"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Happy 2012: Where Are We Going This Year?

In this blog:
Math Committee for Common Core (Hint: School Community Councils)
Review of Board Training
Agenda for Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012.

Math Committee for Common Core Curriculum
The district has established a math committee to review curriculum for the Common Core. We will be implementing grades 6 -8 (some 9) this Fall. Those currently in 9 - 12, will continue with the current standards throughout their high school careers. The rest of the grades will implement in 2013. There are members of the district community council (Bruce Armstrong, Kim Paulson, and Melanie Westcott, among others), teachers, and staff that will be on this committee. Sometime before April 15, when textbooks need to be ordered, the math committee will make several recommendations. Then, the School Community Councils (SCC's) will decide on the curriculum their school will use. There will be school community council meetings where this information will be presented to the parents and the community at large.

In short, you need to get involved with the district community council members on the district committee, as well as make sure your views are reflected in your local school's community council. If you have an opinion, this is the point you get to provide feedback, and it is done via the SCC's.

I would appreciate information about the school community council meetings in your school (dates/times, etc), and would be happy to post any and all information on this blog, as well as Facebook. This is being done at a local level, so you must be the one to attend school community council. All SCC's are public meetings and open to everyone. The SCC's, in theory, should print their meeting notices on the Utah Public Notice website.

Board Training
The board met for our semi-annual board retreat/training.  We reviewed the board handbook and processes, and then set priorities for the coming year for the district staff.  This may sound boring, but this is the meeting where the board provides formal, overall direction to the administration and staff.

Every year, the board creates a list of Basket Items to give specific direction to the staff about our priorities for the district overall.  Each board member takes a turn, lists a priority, and then it is discussed.  After that, each board member, the superintendent, and the business administrator assign a priority to each item (1 -5, 5 being the highest priority).  The top five or six priorities are those that will be worked on.  The others will be done, if there are sufficient resources.

I suggested:

1) Put a plan in place to reduce our debt, so that when we bond next time, the bond amount will be less and our overall debt is less--not just reduced by the required amount of principal.  Some options presented were:
  • Create a fund where money is saved for future building needs and/or to reduce debt by paying some debt off sooner
  • Limit the amount of bonding to maybe just a high school next time, or to a specific, lesser amount. 
  • Instead of reducing some of the taxes that naturally go down as debt is paid off, go through a truth in taxation hearing every year to maintain the level of taxation to either pay off more of the debt or to fund additional buildings directly, instead of through debt.

2) Make sure we are emphasizing the role of the School Community Councils (SCC) as the "vehicle" through which the board requests feedback from the local community. The board currently receives feedback on everything from the bond, the math curriculum to the mission, visions, values and goals through School Community Council and PTA meetings.  During the bond process, every school's SCC/PTA received a presentation about the bond.  This was also one way for the public to indicate which projects they wanted to see included, to comment on the amount of the bond and the taxing implications, etc.  The SCC's will be used this spring to decide on a math curriculum to accommodate the new Common Core standards and assessments that the State Board of Education has imposed on each school district in Utah.  See the above section on the Math Committee.

3) Find ways to involve parents more in the actual education of their child.  I believe we have a large, untapped and very beneficial resource in having parents involved, directly, in their child's education.  This would require some thinking out of the box because we have been accustomed, for nearly 100 years, of sending our kids to school, and just making sure they do their homework.  Being able to use technology to customize the education for each child would allow parents the opportunity to be more involved in seeing and experiencing what their child is learning.  We know that parental involvement is the leading indicator of a child's academic success.  Unfortunately, we justify leaving this aside because "some parents can't or won't be involved".  As I've mentioned previously, there is no reason to penalize those families where the parents can be involved because some parents can't.  Why not focus, instead, on what we can do in those situations where parents do want to be more involved.  For myself, I'd be happy to mentor and oversee more of my children's work, alleviating that responsibility from the teachers, and freeing them up to accommodate more students or more involved learning/mentoring, etc.

One item that received quite a lot of discussion was reducing class sizes.  Everyone is in favor of this. However, to reduce class size by a single student across the board would cost $3.2M in on-going expenses.  Some teachers and parents prefer having aids to reduce the adult to student ratio, but leaving a larger class.  Targeted reductions (e.g. K-3 grades) were also discussed. A proposed bill that will be going through the legislature will limit class sizes.  ASD's impact would be $20M plus 10 new schools, to accommodate the new class size mandate, if passed.  One of the options we are using is the extended day in elementary schools, where the teacher only has half the class in the morning for reading and the other half in the afternoon.  That allows a smaller class size with limited resources, but targeted to the most important skills.

Another issue was incentive pay and recognizing "super stars" in our teachers.  There are two schools of thought on the incentive pay.  Currently, ASD rewards teacher teams (e.g. the 3rd grade at one school or the Math Dept. at another school) with incentive pay.  Alpine Foundation rewards individual teachers, but, starting this year, will also recognize one outstanding teacher team.  The concern about rewarding individuals for their work is it might limit teachers' desire to collaborate in our Professional Learning Communities (PLC's).  So, the desire is to reward an effective team for their collaboration.  The difficulty is by not rewarding (either monetarily or by some sort of recognition) truly outstanding performers, you are either ignoring those people or rewarding them along with those they are bringing along.  In short, you are rewarding non-performers for being part of a high-performing team.  The other concern brought up was who should decide.  Logically, the principals would decide, but like any organization, administration has its favorites.  It is an imperfect system.  Still, I would favor rewarding individuals for high performance, and that high performance would also include collaborating with and mentoring their fellow teachers.  I am uncomfortable with the idea of mandating a group reward, over individual recognition. 

