued, appreciated and considered a vital part of the team.  After all, don't we all share a common goal of putting children and education first?



Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 26 WCASD Board Meeting

August 26 WCASD Board Meeting
Members in attendance: Sean Carpenter, Ed Coyle, Karen Miller, Linda Raileanu, Maureen Snook,Sue Tiernan,Vince Murphy
Absent: Heidi Adsett, Maria Pimley (vacation)

The meeting opens on a sad note, with a moment of silence to respect and remember Mr. Tom Hutchins, the Stetson Middle School teacher who passed away earlier in August.   

There is a fairly optimistic financial report from Director of Business Affairs, Dr. Moore, who projects that at the end of the 2013-14 school year, the District will have a healthy surplus of about 8 % of budget.

The Board approved a contract agreement for renovations to the Fern Hill Elementary School, the fourth of ten elementary schools to be renovated in the District.

Administrative salaries equivalent to Act 1 index of 1.7% for the 2013-14 school year were approved.  In addition, one-time bonus payments equivalent to 1.5% were approved, based on goals achieved in 2012-13 school year.

More administration news:  Dr. Robert Fraser, who has served as WCASD Director of Curriculum since 2010, begins a three-year Assistant Superintendent contract effective 8/26/13Mr. Mike Lecker will serve as Interim Principal at East High School, effective 8/21/13.   

In his report, Superintendent Dr. Scanlon announces the US Department of Education has granted Pennsylvania a waiver to NCLB (No Child Left Behind).  The waiver puts an end to AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), replacing it with a new accountability system.  A very simple explanation:  Title 1 schools – schools with a high percentage of low income students -   will receive one of three federal designations, Reward, Priority or Focus, based on the following four “Annual Measureable Objectives”:


  • test participation
  • graduation/attendance rate
  • closing the achievement gap for ALL students
  • closing the achievement gap for “historically low performing students”  (defined as students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, English language learners)

A number of interventions, defined by PDE (PA Department of Education), will be available for Priority and Focus schools.    

Non-Title 1 schools will not receive a federal designation but will receive a School Performance Profile score.  If necessary, non-Title 1 schools will also have access to the same interventions as Title 1 Priority and Focus schools.  The School Performance Profile will be accessible to the public, another way to ensure accountability to all stakeholders.   

No Intermediate or Charter reports this month, so spotlight on Mrs. Snook for the Legislative/PSBA (PA School Boards Association) report.  As in previous months, she opens the report reminding us of the eternal issues of pension reform, liquor privatization, and transportation.  This month, Mrs. Snook asserts she is in regular contact with House and Senate members representing WCASD. 

We are told that the PA State Board of Education held a hearing on August 26 on Keystone Exams at Valley Forge Middle School.  Well, almost. In reality, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on the topic of Keystone Exams on August 26 at Valley Forge Middle School.   Representatives from the PA State Board and PDE provided testimony, along with administrators, parents and school board members.  A Garnet Valley parent spoke of the frustration of her daughter, a stellar student with an outstanding GPA, who could not pass a Keystone exam and worried about receiving a diploma.  Superintendents spoke of the hours and resources needed to administer the tests.  There was even a guest appearance from retired Senator and former Majority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Jeff Piccola, who provided background on the origin of the exams. Testimony and all 256 minutes of the hearing can be accessed here.    

Mrs.  Snook continues, informing us of an upcoming Senate Education Committee hearing on September 29 on Common Core to be held in Harrisburg.  Again, so close.   The hearing was actually August 29 and was similar in format to the House hearing on the same subject held on August 5. Perhaps the House representative Mrs. Snook claims to be in regular contact neglected to mention that one to her.  Her report concludes and aside from the normal feeling of disappointment, one is surprised that Mrs. Snook, who at previous Education Committee meetings often questioned Common Core as a "top down curriculum", did not take this superb opportunity to provide an overview on the impact of Common Core opposition in PA.   The House hearing serves as a perfect catalyst for both background and where the Common Core/Keystone journey is headed in the state. 

