Friday, September 14, 2012

Infusing the spirit of collaboration

September Pupil Services Committee Meeting:
In attendance:  Committee Chair Dr. Maria Pimley, members Heidi Adsett, Maureen Snook, Sue Tiernan.  Also in attendance Board President Vince Murphy, Ed Coyle, Karen Miller, Linda Raileanu.

Director of Pupil Services, Dr. Ranieri delivers presentation on school-based ACCESS (medical assistance) program, discussing eligibility, staff roles, approved rates and annual revenue used.  Each year, the District allocates a certain amount in anticipation of medical assistance funding cuts, approximately $500,000 for school year 13/14. 

Both Mrs. Adsett and Dr. Pimley  ask questions pertaining to the use of the medical assistance allocation if/when District is not in need of it.  For example , there may be a year where medical assistance funding is adequately funded.   The District would  adjust, but Dr. Ranieri admits there is always a concern that funding would be cut the following year, and then we are “short”.  Both Mrs. Adsett and Dr. Pimley appear in agreement with Dr. Ranieri’s concern.

Mrs. Tiernan: Who cuts this medical assistance money?  The State.  The District is required (mandate) to provide services per a student’s  Individualized Education Program.  The District, in anticipation of yearly state funding cuts, allocates money to cover that mandate.

Ms. Raileanu wants to clarify that Medicaid is jointly funded, federal and state.   Dr. Ranieri does not dispute that, but notes her focus was on the state cuts because  state cuts have a direct impact on WCASD.  Ms. Raileanu is also curious about the  reasons parents provide when they do not use medical assistance benefits, wondering if some parents believe the “myth” that they may lose other services if they take advantage of those benefits.    Dr.  Ranieri  explains that the role of  the District is to inform families they are able to use those funds, not to suggest or require they use them.  Ultimately,  it is the family that decides whether or not to use medical assistance funding so she would not be able to provide the reasoning behind their choice. 

Mr. Coyle wonders why medical assistance is not automatically used, since a physician’s orders are needed for services.  Dr. Ranieri clarifies that they are targeting the educational component of assistance, not the medical.  Oversight of possible “redundant” or duplicate services comes from Medicaid, not the District.

Public comment from parent who addresses Ms. Raileanu’s “myth” of medical assistance usage, stating she is aware of families who do not use their medical assistance out of concern they will lose services from the District.

 September Education Committee Meeting:

 In attendance:  Committee Chair Heidi Adsett, members Dr. Maria Pimley, Maureen Snook, Sue Tiernan.  Also in attendance Board President Vince Murphy, Ed Coyle, Karen Miller, Linda Raileanu.

Director of Elementary Education, Dr. Missett discusses the impact of decreasing  library and front office assistants.  One will recall  this expense saving measure came from the findings of the 2009 Budget Task Force and saved approximately $300,000.  Dr. Missett provides  two perspectives of impact, one from library assistant point of view and one from office assistant point of view.

 Library Assistant POV
1.      Loss of materials – with children checking out their own books, there has been some increase in lost materials.  Costs being assessed.
2.      Service to students – during librarian’s lesson planning time, there is no aide to help students
3.      Circulation – overall increase of 10%, although one school showed a decrease of 30%. Change was dependent on volunteer systems in place and there will be attempt to communicate best practices  between schools.

Mrs. Adsett asks if District has a ‘baseline” number of missing books prior to implementation of Budget Task Force findings.  She notes that  “books go missing” and  questions if the increase in lost materials can definitely be attributed to the decrease in library assistants. Dr. Missett will check if baseline number is available.

Office Assistant POV
1.      DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) scores are now entered by reading staff
2.       Building Use forms are now processed by custodians
3.      Field trip procedures shifted to other staff

Dr. Missett states that parent volunteers are not utilized in offices due to concerns of confidentiality.  Schools have an “all hands on deck “policy in front offices:  substitute teachers, support staff, etc. are asked to help with front office duties when/if available.  