Here is the list of basket items (in the order they were suggested), and the first two--according to memory--are the ones that took top priority.  I will post the actual priority when I receive it.
  • Continue to recruit quality teachers and administrators and retain them.  Mentor and train in leadership.
  • Support the list of Superintendent and Cabinet focus areas for the next 6-12 months*
  • Address class size issue (especially elementary and possibly by subject)
  • Increase incentive pay
  • Have plan to reduce debt
  • Recognize "super stars"
  • Filter out low-performing teachers and administrators
  • Achieve Master Boards Award (new award presented by the Utah School Boards Association)
  • Allow the student body to elect the student body officers
  • Increase the use of technology instruction
  • Find ways for the average person to become more aware of the role SCC's play in getting public feedback
  • Find ways for the committees to be more effective
  • Find alternative ways to involve parents in the actual education
Superintendent and Cabinet Focus Areas for Jan - July/Dec. 2012 (Italicized indicate the Areas of Focus)
1. Gifted and Talented program shift -- Question four (what we do if they already know it), ALL classes, Gifted classes (Student Achievement)
2. Language Immersion classes-Expansion (Chinese and Portuguese) (Comprehensive Curriculum)
3. Utah Core (Common Core) training and implementation for Math and Language Arts. (Hold community meetings at the school level this spring to educate parents and patrons.)  Train principals to engage the public in Utah Core implementation. (Teacher Quality)
4. Math committee at district level to review materials and recommend list for school selection. {Community Relations and Resources)
5. Training of Collaboration Team Leaders (CTL's) to continue support of PLC process with a focus on the four essential questions to improve Student Learning. (Leadership, Quality Teaching, & Student Achievement)
6. Refocus of East Shore High School.  (Comp. Curriculum and Student Achievement)
7. Expansion of online school and options (K-12). (Comprehensive Curriculum)
8. Extended year school (credit recovery at local high school during the year and at East Shore during the summer). (Student Achievement)
9. Evaluate program effectiveness -Using Hanover Research and BYU/Partnership to evaluate (double dosing, PLC's, summer collaboration, effective instructional techniques, etc.) (Teacher Quality)
10. Transition of AS400 System to new financial program - Review and focus technology to support student learning.  Unlock more features of Skyward. (Resources and Student Achievement)
11. Administrative appoints for July of 2012 (New Junior High, Diversity Specialist, Online School) (Leadership)
12. Facilities plan for expansion of Dream School, Summit, ATEC, Food Services, Media, Bus Garage, Technology and Maintenance. (Resources)
13. Bond implementation and purchase of additional land for schools - Plans for new high school design. (Resources and Community Relations)
14. Review the location formula for the distribution of ASD resources - new schools vs. Title 1 schools vs. schools in the middle. (Resources)
15. Keep Employee Morale High / Negotiation Process. (School and District Culture)

Board Handbook and Processes
The board has a handbook, outlining our processes and responsibilities.  Included in this is our Code of Conduct.  I have updated the Code of Conduct page on this blog to reflect the changes that were made at last year's meeting.  No changes were made this year. 

Some discussion took place on our collaborative governance model.  I asked for clarification on what other governance models there were and how they would differ from our current one.  The main difference was board members are invited to be on committees that the administration would have with or without our involvement, e.g. curriculum, technology, PR.  In the past, decisions were made that the board was unaware of (including Investigations Math).  This governance model allows for more involvement between the board and the administration than a traditional model.  The only difficulty I have with it, is the lines are sometimes too blurred.  It can be difficult to know when we are being provided information, just so we know, and when the information will come back later, like in the budget, for formal approval.  If there is not sufficient discussion because we don't want to micromanage, it may be assumed we are in agreement.  One of the board members said that over time these things would become clear to those of us who are still new. 

Another discussion involved the committees.  (See above for our role in the committees.)  The board members report on their committee meetings during the formal board meeting.  However, some have felt the committees aren't very effective.  Also, sometimes, the board presentation is almost the same as that made in the committee meeting.  In the interest of streamlining and to provide information to all board members, we will be receiving agendas for these committees in advance.  This will allow other board members to convey their thoughts to committee members prior to the discussion.  The committees are for the staff and the board to vet ideas before being presented to the full board for discussion and possible implementation. 

 We also discussed some tweaking on the superintendent and business administrator evaluations process.  The Board Handbook says in March the board selects an evaluation instrument.  Then, in April, that tool is used to evaluate the Superintendent.  My emphasis was on selecting the evaluation instrument at the time the superintendent or the business administrator is appointed, and that tool should be in effect, unless formally modified by both parties, until the subsequent evaluation (two years later).  I was told the instrument had, in fact, been selected, and the four new board members would be provided with this information. 

Jan. 10, 2012 Board Meeting Agenda
There will not be a study session prior to the regular board meeting.

575 NORTH 100 EAST

6:00 P.M.






1. Budget Report

2. Personnel Reports

3. Alpine Foundation Report

4. Student Releases - JB, CC, EH, BH, AH



5. Student Expulsion - JH


1. Membership Report




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