Friday, June 15, 2012

Before you speak...

June 11 combined Pupil Services and Education committee meetings lasted less than an hour - all committee  members present

Pupil Services Meeting - year-end review of Special Education and Gifted K-12 program
The meeting consisted of a year-end summary of Special Education  Plan/Taskforce and a Gifted K-12 review *(below for highlights)

A few Board questions for clarification and meeting adjourned.

More special education news: On June 4th the Pennsylvania Senate passed, by a near unanimous vote,  SB 1115 – all senators representing WCASD voted in support of bill.  While the bill maintains current spending levels for 2012/13, it contains many provisions to reform special education funding and accountability.  SB 1115 moves to the House Education Committee on June 18.  Details of SB 1115 (and companion House Bill 704) at

Education Committee Meeting
In middle and high school Spanish classes, Aventura textbook replacing En Español, which has been in use for nearly 12 years. The remainder of discussion becomes a déjà vu from the May Education meeting and adoption of Pennsylvania Our Home textbook:

Board member Mrs. Snook questions: what is shelf-life of book, how many do we need and what is  included in price?
Answer:  citing that the previous one lasted approximately 12 years, this one could last that long also.  Currently we need 900 books but number will be updated and finalized in summer. Current total approximate cost is $66,550.  In addition, since District opted to purchase the print version of Aventura, we are receiving complimentary materials (online access, teacher resources, 12 teacher copies, etc.) valued at $55,919.15 – wow, what a deal! 
Same Board member questions: is online edition included?  Yes, the “complimentary” items mentioned are just that, “complimentary” , i.e., FREE.   Mrs. Snook and administration admit it is hard to keep track of all the extra goodies and she requests a written summary from administration.  Education Committee chair Mrs. Adsett recounts what an honor it was to be asked to be involved in textbook selection process, the delight she experiences when she hears the many positive teacher comments, the happiness that she feels knowing the textbook can be used in both middle and high schools,  and so on and so on... 

First reading of Policy JCDAC: Drug & Alcohol Abuse
 Administration reports the need for following terminology revisions to policy: 
 -COAD (Council on Addictive Disorders) references are deleted, since the District no longer utilizes that service. 
- Student Assistance Program (SAP) & Student Success Team (SST) become Child Study Program/Team .

Board member Mrs. Snook has two questions:  Is “Child Study Team” an age-appropriate term, implying (we think) that students affected by this policy are not really “children”.  Mrs. Snook references an earlier meeting where Dr. Missett informed us that Tot-Time before/aftercare would be referred to as the more age-appropriate Children's Place and now wonders whether "Child Study Team" is derogatory to an older population (we think).
Administration: Really do not see that as issue. 
And the follow-up:  Is there any evidence of the use of bath salts in our district schools?   
Administration: no reports.  
Still more with some final unsolicited commentary by Mrs Snook about the   “absolutely diabolical” nature of bath salts. 

Since the meeting , I have attempted to purge this “bath salt” exchange from my mind,  yet it continues to haunt me. One trusts that District professional staff handle substance abuse struggles in a professional and confidential matter.  Why, in a public meeting, is a school board director compelled to put a member of the administration in the position of answering sensitive questions about a particular substance abuse issue in our schools?  Think ahead with me -  what if the answer was “yes, there is evidence of bath salt usage in our schools” ?  What then - gasps of horror, condemnation, follow-up questions about evidence of face-eating zombies?  This question was irrelevant to the policy revisions being discussed,  sensational, and crossed the line of professionalism and perhaps even student confidentiality.   Yet with no objection of irrelevance or offense by committee chair, perhaps I overreacted.  Or perhaps there are no “lines of professionalism” to cross.  Wrongly,  I did continue to hold on to my outrage and began to question what real recourse we have to express our collective embarrassment at these types of questions?  Public comment at Board meetings has become just that: comment that elicits no response from Board.  Letters and emails remain unanswered. 