Dr. Pimley asks if there has been communication between elementary schools to share ideas.  Yes, and that will be ongoing.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Fraser discussed implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in District.  A PLC is a collaborative group of teachers placing explicit focus on student learning. Groups meet regularly for approximately one hour to define/assess the following:

1.      What are students learning? (development of essential learning targets)
2.      How do we know they are learning? (assessment)
3.      How do we respond to difficulty?  (support)
4.      How do we respond to mastery? (enrichment)

 Example:  If a student receives a passing grade on a test,  but has not hit all of the  identified “essential learning targets”, have they truly “mastered” the subject? If not, what is our collaborative response to their struggle?  And if a student consistently overshoots defined essential learning targets, what is our collaborative response to their success?   Approximately 100 WCASD staff took part in two day training through Solution Tree.   A PLC Steering Committee, consisting of administrators and content specialists,  will help to implement protocols for smaller collaborative groups of teachers.

Why PLC?  Research shows the system works and a slew of national professional organizations endorse it.  According to Dr. Fraser, PLCs will enhance student learning by distributing District leadership and fully utilizing our internal expertise.  

Dr. Pimley questions the difference between our current system and PLCs?  Dr. Fraser states that PLCs offer a holistic approach to learning.  He adds that, at present, we basically leave learning “to chance” .  The PLC approach is systemic – everything fits  into a cohesive process and is highly dependent on the  boundless “collective wisdom” of our WCASD staff. 

Mrs. Tiernan questions how the District is addressing the challenge of scheduling “regular” meetings for staff to share their collective wisdom?  Dr. Fraser admits that is a big logistical challenge.

Mrs. Snook wonders how teachers are “taking this” because it appears to add to their responsibilities.  Dr. Fraser asserts that good teachers naturally collaborate to enhance student learning and he does not sense any resistance.

Questions from public:

What do the  smaller collaborative teacher groups look like at building level?  
Answer: At the elementary level, teachers would meet based on grade-level,  middle and high would group according to grade and content area.

Is this just another “cycle “of education reform where everyone jumps on the bandwagon  (or doesn’t) ? 
Answer: No, this is a way of doing your job and it will not go away.  Realistically there will always  be individuals who are resistant to “new” ideas, but the advent of PLCs enhance student learning, which is the goal of all WCASD staff.

Deb Fell, President of the WCAEA, attests to the fact that this has been and continues to be a real collaborative effort and a “deliberately slow process”.    

Dr. Pimley questions how the concept of the PLC will be communicated to staff, parents, etc.  A communication plan is in place.  She questions how we can find out more about PLCs and Dr. Fraser encourages all to visit, which I did.

Life-long educator Richard DuFour  introduced the PLC concept in 1998 (DuFour’s system is now marketed through Solution Tree, the company that supplied WCASD training).

“It (PLC) is not a program to be purchased; it is a process to be pursued but never quite perfected.  It is not an appendage to existing structures and cultures: it profoundly impacts structure and culture”.  In addition, “It does not demand that educators work harder at what they traditionally have done; it calls upon all educators – every teacher, counselor, principal, central office staff member, and superintendent – to redefine their roles and responsibilities and do differently.”

From Richard DuFour & Robert Marzano, Leaders of Learning: How District, School and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement, 2011 Solution Tree Press, Bloomington IN, page 22.

 “A process to be pursued but never quite perfected”.  Educators “redefining” their roles.   PLCs are not a quick fix or fad to be implemented, but rather a culture change infusing the District,  perpetually fueled by the collective wisdom of our educators .   Philosophically, this is beautiful stuff,  although one does share Mrs. Tiernan’s concerns  about the logistics of “regular” collaborative meetings.   Collaborative strategy-sharing sessions are time-consuming and time is a precious resource in a teaching day.

