U-CF school board hears from principals about progress
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
At the beginning of a three-hour
meeting on Dec. 3, the Unionville-Chadds Ford school board
reorganized its leadership for the coming year.
Current president Jeff Hellrung was nominated for a second term. Each member voted for him except Gregg Lindner, who answered simply “Present,” rather than endorse Hellrung. The two have disagreed in the past, although their working relationship seems functional.
To fill the role currently filled by Vic Dupuis, Steven Simonson was unanimously elected as the board's incoming vice-president.
During his comments at the beginning of the meeting, district superintendent John Sanville addressed an issue raised during public comment at a November board meeting. Resident Holly Manzone, a former board member, mentioned that a mold problem at Patton Middle School had been covered up with a coat of paint.
Sanville read from a statement, “As to accusations of mold and a lack of action, there is not remediation plan because there is no mold issue at Patton Middle School. To say otherwise is unfair and irresponsible. Ignoring an issue that wouold be potentially harmful is something we would just never do.
“At the request of the district, Environmental Control Systems, our environmental risk engineers, visited Patton Middle School to assess surfaces and test the air quality,” Sanville continued. “The process was completed on Nov. 21 during regular school hours. They concluded what we already knew – there is no evidence of mold.”
Later, board president Jeff Hellrung commented, “Our school community relies on mutual qualities of trust and personal integrity. When any individual publically makes a false allegation against our community, damage is done. … We do not need alarmists and rumor-mongers. Such behavior is toxic and damaging.”
Hellrung advised community members, “Bring your concerns to your elected school board members or to the appropriate school administrator. We will listen and get answers for you. At our June meeting, we heard reports of increasing bad behavior among some of our Unionville High School students. This came from respected staff members. We followed up with them, and took action to address their concerns. We also took them into account in updating our code of student conduct. The results have been highly positive. I spent an entire day at UHS last week, shadowing our board's student representative, and I saw nothing but a positive, respectful environment. That is how we roll in the U-CF school district.”
While most of the meeting was taken up by the district's Achievement Report, featuring principals from each of the schools, the board also took time to approve the proposed preliminary budget for 2019-2020. The early version of the budget calls for appropriations of $91,243,488. The figures present a “worst case scenario” for the coming year, reflecting an increase in expenditures of 4.75 percent. The budget will be substantially refined over the next two months, with adoption of the preliminary budget scheduled on Feb. 11, and adoption of the final budget slated in June. At this point, the proposed millage rates for Chester and Delaware counties are 29.61 mills and 26.11 mills, respectively. That represents increases of 3.86 percent and 3.82 percent, respectively.
The board voted unanimously to approve the proposed budget figures.
The Achievement Report was prefaced by Sanville, who noted, “This is something that we do on a regular basis, to review our performance as teachers, administrators, support staff, and school board members. It's important to benchmark and look at what's going well, and our opportunities to grow. Those are there as well.”
In a general view, the school district continues to be a top performer. Judging by PSSA state test scores, Unionville-Chadds Ford routinely nearly doubles the state average scores. In Keystone state test scores, the district has a 90 percent proficient/advanced score in Algebra 1, 93 percent in literature and 89 percent in biology.
At Unionville High School, 96 percent of graduates are planning to attend college. Ninety-three percent of students scored a 3 or higher on the AP exam, compared to 68 percent statewide. The high school's SAT results are in the low 600s across the board, compared to the low 500s nationwide. This year, the school has focused on student and staff wellness; and Policy 218, governing student discipline, was revamped to allow more flexibility for consequences of misbehavior. The rankings for “school climate” – encompassing how favorably students, personnel and parents responded to things like “sense of physical security,” “respect for diversity” and “sense of emotional security” – were also studied. Physical surroundings ranked at the top, with a score of just over 4 out of 5. “Sense of social-emotional security” ranked lowest, with a rating of 3 or slightly above among the three groups questioned.
As a result, the school has worked this year to review safety protocols with students and staff, conducted inservices on emergency protocols, initiated the “Safe2Say Something” program, and more.
Other schools in the district presented similar data, with promising test scores, and a few areas of emphasis, particularly English Language Arts, in which scores are stagnant in three of the six schools. In remarks before the presentation, school board member Robert Sage pointed out his thoughts on the overall results. “We have a very high-performing school district, which is great,” he said. “I do want to highlight areas of opportunity for improvement that I saw from the data. First is PSSA results. There are two elements of PSSA – one is proficiency, and then there's growth. Even if you're at a high level, are you making that next step in a school year? You should be growing every year.
“One area we're not faring as well is English Language Arts, and you can see in three of our six buildings, we're in the red. Even though performance is quite good, we're not getting the growth that's expected. But that's just one year.
“Last, school climate,” Sage said. “When we see results, there's no interpretive data provided. We score well on climate, but what I'm pointing out is that we're going in the wrong direction. If you look at the numbers, we're down almost across the board in terms of the climate in our buildings. In the climate data, we don't say what's good – people just see that it's down, with no explanation. Looking across the six reports, we present data in six different ways. Having consistency would help.”
Board member Carolyn Daniels suggested finding ways for instruction teams from different schools to cooperate and share ideas, possibly online if schedules don't permit face-to-face meetings. Assistant district superintendent John Nolen was in favor of the idea, mentioning a book study that was held across all six schools, and that teachers have requested more collaborative time.
The entire Achievement Report is posted online at www.ucfsd.org, under the school board tab.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.