In June, the House passed House Resolution 338, proposing revisions to Chapter 4 based on concerns about Common Core standards.  In response to HR 338, the PA Board of Education held a public forum in July that resulted in proposed amendments to Chapter 4 that would:
  • Change the name of the Common Core standards to “PA Core Standards
  • Make the standards applicable only to public schools. Private, religious and   home school communities would be exempt
  • Assure there will be no national tests or assessments, except if one is deemed necessary for special education students and then only in consultation with parents, teachers and other interested parties
  •  Student data collection will NOT be expanded due to implementation of the standards
  • Assure  that required reading lists and curriculum will remain a local decision

At the August 5 House Education hearing, committee members questioned representatives from PDE and the PA Board of Education about these revised safeguards.  Majority Chair Representative Clymer closed with some excellent advice for his colleagues.  When constituents contact him, fearful of a national curriculum being imposed on their children, he tells them to contact their local superintendents and teachers.   Why?  Because Representative Clymer knows they are the individuals who can best explain and reassure that such decisions have always been and will remain LOCAL.

Not to be outdone, the Senate, prior to their August 29 Education Committee  hearing on Common Core,  encouraged the public to submit questions in advance of the hearing via an online system.  In effect,  “the people” could address their Common Core concerns directly to PDE and the PA Board of Education.  There were also numerous questions posed by the Senate Committee concerning data collection, assessment vendors, and implementation costs.   On the subject of cost, PDE and the PA State Board maintain such costs are difficult to determine,  arguing the costs of implementation involve instruction and assessment, areas in which districts already budget for.  However, the Senate Committee maintains that many of their districts report they have incurred additional costs  implementing the standards in such areas as staff development, assessment administration  and student remediation.

In addition, both the House and Senate Committees argued that financially distressed districts who do not have adequate funding for learning essentials, such as staff and texts, are hit hardest during implementation.   The response from the PA State Board Chair:  all districts need to make do with what they have to implement the standards as best they can.  

The Senate has repeatedly asked for a breakdown, by district, of additional costs associated with implementing the standards.  Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq promised to supply the numbers to the Committee.  Bottom line for the Senate: until they receive a breakdown of costs, Chapter 4 revisions,  scheduled to be voted on by the PA Board of Education in mid-September, have no chance of making it out of the Senate Education Committee.   

And the final absent piece of this month’s legislative report: the breaking news of the day concerning the abrupt resignation of Acting Secretary of Education William Harner.    Dr. Carolyn Dumaresq, former Deputy Secretary of Education is now serving as Acting Secretary.

Two for public comment tonight:  a teacher who expresses concern that some student clubs will be impacted at the start of school if an agreement is not reached.  Teachers who voluntarily sponsor a club before/after school or on weekends, will most likely cease those sponsorships until a settlement is reached.  Both sides viewed the Fact Finding report on August 26 and have 10 days to accept or reject.  If accepted by both sides, we have a contract.  If rejected, there is an additional 10 day period for both sides to review/reconsider.  If there is no agreement after that period, fact finding is over.


Final public comment comes from the Rustin High School librarian, who reminds us that earlier in the month, Bayard Rustin was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, for his role as a civil rights leader and organizer of the March on Washington.  She expresses her disappointment that there is no news of this honor on the District website.  In response, Dr. Scanlon informs the audience that he did attend a local event, along with Mayor Comitta and members of West Chester Borough Council, to commemorate Rustin’s award.  The District has since posted information. 

We wish all a safe and productive Labor Day weekend.  And for those beginning a new school year next week, peace and strength!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

August Pupil Services and Education Committee Summaries

August 12 Pupil Services Committee summary:
Members in attendance:  Heidi Adsett, Maria Pimley, Sue Tiernan
Members absent:  Linda Raileanu

An enthusiastic overview of accomplishments in the Extended School Year program (ESY) is provided. At the elementary level, the program took place at Starkweather Elementary with average daily attendance of 145 students. There were 5 classes in the 6-week program and 13 classes in the 5-week program, with an average class size between 6-10 students.  At the middle school level, the program was offered at Fugett  with, on average,  35 students attending on a daily basis. The high school program took place at Henderson with 21 students enrolled in 5-week program and 12 in 6-week program.

Highlights of Life Skills/Autistic Support Class:  the students baked dog treats and delivered them to needy friends at the SPCA, took a tour of Wegman’s where they purchased lunch in the cafĂ©, and visited Giant  in order to purchase food to prepare a weekly meal for the entire class.

Through responses to questions from Board members, we are reminded that the need for ESY is   determined by a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team.  In addition, the focus of the program is on maintenance of, rather than progress towards, IEP goals.  WCASD cannot force any student to attend ESY program and students can/do not attend for various reasons, such as camp attendance, travel, etc.   Ed Coyle questions:  If parents decline IEP team recommendation for ESY,  is that refusal "documented"?  Yes, in the sense that parents sign if/when services are declined.  

