The Daily Local News Compares Chester County High Schools

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The Daily Local News Compares Chester County High Schools

On April 25th, The Daily Local News compared and ranked Chester County High Schools based on analysis done by U.S. News and World Reports. Using publically available data and statistics, the analysis comparing Chester County High Schools created a list not all that dissimilar to when one compares the Building Level Academic Scores from the state’s School Performance Profiles.

Comparison of Chester County High Schools

1. Conestoga High School
2. Unionville High School
3. Great Valley High School
4. Avon Grove High School
5. West Chester East High School
6. West Chester Bayard Rustin High School
7. Kennett High School
8. Downingtown High School West Campus
9. Phoenixville Area High School
10. Octorara Area Junior/Senior High School
11. Coatesville Area Senior High School

As in previous analyses, the only school district with a worse performance than Octorara is Coatesville. Of course, this is not breaking news. We have known for a long time about Octorara’s declining academic performance.

However, what I do question is, why The Daily Local News did not list all Chester County high schools? For instance, Downingtown High School East Campus and Owen J Roberts High School also received scorecards from U.S. News, but the media outlet chose not to list them. Continue reading

Octorara continues trend of high average teacher salaries

Octorara teacher salariesPlease Note: While reading this blog, keep in mind that CNN reported last August that American median incomes are 4.8% lower than they were at the start of the Great Recession in December 2007 and 5.9% below January 2000. (link)

Regular readers know, I have been tracking Octorara’s high labor cost for a good number of years. As a line-item, tracked as an Actual Cost, the “total salaries” (which includes everything from administration to janitorial) have been fairly well controlled in recent years.

Unfortunately, this has been accomplished with a combination of eliminating positions, outsourcing, and replacing retirees with less experienced teachers, rather than actually controlling the wages of professional employees.

According to a report published by the National Education Association, the U.S. average Classroom Teacher salary in 2014-15 is estimated to be $57,379 (p. 76).

The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s 2014-15 Professional Staff Summary Report indicates the average salary in 2014-15 of a Classroom Teacher in Pennsylvania was $64,542.

This same report shows the average Classroom Teacher in Chester County was $64,544, and in Lancaster County was $63,160.

Octorara’s average Classroom Teacher salary is $67,409.

  • $10,030 higher than the national average.
  • $2,876 higher than the Pennsylvania average.
  • $4,249 higher than the Lancaster County average, and
  • $2,865 higher than the Chester County average.

This year, I am comparing school districts in Chester County, plus the two adjacent Lancaster County school districts. Continue reading

Everything you wanted to know about becoming an Octorara School Director but were afraid to ask

School Board ElectionsIt is that time again friends. We are entering an off-year, meaning 2015 will have Municipal and School District elections. It is in these local elections that your vote has the greatest power.

In the 2013 Election, Region 3 (Parkesburg-South, Highland, Londonderry) had two seats for School Director that were decided by roughly 650 voters. In the Borough of Parkesburg, the Mayoral election had a turnout of less than 400 voters.

This year, there are seats up for election in every Region of Octorara:

  • 3 seats in Region 1 – Atglen, Christiana, & Parkesburg-North
  • 1 seat in Region 2 – Sadsbury Township & West Fallowfield
  • 1 seat in Region 3 – Highland, Londonderry, & Parkesburg-South

What Is A School Director?
In Pennsylvania, School Directors are elected officials (elected for a four-year term) who are charged, by law, with providing quality education for the youth of our community, and work for the best interests of all pupils and all citizens. Duties include conducting strategic planning, hiring and overseeing the superintendent, adopting school district budgets, creating policy, overseeing the school district, and representing voters.

A school board’s primary responsibilities generally include:

  • Setting the vision and goals for the District
  • Adopting policies and setting priorities to achieve goals
  • Setting student performance standards
  • Establishing school budgets
  • Approving the school calendar
  • Adopting curriculum
  • Evaluating and/or hiring the Superintendent
  • Approving contracts with outside vendors
  • Collective bargaining with District employees

In total, the School Board balances the business of actually running the District while establishing and monitoring the District’s academic priorities.

Why Run For School Board
The reason you should run is that it is better for our community to have choices.  When board members are spending $50 million or so of the community’s money, it makes sense that the community have some choice in who they are electing to spend it.  Having multiple candidates for each seat gives the community a chance to vote on what is important to them.  It is rarely good having just one candidate running for each seat.

More reasons why you may want to run for the Octorara School Board

  1. It is the best way to know what is actually happening with the Octorara Area School District.
  2. You can be a part of the decision making process (or at least have a voice) regarding changes or issues in the Octorara Area.
  3. It is the best way to be a part of helping to revive, and create the kind of vision you have, for the Octorara Area.
  4. You may not be able to change the world, but you can help make positive changes, and help empower your community.
  5. Fresh ideas and faces are needed to move the District forward.
  6. You can be on one or more of Octorara’s committees
  7. You have a voice and it will be heard…  but only if you come to the meetings!
  8. It is only twice a month – the 2nd and 3rd Monday of every month – to make a very important step in being more involved.
  9. You have an opportunity to share your business and life experience to benefit your community.
  10. You can represent different groups in the community and ensure that others have a voice in making educational and administrative decisions.

