Monday, April 7, 2014

Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Assessment Update: Last week schools across New York State administered the English Language Arts (ELA) assessment for grades 3-8. As was widely publicized, many parents refused to let their children take this assessment for a variety of reasons that I outlined in my previous blog. I also mentioned the magic 95%. This is the percentage of students taking the exam for the entire district, school, and subgroup of students to continue to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" and therefore remain a school in good standing. I tried to make sure that people were at least informed that if a school, district, or subgroup were to fall below the 95% participation rate, then the school district could be financially penalized at the end of next year.

My belief is that falling below the 95% subjects us to penalties, yet the people making the rules at the State Education Department feel nothing. It is for this reason that I asked parents to really consider all of the variables before excluding their child(ren) from the state assessment.

Low and behold, enough parents must have refused to have their child take the assessment because late Friday it was announced that we would now be allowed to take a complicated average of last year's participation percentage and this year's participation. To me this is just pushing the problem out another year. I am sure that to NYSED they feel that if they can drop some schools off of the "below 95%" list, that the negative voices will subside and things will just move along.

I am here to tell them that things will not "move along" until they admit what they have messed up, and allow people who actually know what they are doing to create a plan to mop up this current mess and fix things moving forward. I expect us to be above the 95% participation rate, but my voice concerning this is going to get louder and louder with the Commissioner until changes are made.

Participating with Students in Government: On the positive side, I had an awesome opportunity to visit with our twelfth graders who are taking Participation in Government. I enjoyed talking with them about student rights, social media, their paths to graduation, and a host of other topics that were driven by the students. I always appreciate this time to be with our seniors as they begin to make plans for life after high school.

Mark Your Calendars for Budget Vote on May 20: With the state budget in place, we are happy and fortunate to be putting the finishing touches on our financial plan as we inch closer to May 20. Our budget meets all of the requirements set forth by the governor to give taxpayers a rebate (he has not announced all of the details yet)  as long as the taxing entities are below their allowable tax caps (we are). The additional state aid we received left us about $70,000 short of our initial goal, but we have had enough retirements to close that gap. We are in the third year of a five year fiscal plan that has worked really well for us. This summer we will work on a plan extension so that we never find ourselves scrambling.

College and Career Ready: As college and career opportunities have changed over the past couple of years, we are preparing a three year high school plan. One additional emphasis will be on increasing our high school completion rate (which is currently at 93% and working our way to 100%). Another is to create alternate pathways to graduation (using project based learning, coops, and internships to name a few ideas), and continue to build an environment where every student challenges themselves to take at least one college level course before they graduate. This will be exciting work.

Is it Finally Spring? Looks like some decent weather ahead, which we can really use. If you are attending a school function at one of our fields or facilities, please know that we have identified all of the areas that might need a little "TLC" after the brutal winter. There are areas of heaving, pot holes, drainage issues, and mud. Once the ground completely thaws, we will make quick work of these areas and our facilities will look as nice as they always do.

Enjoy the week!