Thursday, November 28, 2013


November WCASD Board meeting:

In Attendance:  Vince Murphy, Dr. Maria Pimley, Sean Carpenter, Ed Coyle, Sue Tiernan, Maureen Snook, Linda Raileanu
Superintendent's Report:  Dr. Jim Scanlon reports on the many ways WCASD schools are  "giving back" this holiday season:  blood drives, care packages for our troops, help for the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, etc.  The superintendent also takes this opportunity to thank and commend outgoing Board members Dr. Maria Pimley, Sean Carpenter and Ed Coyle - all are presented with plaques.  Outgoing Board member Karen Miller, who resigned earlier this month, was not present but was also commended for her service to the WCASD and will be presented with a plaque.   WC VOTE joins in thanking our outgoing Board members for their commitment and service to the District and wishes them success, health and happiness in all future endeavors.   
Approval of a Resolution Opposing High School Graduation requirements: The  resolution to oppose Keystone Exams in Algebra, Biology and English Composition as a graduation requirement was officially approved and will be sent to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), PA Department of Education and the PA General Assembly.  As most of you are aware, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted, 3-2, on 11/21  to approve the use of Keystones as graduation requirements, but WCASD will go on record as voicing their opposition to these requirements and we salute them for doing so.   Thanks to everyone who heeded the call and contacted the IRRC to voice their concerns. Special thanks to WCASD Board member Sue Tiernan for hauling herself to Harrisburg for the 4 hour plus meeting to provide public comment on behalf of our district.

Noting the overwhelming amount of public comment on the IRRC website conveying opposition  to the use  of Keystones as graduation requirements - not to mention those opposed to PA Core Standards-  you may be asking yourself how this happened.   How is it that  five people , two appointed by House and Senate Democrats, two appointed by House and Senate Republicans, and one Governor-appointee, have the final word on using the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements?   How is it that parent/taxpayer letters, school board resolutions,  and superintendents' position letters carry such little weight for these five people?  How is it that the PA Department of Education/State Board of Education  can confidently promise producing a new and improved college-and-career ready student, yet cannot come up with a more creative and equitable way to assess our schools, teachers and students than through the continued use of high-stakes testing?   Discouraged?  In  times like these, we recommend finding some comfort in the inspiring national grassroots movements to end high-stakes testing at  United Opt Out
Approval of Advanced Placement Economics Course for the 2014-15 school year:  A new AP Economics Course for the 2014-15 school year was approved.  See November Education Committee summary for associated costs.

Approval of the resignation of a school board member and selection process for vacancy:  The Board approved the resignation of Karen Miller effective November 25, 2013.  The Board will take applications for candidates to fill the vacated board seat until December 4, 2013. The board has 30 days to fill the vacated seat and the term expires in November, 2015.  Public interviews will be held on December 9 and possibly another date depending on need and the Board will then vote on the candidates.    If you are reading this, we know you care about public education and encourage YOU to consider interviewing for this position - here's the application.  It is a rare occasion to be considered for the board in such an “apolitical” manner, and the term is only a two-year commitment.  You like it, you run in 2015. You don't , it's over before you know it.  Good luck!

Policies:  The District Wellness Policy was adopted and is now in effect. Policy KM-School Visitors and Policy KMA-School Volunteers were approved for a first reading and will be placed on December agenda for second reading.  As discussed in an earlier blog, the District hopes these policies will keep our students safer by requiring background clearances for school volunteers. 

Intermediate Unit report: Mr. Coyle reports the IU Board was treated to a robotics demonstration and the 2014-15 IU calendar was approved.

PSBA/Legislative report:  Once again this month, Mrs. Snook presents the trinity of legislative priorities in PA - transportation, liquor privatization and pension reform and reports that at least one, transportation, has been resolved. She continues, making a few comments on the transportation bill and hopes the best for the state's remaining legislative priorities. Mrs. Snook notes the outcome of the 11/21 Independent Regulatory Review Commission meeting and makes general mention of charter and pension reform, which she assumes will be forthcoming.