Issues Facing the District
Many parents, voters and taxpayers are frustrated, and you may want to run the Octorara School Board as a way to improve or solve what you perceive as existing issues or problems. What do you think the Board should be focusing on?

  • Budget issues and the district’s operating expense
  • Student discipline, including bullying and school violence
  • The rapid decline in the student population
  • Bond measures for facilities and operations
  • Student achievement and testing standards
  • Teacher & Administration accountability.
  • Safety measures, including student expulsion practices and the presence of security and/or law enforcement officers
  • Closing or constructing schools
  • Collective bargaining for district employees
  • School District consolidation due to budget challenges
  • Getting community input on issues

Who is eligible?
To be eligible to be elected or appointed to a Pennsylvania school board, one must be:

  • A citizen of Pennsylvania.
  • Of good moral character.
  • At least 18 years old.
  • A resident of the school district for at least one year prior to election or appointment.
  • An individual may be ineligible to run for or hold the office of school director subject to state or federal law. The following items do not constitute an exhaustive list of legal requirements related to eligibility. Other state and federal laws may determine eligibility.
    • The PA Constitution bars from elective office anyone convicted of an “infamous” crime, which the courts have interpreted to include various misdemeanors based on the nature of the crime and all felonies.
    • Section 324 of the PA School Code prohibits school directors from being employed by, or doing business with, the district where they are elected or appointed, subject to certain exceptions. These prohibitions remain in effect for the duration of the term for which the school director was elected or appointed, even if the person leaves office before the term expires. The employment prohibition contains exceptions for specific positions. Also, the business prohibition contains an exception that would require an interpretation of the PA Public Official and Employee Ethics Act. For more information, contact the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission at (800) 932-0936.
    • Section 322 of the School Code contains a list of municipal offices that are incompatible with holding the office of school director. County, borough and township codes also contain their own restrictions for holding offices concurrently.
    • The Hatch Act, a federal statute, prohibits federal employees, and some state and local government employees whose job functions “involve” federal funding, from running for partisan elective office. The Hatch Act only prohibits running for election, but does not prohibit holding the office if appointed. For more information, visit the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s Web site at http://www.osc.gov/hatchact.htm.
    • The military services have regulations similar to the Hatch Act, but not always coextensive, which may prohibit both holding the office as well as running for it.

For more information, see: The Pennsylvania School Boards Association: How to Run for School Board

What You Need To Do To Get On The Ballot?
Many people presume getting on the ballot is a complicated process, but it is not. You want to start by going to to Voter Services, telling them which office you wish to run for. They will provide you with a packet of information, which includes a blank nomination petition, and brief instructions.

Starting in February, you need just 10 signatures from registered voters within the political party you are choosing to run. However, School Director is one of two special offices allowed to cross-file in Pennsylvania. This means you can run both as a Republican and a Democrat, regardless of your actual political affiliation. The reason for this is Pennsylvania considers the role of School Director to be nonpolitical. If you do this, you will need at least 2 petitions… one Republican and one Democrat.

Once you have properly collected the needed signatures, the nomination petition(s) will need to be notarized. Then return to Voter Services by March 10th to deliver and file the petition(s). If everything was done properly, your name will appear on the Primary Ballot(s) in May.

There are a little more, like campaign spending limits, but for the most part it is just that easy. The Lancaster County crossover also complicates things a bit, but nothing that cannot be worked through.

Independent, minor party and political body candidates must file nomination papers, which are a bit different. Contact Voter Services for details.

Important Dates

  • February 17th – First day to circulate and file nominating petitions
  • March 10th – Last day to circulate and file nominating petitions
  • March 11th – First day to circulate and file nominating papers
  • March 25th – Last day to withdraw by candidates who files nominating petitions
  • April 20th – Last day to register before the Primary
  • May 12th – Last day to apply for a civilian Absentee ballot
  • May 15th – Last day for the County Board of Elections to receive voted civilian Absentee ballots
  • May 19th – MUNICIPAL PRIMARY

If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

The Annual Report, Budget Discussions, and Student Drug Policy

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting on November 17, 2014, as well as the Finance Committee and Policy Committee Meetings. All Board members were in attendance.

During the Regular Meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items.

The Annual Report

Elena Wilson, Director of Curriculum, with the help of School Principals, did a review of the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile scores. It was essentially the same presentation given to the Education Committee of October 28th.

Brian Norris focused in on the Primary Learning Center scores for Math and Reading, and asked why Math saw an improvement and Reading did not?

Ms Wilson’s response was that the school was applying Learning Focused School methods to Math, and was waiting for implementation with Reading as the curriculum aligns with PA Core Standards.

