What Does Trump Mean to the Octorara Area School District?

What Does Trump Mean to the Octorara Area School District?

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, November 14, 2016. Eight of the nine members were in attendance, Hank Oleyniczak was absent.

2016 Student Achievement and Growth Measure: District and Building Response

Elena Wilson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, lead a presentation to address questions and concerns about the 2016 Pennsylvania School Performance Profiles. For those interested, please go watch the video on The Cube or (eventually) YouTube. However, while interesting, it is dry. The presentation included a look at data points, a list of action items for improvement, each principal talking about their school, and look at the positives. It is a lot. Therefore, I am going to share some points I feel are important.

School Name 2012-13 SPP 2013-14 SPP 2014-15 SPP 2015-16 SPP
Octorara Area JSHS 72.2 65.6 72.7 62
Octorara El Sch 75.1 75 NA 67.4
Octorara Inter Sch 72.8 75 NA 68.7
Octorara Primary LC 77.8 82.4 NA NA
District Average 74.5 74.5 72.7 66.0

Dr. Scott Rohrer – When he spoke to the Board, Dr. Scott Rohrer made the statement that he owns his building’s scores, but he did not feel they reflected the capacity of the JSHS’s students and teachers. Capacity! This is an important, informative, and a reassuring word choice. Moreover, taking ownership is a big deal. It is one of the main characteristics of an effective leader, and it should not be underestimated.

Minorities and Economically Disadvantaged – While minority and economically disadvantaged students were not specifically blamed for our District’s poor performance, they were singled out by Dr. Wilson. Data was used to claim that our District is in transition, with changing demographics, and these subgroups are growing as a percentage of the student body. My question was, “How much of the changes are from increased numbers of actual students, in these subgroups, and how much is from declining enrollment numbers?” She is going to get me that information.

Regardless, “economically disadvantaged” is based on the number of students in the free and reduced lunch program. We know that over the last 8 years, the number of Americans (not just those in Octorara) receiving food stamps, and receiving free or reduced lunches in schools, have grown to historic levels. I don’t think it says anything about many of the people on these programs other than politicians have turned their backs on working-class, blue-collar Americans.

Digging Deeper into Numbers – In order to really understand some of these numbers, one has to dig a little deeper. For example, in the list of the District’s positives, there was a statement that 87.7 percent of Octorara students reach the SAT benchmark for College Readiness. Sounds good, right? While on that topic, I asked, “How many students actually take the SATs?”

Dr. Rohrer stated the number was roughly 80 out of a class of 200. After the meeting, I asked Dr. Newcome for clarification. He stated the number taking the SATs has traditionally fallen within 42 and 47 percent. You with me so far? So, if 80 students take the SATs, and 87.7 percent pass, then roughly 70 actual students are passing. This means only 35 percent of ALL students are meeting the SAT benchmark for College Readiness.

Well, when we look at the School Performance Profile scores, 35 percent of ALL students meeting the SAT benchmark for College Readiness is a predictable number and reflective of the District’s academic achievement.  I know, I know… some will say, “Only Tim can turn a positive into a negative.” NO! This is about taking an honest and realistic look at our numbers.

Our JSHS score in Math/Algebra is 42.6, in ELA/Literature is 59.7, and in Science/Biology is 51.1. This means a range of 35 to 41 percent of ALL students achieving the SAT benchmark seems about right…. maybe even a little low. Don’t you agree? Therefore, the number of students being tested is too small to say the 87.7 percent pass rate has any real value. Ultimately, those actual students passing the SATs conforms with other performance numbers.

Lack of Perspective – One thing that was not included in the presentation was perspective and context when it comes to our achievement versus other school districts. There was no awareness or acknowledgment that other districts have continued to improve, despite changes in rigor or the added demands of Harrisburg. And of those that had scores negatively impacted, it was not always so dramatic.

Among regular public schools…

  • The median Building Level Achievement Score, in Chester County, is 79.8
  • 48.8 percent of all Chester County schools scored 80 or above
  • 77.8 percent of all Chester County schools met or exceeded state standards
  • With the exception of Octorara, every Chester County school district had at least some schools meet or exceed standards… even Coatesville had two.

Let’s Make Octorara Great Again!

While it is not getting much discussion among the debates about rolling back Obamacare, increasing spending on infrastructure, and cutting taxes, education is on President-elect Trump’s agenda for his first 100 days. In fact, it was a topic that received little discussion, even during the campaign, as journalists and pundits spent time being outraged over Mr. Trump’s colorful campaign. However, before we talk about Mr. Trump’s plan, and the impact on our community, we need to understand the last 13 years or so at Octorara.

Going back to 2003, school taxes have not only grown faster than other local school districts, they have grown to the largest in the area. It really started getting out of hand with building the OIS for students that never appeared and without a tax base to support it. Compounding the problem, the District created or expanded programs that added to our costs, but did not improve academic achievement or growth. I’m not blaming Dr. Necome here. It is the Board who sets the tone, has the final say, and is ultimately responsible. Don’t you agree?

Last year, the Daily Local News reported Octorara was listed in a report of Academically Challenged Schools by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. Did you know that? This year, EVERY Ocotrara school performed in the bottom 19 percent of Chester County regular public schools, and the bottom 42 percent of all Pennsylvania regular public schools. Moreover, Octorara is the ONLY Chester County district that did not have any school meet state minimum standards. Furthermore, these performance issues go back before PA School Performace Profile, to the days of No Child Left Behind and Adequate Yearly Progress.

What is the result of more than a decade of extreme tax increases, with no real academic achievement growth? Well, Philly.com recently reported that Chester County is going through a population and development boom. Despite this fact, the Octorara Area School District has been hemorrhaging students. When I ran for the School Board, in 2013, the District was at a 10 year low. Today, just 3 years later, the mass exodus of young families has caused student enrollment to drop to the lowest in more than 26 years, and we have to look to the 1980s for a comparable low.

Why is any of that important? Included in President-elect Trump’s first 100-day plan is passing the School Choice And Education Opportunity Act. As reported by NPR, this will “[redirect] education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make 2 and 4-year college more affordable.”

What we need to focus on is the “[redirects] education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice.” People have been voting with their feet, and we see it in the large numbers of young families, with school-aged children, leaving the area or not moving here at all. Well, there are families that don’t have the option to move. They bought their home during the housing boom, and their home value has not recovered enough for them to move without losing money. They are stuck.

School Choice gives all families more freedom with education… giving choices that are traditionally limited to those with the financial means to either send their child to a private school or move to a better district. However,with school choice opening up more, and families receiving a tuition credit (likely paid by the District with “our” Federal funds), I expect our enrollment to continue to drop, but at an even faster pace.

So, what will the Octorara Area School Board of Directors do to adapt if this becomes the new reality? Nothing.

2 thoughts on “What Does Trump Mean to the Octorara Area School District?

  1. Geez, Tim, you’re such a downer. Can’t you try doing like some members of the board and look at things through rose-colored glasses?

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