Charter School report:   Mrs. Tiernan takes the hints dropped by Mrs. Snook, fleshes them out and leads us from the tunnel of obscurity to the light of clarity.   In recounting her attendance at the 11/21 IRRC hearing, she reminds us that the costs of remediation associated with the Keystone Exams for  WCASD are between $366-498,000/year.  (One wonders whether the proposal to hire three  secondary Biology specialists at $250,000+  is included in this estimate.) Mrs. Tiernan  continues, informing us that SB 1085 is out of committee and PSBA continues to  work with legislators to attempt to craft a better version of this charter/cyber reform bill.  During its time in the Appropriations Committee, SB 1085 did see some changes to the pension piece and added a provision to form a commission to study the issue. Opposition to the bill still exists from public education and charter/cyber advocates. Check out Education Law Center  and PA Families for Public Cyber Schools  for  arguments and keep an eye out for action/inaction in Harrisburg in the few session days left before the holidays.

Public Comment:  Residents give thanks to outgoing Board members and, in particular, express gratitude for Karen Miller's work on Board.   The remaining comments duplicate much of what has been said in the months leading up to the election:  teachers, parents and students calling for "transparency", healthy negotiations, an end to politics on Board,  etc.  Difference:  this time, the remarks are expressed with the conviction that the incoming Board will deliver just that.   
After the comments, outgoing Board member Ed Coyle provides some parting advice for remaining and incoming Board members.   Mr. Coyle asserts that, per the Affordable Care Act, the insurance plan the teachers are asking for is considered a "Cadillac" plan that will end up costing WCASD taxpayers over $175,000/year.  He informs us that PC 320, the insurance plan accepted by all others in the district, is not considered "Cadillac".  Board member and healthcare expert Linda Raileanu  reinforces Mr. Coyle's statements.   Meeting adjourned.

Some teachers attempt public "comments" after adjournment and an explanation/rebuttal appeared on the WCAEA website following the meeting.   

The incoming Board will be sworn in on December 2 and much is expected of them.   While one is confident all Board members will work together to continue to move this community forward,  change will not be immediate.  And while some may feel they have "won" because the election is over,  please do not use that temporary bliss to justify dormancy until the next round of seats is up in 2015.  Each and every one of us  remains a critical part of the process of change, and we encourage you to remain awake and involved in that process. 

Have a safe and beautiful holiday weekend - see you in December.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."  John F. Kennedy   

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Strong Finish: Support West Chester Students.Oppose Keystone Exams as Graduation Requirements

November Pupil Services Committee Meeting Summary

Wellness Policy - Second reading
There is brief discussion on this policy as it relates to classroom celebrations. Pupil Services Director Dr. Ranieri states such celebrations remain building level decisions.

Pupil Services Initiatives

·       Dr. Ranieri discusses the increasing need for mental health services in district schools.  She reports the District is looking into ways to  offer students services in a manner similar to the delivery of services at the Trans. Ed. Academy at Melton Center, which allows our students to receive necessary services while remaining in the WCASD curriculum. This is simply a proposal and request for permission to investigate feasibility of such as program for the 2014-15 school year.

·       Work is beginning on the six-year Special Education Comprehensive Plan, which  is due to the PA Department of Education in May.

November Education Committee Meeting Summary

In a continuation of last month’s Education Committee meeting, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Fraser, Elementary Education Supervisor Dr. Missett and Secondary Education Supervisor Dr. Sokolowski present Part II of the Student Achievement Report.  Dr. Missett discusses “interventions” in elementary buildings where Math and Writing PVAAS ratings showed “no growth within year”.   Interventions in writing consist of practices such as :  students participating in writing activities every day, supervision by District ELA Supervisor Susan Elliott, sending teachers to buildings that “model” good writing practices, and  teacher book study groups utilizing Common Core Writing Book.  Math interventions include teacher workshops and differentiated instruction.

At the secondary level, Dr. Sokolowski focuses on “AP Equity and Excellence”, providing statistics from all District high schools which show that, on the whole,  AP exam and course participation are on the increase.

 AP Economics Course

Dr. Ozer, Supervisor of Social Studies, requests Board permission to add AP Economics to social studies course offering at the high school level, beginning in 2014-15.  Dr. Ozer states this is a “staffing neutral” request utilizing WCASD staff and several staff members have already expressed interest in teaching the course. Staff will be sent to LaSalle’s Advanced Placement Summer Institute for training which will cost approximately $5,250 total ($1,750 per teacher tuition). Books and materials will cost approximately $23,000/building.  Board approval is given.

Approval of Policy KMA: School Volunteers  and KM: Visitors to the School

Dr. Missett acknowledges the input of PTOs in the drafting of these policies.  The policy distinguishes between “short term” and “long term” volunteers and also “limited contact” and “substantial contact” volunteers:

·       Short term - individuals who provide service, without compensation, on an occasional  basis not exceeding two weeks during the school year.

