Thursday, November 19, 2015

Board Meeting Recap - Nov 2015

November 2015

Well UCF community, we have a new record. Between the Committee Meetings, Work Session, and Regular Meeting, the Board spent about 10 hours discussing, deliberating, and actioning the items on this month's agenda.

Highlights from this Month's Public Board Meetings

  • STEM - Committee Report and New Courses
  • Elementary School Class Sizes
  • Growth and Achievement Report
  • Selection of New Board Member to replace Keith Knauss
  • Farewell Kathy Do

STEM - Committee Report and New Courses

STEM Committee Report
You have probably heard the term STEM being used in the media.  It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  The STEM concept for education is to provide students with an integrated approach to teaching these topics in a real-world, rigorous, and relevant manner.  The committee evaluated our program and made far-reaching recommendations for more courses, partnerships, and activities.

Read the report

Three new courses were reviewed and approved this month.  

  • Student Help Desk: This year UHS began a student help desk (as a club).  Next year this will become a course for credit.  The students will man the new help desk under the direction of the Tech Department and will be provided instruction by the Computer Apps Department.

    The student help desk was one of the items developed in the Technology Road Map and will help us as we move forward implementing our Learning Management System, Canvas.

  • Programming Principles with Python: The District continues to add programming courses to the curriculum.  

    Starting in elementary school and continuing into secondary, students receive basic programming instruction using Tynker (an online platform that teaches students how to code using games and stories).

    Using the Python programming language, high school students will be able to continue to develop programming concepts.  This offering complements existing courses in C++ and Apps for Mobile Devices and can be taken prior to the AP Java course.

  • Principles of Engineering:  This is another Project Lead the Way (PLTW) course.  Our prior PLTW course was hugely popular, with 86 students registered.  This is the first of a series of 4 new PLTW courses the Tech Ed Department is considering.  These advanced STEM courses may, depending on the college, earn students college credit.

Elementary School Class Sizes

This issue has been a major point of discussion over the last two months.  Hillendale parents came to each Board meeting in great numbers to express their concerns about 3rd grade class sizes.  The parents articulated well-developed arguments and provided reports and documentation to support the benefits of smaller class sizes.

The issue is that currently 3rd grade class sizes at Hillendale have reached the top of the Board's established guidelines.  

Below are highlights culled from many hours of the discussion, from the point of view of the three parties involved (Parents, Administration and Board).

The parents had two requests:
  • Add an additional language arts teacher to help alleviate large class sizes
  • Look at revising class size guideline policies going forward

The Administration's response was:
  • The situation was identified and addressed early in the school year and an additional math teacher was added.
  • The Administration feels confident the instruction will meet district standards and that adding additional teachers at this late date would cause disruptions and not be a net benefit for these students.

The Board had mixed feelings:
  • Some members wanted the administration to bring in an additional language arts teacher and to move forward with revisiting the policy now.
  • Other members wanted to accept the administration's recommendation, leaving the door open for further discussion of the policy guideline going forward.

The final decision, after much analysis, review, debate, and a final vote, was to follow the Administration's recommendation and review the guidelines in the future. The vote was 5 to 4.

The Administration committed to evaluating the policy guidelines and presenting its findings to the Board.

Many important points came to light and will be useful for future discussions on this policy.
  • The current class size guidelines were modified several years ago (increased by 1) as part of a belt-tightening exercise during the recent economic downturn.
  • Class sizes at the top of the guideline are not unique.  About 1 in 5 (elementary) classes are at the top of the guideline and by the time a student graduates from the district, about half of them will have been in a class at the top of the guidelines.
  • There is no quantifiable data showing current guidelines have had a negative impact on student learning outcomes.
  • Decreases in class sizes would likely require more classrooms and teachers; that would need to be addressed during the budgeting process.

Watch the debate online (Note: this link will take you directly to the start of the debate among the Board members, starting with a presentation by Bob Sage).

Growth and Achievement Report

This year, each principal provided an update to the Board on the state of their school, highlighting accomplishments, recognition, results of statewide standardized tests, and next steps.

Statewide standardized test results are in a transitionary period.  Pennsylvania is phasing out PSSA (replaced by Keystone Exams) while at the same time phasing in a new school performance evaluation system (PVAAS - Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System).

The new PVAAS data provides insights into student achievement and annual growth.  The detailed data is intended to provide school districts with valuable information to drive instructional decision making that leads to improved learning outcomes for all students.

Overall, we know that our student achievement is excellent.  The new growth data is being evaluated, supporting our ingrained continual improvement process.  Where indicated, instructional changes will be made.

It was a long presentation with a lot of data and commentary.  Two points of note:
  • Very strong results at the Middle School
  • Reflection on how 5th and 6th grade math results may have been impacted due to the transition to Singapore math.

Watch the video for your school.  (The links will take you directly to that part of the presentation - about 10 to 15 minutes each.)

Selection of New Board Member to replace Keith Knauss

We welcome Elise Anderson to the Board, replacing Keith Knauss, who resigned in October. She will serve the remainder of his term, which runs through November 2017. Elise grew up in the district and has children attending school here.  She is an active member of our community and has served on the Curriculum Council.

Click here to watch her interview, including her statement of qualifications and responses to Board member questions.

Farewell Kathy Do

We said farewell to Kathy Do, whose term has ended.  Kathy has been very involved in our community for many years, including four years on the Board.  

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