Saturday, August 18, 2012

If nothing else, a lesson in acronyms

Combined Pupil Services & Education Committee Meetings, August 13:
In attendance: Board President Vince Murphy, Pupil Services Chair Dr. Maria Pimley and Pupil Services/Education Committee members Mrs. Snook and Mrs. Tiernan. Personnel Committee Chair Ms. Miller was also in attendance.   In the absence of Education Chair Mrs. Adsett, Dr. Pimley  rose to the task  of providing  professional and time-efficient leadership of both meetings. 

Pupil Services meeting begins with summary of Special Education ESY (extended school year) program by WCASD Special Education supervisors Mrs. Shacklady-White and Mrs. Phifer. The ESY program services 50-60 students per year and the accomplishments of our students in this program, along with the dedication of District staff were highlighted.  Two-fold question from Mrs. Snook:  How many full-time teachers are utilized in this program and how are “benchmarks” met?  Answer: 7 at elementary level, 8 at middle and 4 at high. ESY program is not about “benchmarks” – it is a “maintenance of skills” program for our students.   

Meeting continues with a  brief  Gifted and ELL ( English Language Learner) Curriculum Alignment presentation by Gifted  K-8/ELL  Program Supervisor Mrs. Verbovsky.  She reports  WCASD administration and staff are “working on” curriculum alignment for common core standards/Keystone exams.  Mrs. Verbovsky has received training from WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment) to aid in her supervision of curriculum alignment in district. 

 Education Committee Meeting:
Assistant Superintendent/Director of Secondary Education Dr. Bertrando provides update on PA Common Core Standards/Keystone exams, topics most recently discussed at May’s Education Committee meeting.  For refresher on PA common core standards, visit

As in May, we hear from Supervisor of Mathematics, Mr. Kerr, who is joined by Supervisor of English Language Arts (ELA) Mrs. Elliott.  Dr. Bertrando introduces both administrators  as “thought leaders”, not only in the WCASD, but also on a state level, explaining that Mr. Kerr and Mrs. Elliott  have spent much time in Harrisburg during the past months, discussing implications of common core/Keystone exams  with their peers on a state level.  Apparently, Mrs. Elliott is also an educational  “thought leader” on a national level and we are fortunate to have her and Mr. Kerr in our district.   Both administrators  provide summaries and a  “Common Core Standards Fact Sheet” was distributed  as well as  Keystone Exams timeline (

Astute public comment questions Keystone timeline and wonders why the state is not recommending that non-11th grade students, who have completed Algebra 1 and Biology, take the Keystone Exam sooner instead of waiting until 11th grade.   For example, this year's sophomore class will have an entire year of no Biology and most  will have  3- 4 years of no Algebra 1.  In addition, there are current 8th grade students who took Algebra 1 in 2011-2012 who will not  have that particular Keystone exam until their junior year. Administration agreed this is certainly something the District will need to take into consideration in preparing our students for these tests.

For the sake of comparison, those in attendance were shown examples of PSSA and Keystone exam questions in both English Language Arts and Math.   Most noted there was more reading involved in the Keystone questions, both ELA and Math.  Dr. Pimley, while she appreciated the need to increase  “rigor”, questioned how we get a “bell curve” with the Keystone exams: will  there be questions that “99% of kids” can answer?  Interesting question,  and no one really had a definitive answer for her.

On August 15, Andrew Porter, Dean of Graduate School of Education at University of PA was on NPR (National Public Radio), addressing the question, “Why do we keep re-inventing education?” (  Porter feels that the United States tries something new in education every 10 years or so and is uncertain if we ever really give any strategy enough time to fully develop.  Interestingly, he spoke of common core standards as a “crazy idea” for the United States, commenting that the US Department of Education basically “bribed” states into adopting common core standards through Race To The Top (RTTT) funding.  He is surprised there has not been more public outcry on this “state’s rights” issue, and jokes with his interviewer that perhaps there will be after we begin to take the tests.

