The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities, Policy, and Finance Committee Meetings, and the Regular Meeting on Monday, July 17, 2017. Eight Board members were in attendance. Anthony Falgiatore was absent.
Yes, Virginia, There is a Property Tax Increase
Last month, for the first time, I missed a Board Meeting. It was caused by an unavoidable situation. Unfortunately, it also occurred on the night of the budget and tax votes. We all know that my one “no” vote was not going to change the outcome, but it is the principle of it all.
Nevertheless, on June 19th, the Board did vote to approve the 2017-2018 General Fund Budget in the amount of $54 million. Additionally, they approved to increase property taxes in Chester County to 39.49 mills and in Lancaster County to 29.45 mills.
Newcome’s Resignation and Retirement
At last night’s meeting, the Board accepted Dr. Thomas Newcome’s resignation, for the reason of retirement, as Superintendent of the Octorara Area School District. The resignation is effective June 2018, and the District will be announcing its plans for a Superintendent search.
Now, I know there are those who will be tempted to make negative comments about Dr. Newcome’s impact and legacy. Franky, my opinion about Dr. Newcome’s time as Superintendent is well documented. Yet, no good will come from beating that drum. Collectively, we need to see this as a new chapter for Octorara that provides opportunities for growth and improvement. So, going forward, I would ask that any comments on this blog be kind when speaking about Dr. Newcome.
Octorara Curriculum Audit by the CCIU
A while back it was announced that the District reached out to the Chester County intermediate Until to perform a Curriculum Audit. These examinations are for the purpose of identifying areas needing improvement and making actionable recommendations. Below, I have listed the 10 recommendations that were made, with a snippet of each recommendation’s description that I thought placed it in context. However, you should download the full report for the big picture. That said, the most impressive thing about the audit is the District has immediately started to implement several recommendations.
- Strengthen the current approach to a systematic and coordinated commitment to continuous improvement – In order to be more targeted and intentional, it is recommended that the district take steps to bring about more coherence, clarity and consistency by strengthening the current framework for continuous improvement in order to ensure that it is systematic and coordinated. Fullan and Quinn (2016) call for the individual and collective ability to build shared meaning, capacity and commitment to action in order for education systems to thrive. These steps would involve engaging in a process that brings about a focus on recognizing the interdependence of various aspects of the district – its culture, systems and structures, resources, stakeholder relationships and environment.
- Revise and strengthen the “Implementation Steps” within the 2017-2020 Comprehensive Plan – Comprehensive Planning is a continuous process used to ensure that all students are achieving at high levels. All LEAs can create better learning environments so that more students are successful. Continuous planning is essential to providing increased student performance and quality results. Innovative, exemplary and research-based programs, coupled with staff development, focused and aligned resources and public participation in planning, are critical factors in districts that demonstrate continuous growth.
- Continue to cultivate a growth mindset culture – The Octorara Area School District should continue to cultivate and embrace a growth mindset culture. All teachers and staff were provided with a copy of Mindset by Carol Dweck during the 2015-2016 school year, and optional professional development sessions have been offered. Some buildings in the district have mindset bulletin boards and images displayed. In order for a true growth mindset culture to exist, it must become more consistent and pervasive. Without this, improvement efforts may not be successful. Growth mindset must be shared and modeled by all stakeholders in the district at all times.
- Implement a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) in order to create better instructional supports for students – Students at risk for poor learning outcomes require instruction that can be adjusted to match the intensity of their needs. The supports and services within an MTSS provide differentiated standards-based instruction that addresses students’ individual needs and enables them to succeed. An effective MTSS should include a multi-level prevention system, screening, progress monitoring and data-based decision making.
- Continue to investigate and revise the walk-through and observation process – Educator effectiveness systems can be a powerful lever to improve teacher and leader capacity to improve student results. Clarity must be continued to be brought about in regards to supervising and evaluating teachers using the Learning Focused Schools strategies and The Danielson Framework for Teaching. Consistency is needed so that all teachers are receiving high-quality feedback aimed at improving instructional practices.
- Build curriculum capacity and accountability – Data suggests that more capacity and accountability are needed in the area of curriculum. Currently, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction is responsible for all aspects pertaining to curriculum, and many instruction and assessment initiatives as well. Capacity must be built in order to implement the changes that are needed. In addition, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction does not have any authority over principals, and therefore a lack of accountability exists when carrying out new initiatives.
- Continue to review all curricular documents, common assessments/grading, and instructional practices – A continued in-depth review is needed of all existing curricular documents to follow a more uniform format, and full implementation of the goal identified in the Comprehensive Plan is key. Since the Learning Focused School model has been widely used across the district and meets the research-based backwards design approach to curriculum as determined by Wiggins and McTighe, standardizing the documents using that format would be a logical approach.
- Establish an educational technology implementation
and sustainability plan – Create a three-year educational technology plan that outlines the vision, purpose and instructional benefits for the integration of educational technology. The educational technology plan should include detailed descriptions related to the implementation of the 1:1 initiative, use of Schoology and the integration of technology to enhance student learning, implementation timelines for the 1:1 initiative, Schoology learning management system and other educational software and hardware, explanations of administrator, teacher and student expectations for educational
technology use and implementation, and multiple other items listed within the report.
- Develop a multi-year professional learning plan that is directly aligned to all district initiatives and goals – The Octorara Area School District has a professional learning structure in place that provides opportunities for choice, and is data-driven for planning and preparation using teacher input data. The in-service days on November 4th, 2016 and January 27th, 2017 are examples of this. While there are positives to this approach, challenges are that some workshops were optional yet contain essential information, the content was limited to a menu of options and lack personalization and there was limited control over coherence and consistency due to teacher selection.
- Establish a district-wide plan for communicating to stakeholders – Pennsylvania Leadership Corollary Standard III states that school leaders should collaborate, communicate, engage and empower others inside and outside of their organization to pursue excellence in learning. A district-wide stakeholder communication plan is needed to improve the coherence in messaging to all community members and stakeholders. Communication with the community and stakeholders should be done using consistent methods to ensure all stakeholders have access to district information.