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