More news from the Special Education supervisors: 

 Project Max:

For the past 2 years, the District has received a $5,000 grant to fund the Multiple Disabilities classroom at Starkweather Elementary.  Project Max is a new initiative to expand that work to Stetson Middle School.

 Participation in University of PA Research Study:

District is participating in a study of high functioning autistic students, with focus on social skills intervention at recess. Dr. Jill Locke is the lead researcher and a meeting will be held with principals of participating schools (Fern Hill, Hillsdale, Mary C. Howse and Westtown-Thornbury).  More information will follow.  

August 12 Education Committee meeting summary:
Members in attendance:  Heidi Adsett, Maria Pimley, Sue Tiernan
Members absent: Linda Raileanu

More from Curriculum Director Dr. Fraser on Act 82/Teacher Evaluation. You may recall Dr. Fraser began this discussion at a previous Education Committee hearing, but only provided a brief overview due to time constraints. Tonight, a detailed explanation was provided and a lengthy discussion followed.  For details on the mandate, see August Education Committee meeting agenda.

In sum, there are 3 different evaluation systems, one each for:

  1. Teachers who teach tested grades/subject areas
  2. Teachers who teach non-tested grades/subjects
  3. Staff members who are considered “non teaching professional employees”

Each of the above groups will be evaluated with systems that will be phased in over 2-3 years.  For the upcoming school year 2013-14, Groups  #1 and #2 will be evaluated based on 85% observation and 15% building data and Group #3 will be 100% observation.  Brought to light in the discussion is a timing issue in that “building data”, which includes test scores, must either be taken from the prior year’s results or held until current year results are released in summer, which would most likely delay completion of that evaluation component until after the start of the school year.  In essence, a district is either a year behind or 2-3 months into the next school year.    West Chester has been participating in a teacher effectiveness pilot project and should have an easy transition to these PDE mandates.

Enrollment & staff update

Director of Elementary Education Dr. Missett reports there are currently 5,037 students enrolled, with projected enrollment at 5,099.  New teachers were hired at Exton, Glen Acres and Hillsdale.  She is currently watching “hot spots” (buildings where another class may need to be added)  at Fern Hill and East Goshen.  If this is necessary, District is well within budget for elementary staffing and will hire as needed.

Director of Secondary Education Dr. Sokolowski reports there are currently 2,709 enrolled at middle schools, 6 less than projected.  High school enrollment is 3,880 with 45 additional students expected by beginning of year.  Secondary staffing is also well within budget if needed.

Dr. Sokolowski notes that the search for East High School Principal has been posted since July 26 and is open through September 6.  The first round of interviews will begin September 9 and will include representatives of all stakeholders (parents, teachers, Board member, etc.).   The interim principal for East will be officially announced after the Personnel meeting on August 19.

Activity Fee update
A financial summary of the 2012-13 school year is given.  WCASD reached 95.92% of its budget target:

Amount budgeted:  $303,225.00
Total fees received: $290,853.75

$4,595 was received in scholarship revenue, with $1,255 scholarships granted.  Dr. Sokolowski informs us that the scholarship program will not be as highly publicized this year as last, but people are aware of the opportunity and contributions will continue to be accepted.  

Next, a participation summary is provided which shows a  3.3% increase, or 212 additional students participating in funded activities, since inception of activity fees. In 2011-12 school year, 6,402 students participated in funded activities.   In the 2012-13 school year, the number was  6,614.   

Policy revisions/deletions (first reading)
Most are language clarifications/updates and will  be submitted for second reading after changes are made.  For the three of us in attendance, this discussion is beyond difficult to follow since copies of the actual polices are not provided, making any references made by the Committee meaningless.

Policy IDDCA/IDCA-R:  Home Education Programs - Language will  be changed to allow home-schooled students to participate in technical college high school.  Dr. Sokolowski and others comment that this change could bring some home-schooled students "back" to our schools once they see the great programs offered at the school.  He contrasts this policy decision with  a former policy decision to disallow such students to attend traditional classes in district buildings during the week.  The difference: the technical college offers a "program" of study while attendance at one or two classes can be disruptive to the traditional school day.   

Dr. Pimley asks a "general question" about homeschooling:  where do home-schooled students take tests?   The first response is "they don't have to", but it becomes clear she is asking about standardized tests.  Home-schooled students are currently, per PDE,  required to take "nationally normed" standardized tests in grades 3,5 and 8.  Home-schooled students can arrange to take the tests at a local school.

Policy JHF/IDEA: Equal Access - A general update of format, a discussion of “extracurricular”  and inclusion of athletic groups.  Here, there is a comment from a parent in attendance concerning the appropriate use of funds by booster clubs and members of the administration admit they have heard those concerns before.