Mr Norris questioned the reasoning behind starting LFS with Math, and not Reading.

Ms Wilson stated that the Math curriculum had already been aligned with PA Core, and starting with Math made sense. Starting with Reading would have created double work because the curriculum was not ready. Moreover, the District is still in the startup stages of LFS, and doing both at the same time would have been too much at one time.

Mr Norris then asked if is it logical or is it wrong thinking to assume improvements in 3rd Grade Reading will on its own create improvement in other Achievement scores, as students continue through school?

Ms Wilson assured Mr Norris that the District does have a focus on Reading, and that it is not being ignored.

I pointed out that there are many articles referencing research that asserts 3rd Grade Reading is a make it or break it benchmark that impacts all other learning. I asked if Ms Wilson agreed with this research. I also asked if literacy issues are impacting the ability for students of comprend learning material, and is it impacting Achievement throughout a student’s entire education.

Ms Wilson stated the research is sound, and 3rd Grade Reading is a benchmark in literacy affecting all future learning.

Continue reading

Pennsylvania revenue shortfall threaten increases in Education spending

The May 12th Octorara Area School District Work Session included Budget updates, a recommendation to approve “Go Math,” the Facilities Committee report, and other items.

Budget concerns

Mr. Carsley informed the Board that the District will be receiving over $1.1 Million from Pennsylvania’s Homestead/Farmstead program. The amount is about the same as the previous year.

However, the Board was also informed that Pennsylvania’s declining tax collections is threatening Education spending increases in Gov. Tom Corbet’s budget. Additionally, before the General Assembly are House Bill 2138 and Senate Bill 1316 addressing Special Education. If Harrisburg does not act quickly, $20 Million in Special Education Funding will go away.

Go Math!

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Elena Wilson made her recommendation for the Board to approve the adoption of the “GO Math!” program from Houghton Mifflin. The program is a K-8 program written to align with the PA Core (Pennsylvania’s version of Common Core), the main reason for the recommendation.

Go Math will be a 6 year subscription that will include both printed and online material for grades K-6, and exclusively online material for grades 7-8 to stay within the District’s iPad program. Updates are included in the subscription at no addition cost, and the funds for the program are already included in the current Budget Proposal.

Brian Norris, Board Vice-President, asked several questions included if the K-6 portion would hinder the roll-out of a proposed iPad program for the lower grades. The Board was assured that there would be no negative impact if or when iPads begin to be used in lower grades.

Hank Oleyniczak and Leon Lapp both brought up concerns that seemed more directed to the adoption of Common Core/PA Core, rather than to the program itself. Mr. Oleyniczak was concerned that not enough information has been provided to parents. The District has done outreach on Safety and a planned Emergency Response Crash Simulation (more on this below), and he feels that this important issue should have at least equal outreach to parents and the community, since it is a major change to the way students are taught.

Facilities Committee

The District received bids for Field Maintenance, which was split into 3 parts. One bidder, used and highly recommended by other area Districts and institutions, was the lowest overall bidder. However, another local company was the lower bidder for the combined fertilization portions. The Committee will be seeking to split the project to realize additional savings.

The Band Room has been dealing with an ongoing issue with water coming into the area when it rains. To help resolve this issue, holes were drilled outside, below the area, and pipes installed, to release pressure. The more than 6 inches of rain received on April 30th and May 1st resulted in free flowing water pouring out from under the building, and some water did still emerge in the Band Room. It is now believed piping may need to be installed under the Band Room floor itself to direct water outside. It is believed the water is coming from a previously undetected underground spring.

A Fire Suppression System is being installed above the stove in the Culinary Arts Classroom. Scheduled to be installed over the Summer Break are a 3 Bay Sink, and Commercial Refrigerator and Dishwasher.

The Committee received a preliminary report on the Safety/Security Polls and Community Conversation. Of 382 parents who responded to the poll, 248 were in favor of Armed Security, while 134 were opposed. Of staff, only 91 of 300 responded to the question of if they supported Armed Security. Staff opinion was 50 in favor, 41 against.

An interesting footnote to the polling of staff was that the greatest support came from the PLC. In each building, as the grades became higher, support shifted. At the High School level, staff support completely moved against the use of Armed Security.

Crash Simulation

On May 22nd at 9am, the Octorara School District with be participating with Emergency Responders in a Crash Simulation. The exercise will also include the use of a helicopter. Please help get the word out that this is a Simulation Only. Uninformed citizens may become alarmed. The rain-date for this activity will be May 23rd.

OA-Best Expo

The Octorara Agricultural, Business, Environmental Science & Technology Expo will be held Saturday, May 31st, from 9am to 5pm.

Activities will include:

  • Petting Zoo
  • Music & Art
  • Student Demonstrations
  • Hay Rides
  • Science Fair
  • Kids Craft Booth
  • Food, Vendors, and More

Elected Officials confirmed to be in attendance include John Lawrence, Andy Dinnemen, and Patrick Meehan.

Admission is FREE!