Friday, October 24, 2014

State of Schools Address Covers A Lot of Ground, Draws Questions
February 14, 2014 by Gwen Cooper | No Comments

With greater interest in open enrollment and class sizes, about 50 parents and community members attended the Feb. 12 West Geauga Schools annual State of the Schools address.

With greater interest in open enrollment and class sizes, about 50 parents and community members attended the Feb. 12 West Geauga Schools annual State of the Schools address.

Attendance was at least 47 more than those who saw the presentation in 2013.

Superintendent Geoff Palmer chaired the meeting, which included a review of the goals established by the members of the board of education, an update on the school’s re-roofing projects and some of the high notes of the district’s accomplishments before taking questions from the audience.

Palmer quickly read through a list of school honors achieved over the past year, including receiving high marks on the state’s school report card, the high school’s prestigious status as a National Blue Ribbon school, a nomination as a Green Ribbon School for environmental studies and a host of others which he said are posted on the school website.

State Testing Curriculum Changes Loom

State test scores continue to be on the top of concerns, according to Palmer’s presentation.

“Our goal as set forth by the school board members is to be in the state’s top 5 percent in the proficiency index in the next five years,” he said. “We currently hover between 6 to 7 percent and are working to break through.”

He noted that beginning next year, the scoring on the state report card will change to letter grades and the criteria will also change, which has caused alterations in the school’s preparation for testing. He pointed out West Geauga’s current high marks would have only garnered a B grade using the same criteria.

He said if the new criteria had been applied to the current school test scores, West G fell just below an A grade in the performance index and may have scored as low as a D in the gifted student category.

He noted some problems with data entry might have contributed to the low score in the gifted student section, which has been echoed by other school districts as well.

“We have to accept it and move on,” he said.

Palmer pointed to adjustments being implemented to meet the new common core standards, which requires students to demonstrate a greater depth of study and places more emphasis on problem solving skills. He said it would force students to think more instead of merely reciting fact.

“How do you eat an elephant — one bite at a time,” Palmer said.

To meet these challenges, 26 professional development sessions were held after school for teachers. Special intervention teams were put into place to catch students who are in need of more focused attention.

“Our motto this year is to ‘Reach Each One,’ to help all our students succeed,” Palmer said. “If we do that, we will succeed in reaching our top 5 percent goal. We intend to help all our students improve by one band of measurement on the state tests, which may be as simple as answering one more question correctly on one test. When you break it down, it’s not an impossible task.”

Free All Day Kindergarten

The board is considering offering free all-day kindergarten, which will save parents of all-day students about $2,700 per year, Palmer said.

He said the expanded day for all students will help meet the new common core standards that place an emphasis on achieving a higher third-grade reading proficiency.

The subject is an agenda for the Feb. 24 board meeting.

Building Roof Replacements Ahead of Schedule

The school’s operations manager Jim Russo reported that last summer’s $400,000 roof replacement on the Westwood Elementary School came in far less than the $1.2 million budgeted from the 2.75-mill permanent improvement levy passed by voters the previous year.

“With an $800,000 carryover, we plan to replace the roofs on Lindsay and eight roofs on the middle school this summer, adding the sixth-grade wing and possibly six high school roofs.”

Bids on those roofs are expected in on Feb. 24, he said.

The permanent improvement levy is expected to generate $8.5 million over its five-year span. Russo said that 99 percent of the funds are earmarked for roof replacement.

Another goal is to add backup power generators to the two elementary school buildings, which lose the ability to have running water when the electric power goes out.

“When the power goes out, we have a good deal of ambient lighting, but we can’t flush the toilets, which is a real problem,” Russo said.

Questions & Answers

Tina Leonard, a parent with four children in the school district, asked Palmer to consider families when making changes that affect school bus routes.

“I could have to deal with three different schedules with children on three different bus routes,” she said. “Also take into consideration how much time students have to sit on a bus. Some are on a bus for 45 minutes.”

Palmer said the school is considering just two bus schedules as opposed to three.

Howard Shanker of Russell Township asked for a breakdown of how much each taxpayer pays per student.

He complained that the school could report on how much it costs to repair each roof, but has not been able to say how much it costs to educate each child.

“How much would it cost to educate a child with an enrollment of 2,000 students without open enrollment as opposed to 2,200 students with open enrollment?” he asked.

Palmer said he did not have those figures.

“There are many caveats,” he said. “Are we looking at having one elementary school building or two?”

Anita Zurcher asked why all taxpayers were not being included in a survey being conducted for the school’s long-range planning.

“You say you are including all stakeholders, including students and teachers,” she said. “It is the taxpayers who voted in the levies.”

Palmer replied the school hired Burges and Burges, an independent firm to conduct the survey, and it will interview a random sample of registered voters in the district to obtain a scientific, statistically correct survey.

“Students and teachers are being included in the long-range plan because they have the best view of what goes on in the classroom,” he said.

Zurcher, who opposes the school’s open enrollment policy, also urged attendees to sign up for her group on CHANGE.ORG to sign a petition to close statewide open enrollment at West Geauga Schools.

“Make sure your voice is heard,” she said.

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