Porter’s professional opinion as to whether the common core standards are truly  “ratcheted up toward higher order thinking’’:  the math common core standards involve “about the same” higher order thinking as the average current state standards, whereas ELA common core standards are “a little more” higher order thinking than average current standards.   He is asked: “Are they too tough? " While Porter never directly answers this question, he laughingly states  he is “sure” that common core standards will “not be implemented in a way that is too tough”.    

So what exactly does common core  “implementation” look like in WCASD?  In contrast to Porter’s above remark, WCASD appears to continue to unveil quite a “tough” implementation  strategy. In the past months, we recall that WCASD has updated two textbooks to better align with common core standards.  At present,  district-wide committees are being formed, in both ELA and Math, to evaluate current resources and revise District curriculum to align with common core standards.  Committees will consist of  K-12 representatives, building principals, instructional coaches, ELL, Gifted and Special Education staff. In addition, all WCASD teaching staff will receive training through utilization of in-service days.  Keep in mind that ALL of this “implementation” is being accomplished by the WCASD staff during a “normal” school year.  We are grateful to all involved for ensuring our students are well prepared for this major educational “reinvention”.

Activity Fee Update -  communications have been distributed electronically, through newsletters, building principals, etc., so everyone participating in District activities should have Activity Fee information.  Some activities have started and payments are already being received.  Public comment asking for clarification:  if payment is not received by deadline,  District will contact family of student to assess reason, and not simply ban student from activity, true?  True, and if there is an  issue, family will be encouraged to apply for scholarship (the fund is now nearly $2000).  Follow up question:  if payment is late,  is  the coach the person who would contact family for payment?  No, responsibility would fall to school principal. Member of public remarks that is a lot to ask of principals who already have quite a lot of other responsibilities.   Duly noted.

Question from public:  realizing and respecting the great amount of work the District and Community task force put into the adoption of pay-to-play system, is it “too late to stop”?  Questioner reasoned that the activity fee is ultimately a “tax”, stating something to the effect that increasing revenue alone “never works”.  Dr. Pimley graciously explains that the activity fee was the result and decision of a Community Task Force and was voted on by full Board. She explains there was time for public comment on this matter before that vote was taken months ago. Questioner still asks for “two minutes of public comment” and Board President Mr. Murphy accommodates.  In those remarks, questioner cleverly manages to work in incendiary words/phrases such as  “negotiations”, “giving teachers raise”, etc.  Dr. Pimley calmly and professionally brings the meeting back to task, clarifying for the questioner that no one has been “given” ”anything and gently reminding him that  the Board and the West Chester Area Education Association are still in  “negotiations”.   Dr. Scanlon closes the activity fee discussion commenting that, at this point, the only way to “stop” the activity fee would be a full Board vote to revoke the system. 

Director of Elementary Education Dr. Missett ends the meeting with a discussion of 2012/13 district enrollment.  We are given both projected and actual enrollments as of August 8:  Elementary is projected at 5130, actual is 5016. Middle school is projected at 2786, actual 2764.  High school  is projected at 3899, actual 3857.  Staffing allocations reflect variance at all levels.  Dr. Missett admits there are a couple of “hot spots” in District, i.e., classes that may go over limit and require formation of additional section, and they are keeping an eye on the numbers.   There is a question  concerning  “six new teachers”.  Dr. Missett clarifies that the six positions are “open” - vacant due to teacher retirement and resignations – not “new”. Open positions will hopefully be confirmed by August Board meeting.

Agenda nears end with a question from Mrs. Snook to Dr. Bertrando concerning  field trip costs:  would it be possible, without too much trouble, to get a listing of how much the District spends on field trips?  Dr. Bertrando admits it may not be an easy task because the District does not actually fund field trips.  Field trips are most often subsidized by student and/or volunteer fundraising.  The real cost to the District is the cost of providing substitute teachers during field trips.  Someone mentions the DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America, an association of marketing students) trip and Dr. Bertrando notes that DECA is a District student group and any District costs associated with that trip  could certainly be supplied to Mrs. Snook.  Mrs. Snook is still curious and “down the road” would like to see a cost breakdown of District field trips. 

And for that "road", one final acronym: NAEP (National Association of Educational Progress).   East, Fugett and Peirce were chosen to take these tests during the 2012/13 school year. 
Busy, busy.

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