By John Chambless
With just a few days remaining before the start of classes, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board met on Aug. 11 to look back over projects completed during the summer, and look forward to what needs to be done.
At a meeting of the Curriculum and Educational Technology Committee, board members discussed next week's vote on updating the graduation requirements at Unionville High School. In response to a state mandate, the board will vote on adding the Keystone Exams to the list of requirements for graduating seniors. Students graduating in 2015 and 2016 need to complete a culminating project. Beginning with the class of 2017, students will not have to do a project, but will be required to show proficiency on algebra 1, biology and literature Keystone Exams, or “a related project-based assessment.”
Board member Kathleen Do admitted that “there will be school boards in the state who vote no on the Keystones. A lot of districts don't want these graduation requirements and will vote them down,” she said.
Board member Jeff Hellrung added, “Probably what will happen is that the law will be changed, unfortunately. I'm proud of our district for embracing this. We're one of the few.”
The committee also heard from a panel of district teachers and principals about the phase-in of a more stringent oversight plan for teachers called the Teacher Effectiveness System, or Act 82. The program, which began two years ago, is being phased in district-wide in the next two years.
Formerly, teachers were evaluated based solely on evaluations of their classroom methods. The new system is based on classroom observation as well as a demonstration of personal growth in a concentrated area. Teachers wll track their own growth and present a reflective written piece that will demonstrate growth.
In a presentation to the committee, the reason for Act 82 was said to be “to move teachers from viewing evaluation as an obligation to be endured, to an opportunity to be seized through professional development.”
In 2014-15, between two and five tenured teachers in each building will have fall and spring progress reports. There will be a re-evaluation in the spring and summer of 2015, and full implementation in the 2015-16 school year. The program is not for teachers in their first three years of teaching. Only those with three or more years of classroom experience wll be the subjects of the evaluations.
Hellrung thanked the teachers and principals who had been working with the new evaluation system, saying, “To see this develop through cooperation is so positive and constructive. It's really nice to see.”
Ken Batchelor, the assistant to the district superintendent, said, “We're compliant with state guidelines on this, but at the same time, we're looking at something that will improve ourselves. The way teachers were self-evaluating last year has been very positive.”
The subject of class sizes in the district's elementary schools was examined in depth, with the director of curriculum and instruction, John Nolen, saying that first-grade enrollment at Pocopson Elementary School has already reached the recommended maximum of 23 students per classroom. Traditionally, eight or nine additional students register within the first three months of the school year, Nolen said, so the administration would recommend hiring an additional first-grade teacher at Pocopson.
Several board members questioned whether it's too late to hire an additional teacher, but Nolen said there is a large pool of qualified applicants who could start on short notice. “We have complete confidence that we can bring in an excellent teacher,” he said. “We have tons of applicants. People want to work here.”
Hellrung said he wasn't comfortable with adding the expense of a new hire, but district superintendent John Sanville pointed out the importance of a smooth first-grade classroom environment. “Assuming that we repeat our usual history, we would recommend adding a first-grade teacher,” he told the board.
Any hiring would need to be approved at next week's school board meeting.
At the work session that followed the curriculum meeting, the board heard from Rick Hostetler, the supervisor of buildings and grounds, about the extensive work that has been done over the summer, particularly at Patton Middle School, which is being renovated. “There's been a tremendous amount of work done this summer,” he said. “In my 23 years in the district, this has been one of the busiest summers I've ever seen.”
Everything on the district's to-do list should be completed before the end of September, Hostetler said.
He also detailed the replacement of the high school cafeteria's floor. The problem of discolored tiles in the room was caused by moisture that had penetrated joints in the concrete, some of which dated back to the building's construction in the 1950s, as well as current joints. The whole cafeteria floor was eventually replaced, with a new vapor barrier, floor leveling materials and new tile. The repair cost was divided between the architect, contractor and the district, Hostetler said, with the district picking up 76 percent of the cost, at $82,000. “That was the fairest way for everyone,” he said of the cost-splitting.
A representative from MM Architects also attended the meeting to discuss a problem with the roof of the auditorium at Unionville High School. During a heavy rain, there is excessive noise that reverberates inside the auditorium, and the cause, so far, is a mystery. The construction of the roof has been examined and everything seems to be fine, and there has been no problem with other roofs built the same way.
Referring to the controversy over the auditorium being built too high, board member Steve Simonson joked, “Would this be happening if the roof was three inches closer to the ground?” and got some laughs from the other board members.
The board and the architect will examine the problem further before any recommendations are made.
In other business, a recent audit of the district by the Auditor General resulted in no issues being found, according to Robert Cochran, the district's director of business and operations.
“A clean performance audit is indicative of the good work that the people around this table are doing,” Sanville said.
New board member Robert Sage added, “I spent time as an auditor, and I have to say that it's rare to see a clean audit like this. So, congratulations.”
Sage is the new chair of the policy committee, and he reported on the progress the district is making in revising and updating some 300 policies on the books. “At the current pace, it would take more than eight years to revise all of our policies,” Sage told the board. To speed up the process, he recommended fast-tracking the more straightforward policies, and spending an appropriate amount of time on more controversial policies, with a goal of completing the policy overhaul by November of 2016.
“This is something that needs to be done,” Sanville said. “Most of the district's policies have not been touched since about 2003.”
To bring all the policies up to date, “We school board members need to let some things go, and not argue over every semicolon,” Hellrung said.
The board thanked Sage for his report and agreed to work together to speed up the revision process.
Finally, the board heard from Sanville about the district's contract with David Voss and Associates, who were hired to streamline and improve the district's communications efforts. The contract came to an end on June 30, and the company has delivered all of the items on a list given to them when the contract was signed in February. A cleaner website, improved commnication with parents and between schools, as well as a crisis communications plan, have all been implemented, Sanville said. He recommended extending the Voss contract for the upcoming school year, “in an amount not to exceed $25,000.”
“All of us are not trained in communications,” Sanville told the board. “So having that expertise on call adds value to the organization.”
The contract extension will be an action item for the board in September.
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board will meet on Aug. 18 in the district office conference room (740 Unionville Rd., Kennett Square). Visit www.ucfsd.org for updated information.