U-CF school board selects firm to study redistricting
● By Lev
By John Chambless
At their meeting on Oct. 13, the Unionville-Chadds Ford school board took the first step toward possibly shifting school boundaries to ease overcrowding at Pocopson Elementary School.
Pocopson is using every available classroom for the 652 students currently enrolled there. Last month, district superintendent John Sanville laid out the reasoning behind realigning school populations. The district is committed to maintaining its four K-5 schools, Sanville emphasized. In 1998, the school board adopted the K-5 neighborhood school concept. In 2001, the current school boundary lines were adopted. In 2011, the board voted to not study configuration changes. But the enrollment numbers this year have forced a decision.
The school district has classroom capacity guidelines of 23 students per class in kindergarten through second grade, and 26 students per class in grades three to five. At Pocopson, all of the 28 classrooms are fully utilized, while Unionville Elementary, for example, has four empty classrooms.
Sanville has said the district's guiding principles in the possible redistricting will be to not use trailers at one school if there are empty classrooms in another school, to avoid splitting neighborhoods, to put in place a six-year plan so that students are not moved twice during their elementary school years, and to keep school boundaries contiguous.
At the Oct. 13 meeting, the board voted unanimously to select McKissick Associates InSights to perform an attendance boundary study of the school district. Initial work will begin on Oct. 15, according to a proposal from the firm. The company was one of two interviewed by Sanville, administrators and school board members.
Sanville said McKissick was selected "because they had experience in Pennsylvania in multiple counties. We felt they gave us a better product. The cost was slightly more, but not a lot. And they just finished a Downingtown study and got very high marks."
The company will be paid $21,600 for the study. "The difference in costs between the two firms was very small," said board vice-president Gregg Lindner. "We're looking to focus on a reasonable time frame and with the least distruptive process. This company seemed most appropriate."
Sanville agreed, saying, "This was a better fit."
The McKinnick schedule outlines a process that wll include building walk-throughs, staff and parent surveys, several public presentations, feedback sessions and reviews, wrapping up with a master action plan in April that will be reviewed by the school board and administration. The information gathered will identify how the district will be altered to more evenly distribute enrollment throughout the available schools. Updated information will be posted on the district's website (www.ucfsd.org).
At a meeting of the curriculum and educational technology committee that preceded the school board meeting, members heard about a grant being pursued at Unionville High School that may result in the reopening of the school store.
The store closed about five years ago because there was no class of students to run it. The proposed grant of $5,000 to $6,000 comes from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. If approved, the money will go toward purchasing shelving and items to sell in the store. After the seed money is spent, the store will hopefully be self-supporting. Students studying entrepreneurship will be involved in running the store, and students with disabilities will work there, gaining practical work experience.
The topic of academic integrity was discussed by Jim Conley, the assistant principal at Unionville High School, and several members of a committee that has been looking at student cheating for the past year. The committee was formed after a November 2012 story in the high school newspaper revealed that students are aware that cheating is occurring, and that teachers do not have a unified response to cheating when it is discovered.
"It's a prevalent issue, and it's happening at colleges and high schools across the country," Conley said. "It's a different world than the world I was in as a student. Ideas can be easily grabbed off the internet."
The committee held seven meetings with teachers and students for further insight. Recommendations include forming a district academic honesty committee that would include students, administrators and teachers from all grade levels; and creating an honor code for middle school and high school students.
"We have a low incidence of academic dishonesty in the district," said assistant superintendent Ken Batchelor. "But even one instance is a problem."
Conley added that, "We should try to reach out to elementary and middle school students. If we tell them in the 10th or 11th grade, it's almost too late."
Board member Kathleen Do said, "If a test is available because a student took a picture of it, for instance, the student who says they aren't going to look at it and cheat can be identified as a tattletale, or not cool. What we need to do is flip the culture, so that cheating is not cool. We need to get the word out that cheating is not acceptable, and there will be consequences."
The subject of homework has also been a hot topic in the district, and several representatives of the homework committee reported to the board. The committe, made up of administrators and teachers in the elementary, middle and high schools, held focus groups with parents and met with students about how much homework is appropriate, and how long students work to finish it. A survey that was to be distributed to parents last spring was delayed because of several other surveys being sent at that time, and the homework committee would not like to now survey parents, students and teachers for more detailed input on homework. The surveys are to go out in the next couple of weeks.
As a general rule, the committee found, students in first grade should have about 10 minutes of homework per night, increasing by 10 minutes per night for each grade.
While each student is different, Sanville said, "We have to teach kids that time is finite, and they have to choose how much they can expect to handle. I don't want us to erode what makes our courses so terrific. The AP courses are college-level courses, but that comes at a cost. Some people can do more than others."
Sanville and the homework committee agreed that some students and parents are feeling overwhelmed by homework, or having multiple exams on a single day. Discussions between board members addressed whether teachers can coordinate their testing schedules to avoid loading on too many tests in one day. Conley said that teachers could do more coordination of their scheduling, but it can be difficult for teachers of one subject to know when teachers of another subject are planning to give tests. More detailed information is expected to be gained from the upcoming surveys.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.