Dr. Newcome Announces His Resignation and Retirement 

Dr. Newcome Announces His Resignation and Retirement

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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

Is Octorara Falling Further Behind in Education Achievement and Growth?

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Is Octorara Falling Further Behind in Education Achievement and Growth?

We have been waiting for the Pennsylvania Department of Education to release their School Performance Profile Scores. At the end of September, PDE did release PSSA and Keystone scores. However, they were still working on the SPP scores which take into account more data points, including academic growth, graduation rates, SAT/ACT college readiness, and more. Those of us who are concerned about Octorara;s academic achievement and growth, and follow these numbers, are going to be disappointed but not surprised.

Today’s post shows the building level scores, makes some comparisons with other districts, and gives those data points that I feel are the most disturbing. However, I encourage every parent and taxpayer to review each report on the state website. This article only touches on a few of Octotara’s shortcomings and it is not a complete picture. It is best that you personally evaluate these reports unfiltered, without the political spin and Clintonesque language used by some Administrators and some other members of the Octorara Area School Board.

Octorara’s Building Level Academic Scores

Key takeaways from the Octorara’s Academic Performance reports:

  • Each school FAILED to meet the state minimum score of 70 – Currently, the PLC’s number is not being reported.
  • District-wide, Octorara is FAILING at Math and Reading – The average combined building score for both PSSA and Keystone tests is 45.68 for Math/Algebra and 59.78 for ELA/Literature. Regardless, none of the buildings reached the minimum standard of 70.
  • Octorara starts out well with Science but quickly drops like a rock. – The Elementary School (3rd and 4th Grades) received a score of 80 for Science, but the score drops to 51.16 for Science/Biology at the JSHS.
  • Octorara 3rd Grade Reading is not improving – The 3rd Grade Reading Benchmark is critical for student success, and the District falls short of minimum standards.

Continue reading

What Is Your Vision of Octorara’s Future?

What Is Your Vision of Octorara's Future?

The Octorara Board of Directors held their Facilities and Policy Committee Meetings and the Work Session Meeting on Monday, October 10, 2016. Eight of the nine members were in attendance, Anthony Falgiatore was absent.

2016 Annual Academic Report

Elena Wilson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, provided the Octorara Area School Board of Directors with her analysis of the District’s academic achievement and growth. I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds with this because the PA Department of Education has yet to release the complete School Performance Profile scores and reports, and I do plan to perform my annual comparison with other local districts. Nonetheless, we do have the scores from PSSA and Keystone tests and the PVAAS data.

The information provided is what one would expect. The Octorara Area School District finds it difficult to meet the state minimum standard of 70 percent of students testing at Proficient or Advanced. However, compared to overall state performance, the District scores about average across all PSSA tests, give or take. However, there is extreme difficulty with the Keystones, especially in Biology. Now think about that for a moment… The District has plans to continue to develop an Agriculture Career and Technical program, but struggles to teach students how plants and animals work. Does that make sense?

The frustrating thing is averages inform Harrisburg how well the state is doing as a whole, but it does not really tell us where we stand compared to the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania. Averages are skewed either up or down based on the best and worst performers. Seriously, if you get a chance, take a look at the report on the PDE website. There are schools in the City of Philadelphia receiving scores of 10 percent on some of these tests.

Better indicators would be the median score (the number separating the higher half of districts from the lower half) and a percentile score. Pennsylvania does not provide this information, but it would give us a clearer picture. Take for example (as a hypothetical) scoring above the state average of 61 but scoring below a state median score of 75 with a majority of districts actually meeting or exceeding the minimum. Regardless, this is me just talking to myself because there are just not enough politicians (at all levels) that really care about education. It is all politics and self-interest.  Continue reading

Octorara’s $2 Million Deficit, Budget Cuts, and Tax Increases

Octorara's $2 Million Deficit, Budget Cuts, and Tax Increases

The Octorara Finance Committee and Board of Directors met on Monday, March 21, 2016. Eight members were in attendance. Linda Bicking was absent.

2015-2016 Budget Updates

There was an update regarding the 2015-2016 Budget. Local revenue is projected to come in at $186,760 above the budget. Revenue from Federal sources is expected to be short $288,748, We have no idea what is going on with the State.

We have received some funding from Pennsylvania thanks to a spending bill earlier this year, but there is still no budget. The State will hopefully, at the very least, pass another spending bill to help schools. However, it is not out of the realm of possibilities for Octorara to end the year short $3.8 Million.

I made sure to ask at the Finance Committee Meeting about the impact to Octorara. I wanted to make sure I knew, and could convey to the public, our unique situation. The Octorara Area School District is technically “safe” for now. In the off-chance we receive no more money from the State, there is enough in the Reserve to cover us until the end of the year.

This will completely erase the unassigned portion of the Reserve. Even so, property taxes will begin to come in for 2016-2017. We should be good for next year, even if the Pennsylvania budget issues continue. After that, all bets are off.

This scenario is highly unlikely. It is unimaginable the State will not pass an additional spending bill if the budget impasse continues, but we just don’t know. All that said, they could pass a budget that will actually plug this year’s deficit, and we could end the year up. It is all speculation, though.

2016-2017 Proposed Final Budget

In April, the Board will vote on the 2016-2017 Proposed Budget. It will look like this:

  • Expenditures — $52,405,602
  • Revenue — $49,484,879 (before any tax increase)
  • 3% Tax Increase — $964,727
  • Deficit — $2,005,996

On the revenue side, the State funds were calculated at a zero increase over 2014-2015 numbers. Last month there was speculation we could get an increase of $422,344. We just don’t know. Continue reading