·       Long term - intent is to use the volunteer over a period of time exceeding two weeks throughout the school year.

·       Limited contact  - volunteers who will work directly under supervision with teacher, administrator, etc.  They will not have unsupervised contact with students.

·       Substantial contact - they may be working under supervision, but will, from time to time, have unsupervised contact with students.

ALL volunteers will fill in a volunteer application and complete Raptor scan (visitor scans driver's license in order to be automatically "cleared").  In addition, substantial contact volunteers will need to submit the following:  Criminal history report from PA State Police, Child Abuse History Clearance from PA Department of Welfare and federal criminal history report (fingerprinting).  The cost for all 3 is $49 and they will be valid for 3 years. 

                                                 Limited Contact                                     Substantial Contact

Single event
Short term
Long term

Dr. Pimley questions if this policy will discourage parents from volunteering and expresses her disagreement with requiring parents to pay for clearances.   Dr. Missett mentions that PTOs may be able to help in cases where volunteers cannot afford the cost.   PTOs?   PTOs who struggle to find volunteers throughout the year and will now  have the extra burden of finding volunteers who are willing to pay for the privilege of volunteering?   Hey, why not?  We're PTOs and we will find a way.  A couple of thoughts here though: 
  • The policy is set to go into effect  in January, so PTOs will not have budgeted for these costs this year. How many people can we expect will need our help?  The cost could be significant.
  • In reality, would a volunteer who finds the cost a burden approach PTO for assistance or simply be discouraged from volunteering?                                                                         
In the end, we commend the District for taking every possible step to make sure our students are safe,  and we shall see what happens. The Board notes the importance of conveying this information to parents immediately since these clearances take time to obtain.   The administration reports they will place the information on  District website tomorrow, and they did:

Dr. Pimley ends the discussion by suggesting that, since we are making our volunteers pay for clearances, the District may want to consider offering  workshops/training to aid them in understanding the expectations/guidelines of each school.  She cites examples of  church and Scout groups - both require such clearances from their volunteers but also provide trainings/guidelines concerning appropriate relations with children.
Biology Specialists

Dr. Fraser provides rationale  to hire  3 Biology Specialists -one at each high school.  This allocation would be for 2014-15 budget, enabling the district to “meet the needs of our high school students as they relate particularly to performance on the Biology Keystone Exam, much the same way that the current Math Specialist positions are assisting students with Algebra I Keystone Exam performance.”   Budgeted cost:  $251,901 ($83,967 per teacher for salary plus benefits).  There is much discussion and Dr. Fraser reiterates this is not a formal request for approval to Board, but rather the rationale for what may become a proposal in the near future.    

Board resolution opposing Keystone Exams as graduation requirements

During the Biology Specialist presentation, the discussion  is interrupted, turning to a general one concerning the costs of implementing Keystone exams.  The Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) is scheduled to vote on the final Chapter 4 regulations (concerning academic standards and assessments) on November 21.   If passed, Keystone exams will become a requirement for graduation beginning with the class of 2017, thus making them  not only another high-stakes test for our students, but  another unfunded mandate from the state.   While PA Department of Education will continue to argue that these tests should not incur any new costs to districts,  the costs of supplemental instruction, not to mention the loss of instruction time to testing, have been documented by numerous districts across the state.  At this point in the meeting, those in attendance are provided a copy of a letter, signed by nearly all superintendents and Intermediate Unit Directors in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester counties,  opposing the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements and citing the costs, to districts,  of administering those exams.  Dr. Pimley informs us that, to date, Haverford and Radnor school districts have submitted resolutions to the IRRC in opposition to Keystone Exams as graduation requirements and she proposes that WCASD do the same - go Dr. Pimley!  Dr. Scanlon states he will help draft the resolution.  Thank you Dr. Pimley, for your service to the WCASD for the past four years and for ending your term with such a supportive action on behalf of our students and district.  

Please support the WCASD in opposing the Keystone Exams as graduation requirements. 

Contact the IRRC before 10 AM on November 19, urging them not to approve the Keystone exams as graduation requirements.   Not feeling creative?  The Radnor link above has sample letters.  All comments become public record on IRRC website and can be viewed at:     
To contact the IRRC:
333 Market Street, 14th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Phone: (717) 783-5417
Fax: (717) 783-2664