And here is where it just became silly to attempt to follow Board remarks such as "on page 2, paragraph 3...."  with no copies in front of us, so the trio in attendance leaves. While one assumes and respects the reasoning behind not supplying copies for these first readings was to save resources - although the leftover stack of Pupil Services packets on the empty chair in front of me  quashed that thought -  perhaps a note on the online agenda  to encourage attendees to "bring your own" next time could increase participation in policy revision discussions. 

In the end, we are confident the oversight is innocent and these are only first readings so there is still opportunity to review them and offer input should you see fit. Find them under the Policies tab on the Board website.

Per meeting packet outline, here is what was discussed after we left:

Policy IDFA/MDBA:  Interscholastic Athletics - A general update of format and medical update to include concussion and cardiac language.

Policy IDFAC: Recognition of Athletic Groups - Medical update of concussion and cardiac language and inclusion of Act 114 clearances (arrest/conviction)

Policy JAA: Equal Educational Opportunities - Language updates

 










Saturday, June 29, 2013

Teamwork and Focus

June 24 2013 West Chester Area School District Board meeting

All Board members in attendance and far more empty than occupied seats at June 24 WCASD Board meeting.

Superintendent Dr. Scanlon reports successful graduation ceremonies at East, Henderson and Rustin and thanks Board members for their participation in the events.  A  grateful farewell and well-deserved standing ovation is given to Mrs. Bachtle,  retiring from the position of school board secretary.

Public comment on agenda items - just one from former school board director Jim Davison.

Citing agenda item, “Approval of Act 93 Administrator’s Compensation plan, July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016” , Mr. Davison questions why there is no detailed information on the plan in  public meeting packet.  

Dr. Scanlon addresses Mr. Davison, foreshadowing the information now listed on District website concerning the plan:
  •  Healthcare savings of $425,000 by changing from a base plan of Personal Choice 10-20-70 to Personal Choice 320
  • Raises tied to the base Act 1 Index based on performance (1.7% for 2013-14)
  • Merit raises based on goals tied to the base Act 1 Index (1.7% for 2013-14)
  • Keeps the overall increases each year tied to the base Act 1 Index

Mr. Davison states that while he supports the Act 93 increase, he questions the “consistency” of the numbers, especially in light of January’s 1% support staff increase. He also wonders what impact this news will have on the ongoing teacher negotiations and reminds the Board  that the superintendent’s contract will soon be up for renewal and will need to be addressed. 

Treasurer’s and Financial Report -  positive, noting current trends “reflect recovery”. 

Personnel report

In addition to the Act 93 agreement, the Board approved a 3-year compensation plan for employees not  covered in a collective bargaining group (head custodians, maintenance supervisors, RN/LPNs,  case workers, technology staff, confidential secretaries, etc.) 
Per District website, the agreement consists of the following:
  • Healthcare savings of $439,000 by changing from a base plan of Personal Choice 10-20-70 to Personal Choice 320
  • Raises tied to the base Act 1 Index based on performance (1.7% for 2013-14)
  • Merit raises based on goals tied to the base Act 1 Index (1.7% for 2013-14)
  • Keeps the overall increases each year tied to the base Act 1 Index
Next item discussed is the Board’s Technology Reorganization plan,which  takes effect July 1. The plan, estimated  to save approximately $30,000,eliminates one technology position and shifts responsibilities within the department

And finally, Ms. Miller encourages all to welcome Mr. Geoff Mills as the new Principal of  Peirce Middle School and Ms. Nora Wheeler as the new Principal of Westtown-Thornbury Elementary School. Mr. Mills was previously the Assistant Principal at Peirce and Ms. Wheeler the Assistant Principal at Rustin High School.

Intermediate Unit Report

Mr. Coyle’s Intermediate Unit report sounds a bit like a commercial for SpectiCast, a company the Chester County IU has partnered with for the purpose of distributing  filmed events to schools.  Mr. Coyle declares that Specticast will enable participants to  “turn their schools into community theaters”.  From the CCIU website:

SpectiCast events can fundraise for your important programs, including the arts, drama and music classrooms that are often the first to feel tightening budgets.  Bring back the money, the audience, and the passion for performance in your school district!

One is struck by the irony of SpectiCast’s offer to fundraise for arts, drama and music programs through screening prerecorded opera, theater, and orchestra performances for the community.  