One also recalls Dr. Pimley’s concern about communicating the concept of PLCs throughout the District.  The District does an excellent job communicating information, but how does one communicate  a culture change and infuse District parents with the collaborative spirit of the PLC?  There is no doubt that PLCs enhance student learning.   However, many parents and students share a  culture of achievement – simply defined and measureable achievement.  As this dynamic PLC  process evolves, we suspect the District will celebrate its success and communicate the  positive impact of PLCs on student achievement.  While we await our own, the PLC website offers  numerous school success stories.   

Admittedly a digression, but also of note on PLC website:  Solution Tree offers a School Board Field Book, authored by Mark Van Clay and Perry Solwedel.   The authors state,

“The board, the superintendent, and union leadership must establish a productive and professional three-way partnership for the school district to continuously improve. . . . When all three parties aren’t working together smoothly, too much time will be spent trying to resolve their differences and not enough will be spent working together to achieve the school district’s strategic goals.” 

The accompanying School Board Field Book Study Guide asks the Board to “reflect on your three-way partnership.”  Even the best of us can benefit from collaborative reflection at times, yes?  No mention by Dr. Fraser whether this Solution Tree training offering will be utilized.

Dr. Fraser speaks briefly on the District’s teacher induction plan for new hires, consisting of ongoing support and mentoring programs.

Director of Secondary Education, Dr. Bertrando addresses the PA teacher evaluation system.   This evaluation system was initially proposed in Representative Ryan Aument's  (R-Lancaster) House Bill 1980 (local co-sponsors Representatives Truitt and Killion), is based on Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching and derives funding through the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project funded  by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A teacher’s final rating would be determined through an evaluation process based on 50 percent traditional classroom observation and 50 percent student achievement. For teachers, the 50 percent that relies on objective measures will comprise 15 percent building-wide student performance data including promotion and attendance rates, for example; 15 percent on data from the performance of the individual teacher's students; and the remainder will be state-approved locally chosen measures.  The individual teacher performance measures can include such things as classroom activities, tests, quizzes, projects, student portfolios and standardized test scores.

The proposal has drawn widespread support from teachers unions and school boards alike and will take effect in 2013-14 for teachers and in 2014-15 (proposed) for principals.

WCASD will pilot the teacher evaluation system  this year in the following schools: Henderson, Peirce, Penn Wood and Glen Acres.   Dr. Bertrando explains the two-fold benefit of participating in the pilot program:  the District receives free training and is afforded the opportunity to provide input to the PA Department of Education.

Next, Dr. Bertrando  explains the concept of Ascension Leaders, the District’s administrator induction plan.   When an administrator retires, the District must deal not only with filling the vacancy, but also with the loss of experience in the District.  According to Dr. Bertrando, an  Ascension Leader is one  who possesses the core belief system and competencies to ascend to broader leadership roles within the organization in a 3-5 year span.  The Ascension Leader works through a series of online modules, at their own pace, then meets at regular intervals with their supervisor to discuss progress.

Public question:  is this program only for new administrators?   “Experienced” administrators could  also benefit from such a program.  True, and the program is an option for current administrators and Dr. Bertrando states that some have already expressed an interest in participating.

Dr. Bertrando provided examples of online training  modules, which cover topics such as  leadership, communication, discipline,  etc.  In the words of Dr. Bertrando, the District is looking for “Super Man and Wonder Woman”.   All others need not apply?

And speaking of superheroes,  West Chester VOTE  lost one of our own, Jim Smith,  on September 9th.  As if Jim had not served public education enough, he joined VOTE’s "Write Choice" campaign in the summer of 2011, telling all involved he had “one last fight for public education” left in him. Jim’s energy,  passion and willingness to share his expertise and wisdom was endless.  Jim Smith remains an integral part of the mission of WC VOTE and his legacy will continue to inspire our work.   To Jim’s family, friends and students  – may your memories of a life lived selflessly in service to our youth -  to our future – continue to comfort you as you grieve this tremendous loss. 

Thank you, Jim Smith – it was a privilege to have known you. 




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