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, let us not forget Board Connections, the monthly Board newsletter initiated by the newly appointed Board Outreach Liaison, Linda Raileanu
Per the Board website, Board Connections is meant “to expand the dialog between the community and the School Board. As part of our ongoing communication and outreach effort, we believe that receiving clear, concise, and accurate information is critical and we invite you to stay connected via this publication.” 
Granted, newsletters are indeed a great way to disseminate clear and accurate information.  However, one questions if a newsletter serves to   “expand dialog”, for dialog is a discussion between two or more people. One is also curious as to just how the Board can ensure that the target population - in this case, the "community" - is actually being impacted, i.e.,  "staying connected" via this newsletter.  Most of the information contained in Board Connections is simply the regurgitation of Superintendent Board meeting summaries already available on the website and/or sent through District e-news. Realistically, one questions just how effective old news,  a column devoted to Board “sightings” and inclusion of “insightful quotes” to ponder really are in extending  the limits of Board “outreach”?  A humble suggestion  for more dynamic Board “outreach” programs:  programs   where the “community” is afforded the opportunity to "reach back”  and engage in real dialog with Board members in a civil and productive manner.
Thankfully, the next bit of news helped me move forward from the bath salts inquiry because it exemplifies the power of positive leadership on behalf of students in our district: Taylor Music contributed $600 to Activity Fee Waiver Fund to aid families unable to pay the fees. We are beyond grateful to Taylor Music for realizing and addressing the needs of our students.

Tot Time before/aftercare update – contract is nearly finalized and will hopefully be brought to full Board meeting on June 25.  The plan is to have  monthly enrollment updates from elementary schools to compare to previous YMCA enrollments.
Property & Finance Chair Mr. Carpenter questions if  District has "heard from YMCA”.  
Answer:  District has not heard from YMCA, but we know the YMCA is actively recruiting parents and providing a kindergarten enrichment program. 

Meeting closes with the Education Committee chair Mrs. Adsett reminding all in attendance that it will be a “long summer”.  Parents often tell her they are fearful that their children will lose all the knowledge they have attained during the year and reminds us there are various links on school websites for students to participate in summer math and reading enrichment programs.  Chair commends District staff for providing such summer learning activities and conveys weekly plans for her own children to take advantage of the sites.  Pupil Services chair Dr. Pimley chimes in with summer enrichment plans for her children also.  Laughter and happiness abound. 
I end with an  “insightful quote”, actually more of a “mantra”, for all as we move forward together to face triumphs and challenges:

"Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the    silence?"     Sai Baba of Shirdi 

Some "complimentary" stuff:

Legislative updates from last blog: 
On June 4, Representative Mike Fleck , with the support of the PA School Boards Association, introduced HB 2364, providing for a more equitable funding formula and greater accountability of  charter and cyber charters in PA. . Local representatives co-sponsoring HB 2364: Barrar.
Representative Killion has also introduced charter/cyber legislation.  HB 2352 provides for a statewide charter school authorizer but does not address the funding formulas for charters.  To date, there are no local co-sponsors of HB 2352.
On June 11, the House Finance Committee “voted” to take no action on HB 1776, the Property Tax Reform bill.  One will recall HB 1776 was  discussed by our PSBA legislative liaison Mrs. Snook last month,  who neglected to mention the fact that PSBA gave testimony against this particular legislation. 
Also of interest on the property tax reform  front is HR774, a resolution “establishing a select committee to investigate and review the interrelationship between all current sources of school district and local government tax revenue, with a focus on property taxes, the current system of Federal and State funding of school districts and other local government functions.” This resolution in on the agenda when the House Education Committee meets next week.

*Pupil Services Highlights:
Special Ed  Plan/Taskforce summary covering five “goal areas”:
1. Least Restricted Environment (LRE) -  Multiple Disabilities Support (MDS) program initiated at Starkweather Elementary this year, co-teaching/differentiated learning instruction has been expanded at high school level
2. No Child Left Behind #1 Student Achievement - child study team implemented consistently, with reviews of referrals and evaluation reports by supervisor
3. Qualified Staff
4. Transition – Needs Assessment and Assessment
5. Behavior Support Services  -Chester County Intermediate Unit continues to be used for transition support, but additional cost analysis is needed and planned

Gifted K-12 review:
1. Elementary – 8 teachers with 4-5 days of support per building
2. Pilot program at Starkweather Elementary – third-graders will be assessed in Math and regardless of “gifted" assessment, will be eligible for Math enrichment based solely on assessment scores.  It is hoped this program   will be available at other schools in future
3. All gifted teachers will take part in full day training focusing on differentiated instruction
4. Middle school students will receive survey in August to pick enrichment modules
5. Fourth teacher added at high school level to focus on career activities, facilitate taking students to local businesses, etc.  Plan for this program to be available to all students in second semester, not just “gifted"

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