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!

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