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




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