Encouraging news on the current and future state of the arts in WCASD:   At this month's Education Committee meeting, we enjoyed an  inspiring Fine Arts and World Languages overview presented by Supervisor Mr. Ehrhart.  The thorough and  enthusiastic report of District programs is evidence that the "passion and the audience" for the arts remain strong in the WCASD.  Need more reassurance? Following the overview,  Property & Finance Chair Mr. Carpenter expressed his gratitude to Mr. Ehrhart, wondering aloud how we, as a District, can continue to encourage even more students to remain in Arts and Music programs throughout  K-12.  

Legislative/PSBA report

Legislative/PSBA liaison Mrs. Snook prefaces her report with an account of her experience attending Rustin graduation. As the daughter of a West Point graduate and mother of children serving in  the military, she shares how especially happy she was to hear the numerous graduates pursuing military service.

Her characteristically cryptic legislative report follows. Mrs. Snook tells us that the PA budget must be finalized by June 30 and Harrisburg is busy discussing the big issues of transportation, liquor privatization and pension reform. All of which, we are told,  will have an  impact on education funding. She states that there are a number of pension reform bills out there, basic education will see a  “significant” increase from last year and special education funding will remain the same.   

Mrs. Snook reports that she, along with Mrs. Tiernan, recently attended a PA School Board Association regional legislative event where there was “lively and entertaining” discussion on education from local legislators.  Here, one anticipates the substance of the report will follow but alas, no.  Apparently the lively and entertaining legislative discussion was not meant to be shared with the masses and her report of the event is simply another tease to those of us waiting for specifics on how best to advocate on behalf of our District.  Yet Mrs. Snook ends with a call to action, reminding all of the importance of contacting our legislators.   

Charter/Alternative School report

With the school year over, there is little to report on the charter/alternative front.
However, Mrs. Tiernan does a lovely job filling in the empty spaces of her colleague's legislative report, informing us of two PSBA-supported pieces of legislation related to cyber/charter funding: 

Senator Judith Schwank’s SB 335 would remove a school district’s responsibility to pay  cyber-charter schools tuition for a resident student if that district offers a cyber program “equal in scope and content” to the non-district program. Currently, districts are responsible to cyber charters for a district resident’s tuition.  Example: Under SB 335, if WCASD had its own cyber program, they would no longer be responsible for paying the tuition of district students choosing to attend other cyber-charters.  Thus, families choosing to attend cyber-charters, other than the WCASD cyber-charter, would be responsible for paying their own tuition to the cyber-charter school of their choice. SB 335 encourages districts to offer their own cyber programs and places responsibility for cyber-charter tuition on families.

Senator Patricia Vance’s SB 812 would amend Section 1725-A of the Public School Code to  include school district retirement costs on the list of expenditures that must be subtracted from the total budgeted expenditures when determining the amount a charter school gets for each resident student attending.  In essence, the bill eliminates the pension "double-dip".  Charter/cyber schools are paid by a district for their employee retirement costs and are also reimbursed by the state for 50% of their own employee retirement costs. 

Public Comment, Non-agenda items

A teacher wishes to clarify the difference between the aforementioned Act 93 agreement and the current teacher negotiations:  Act 93 administrators accept an agreement whereas teachers must vote on a contract. 

Two Henderson students speak, one male, one female.  Both will be seniors in the fall and commend the excellent and committed teachers they have experienced throughout their career in WCASD.  The young man is “confused and upset”  by what he reads in the paper and asks the Board to stop “bullying”  his teachers. (Of interest here: recent article about impact of lengthy Neshaminy conflict on students)

At this point, Property & Finance Chair Mr. Carpenter responds to the students, assuring them the  Board shares their views and has great respect for the dedication and talent of WCASD teachers.

Another teacher, using the journey of her daughter’s lacrosse team as an analogy, asks the Board to “step up” and  be “team players”.  

To this Mr. Murphy responds, stating  the Board has “stepped up” and expressing his confusion about the teacher’s decision to decline fact-finding. He calls for an end to the “diversionary tactics” of attacking the board and the need for the teachers to focus their attention on the reality of a $6 million gap and the significant savings that can be found in healthcare costs.   Mr. Murphy continues, stating that it does not matter who attends negotiations. What matters is that the parties involved focus on the critical issues at hand in order to reach an agreement. 

Mr. Murphy’s remarks provoke a few unsolicited comments from the audience in attendance, but the gavel signals a peaceful adjournment.  And in the end, what remains painfully clear is the fact that to be a “team player”, all parties need to be playing for the same team or at least focused on the same goal.