Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cold Weather and Your Student

Now that cold weather is here, it is important for parents to make sure their students are adequately clothed for the temperature and conditions. Warm jackets, pants, appropriate footwear and gloves are essential.

When the temperature (taking into consideration the wind chill factor) drops below ten degrees, the elementary school will hold indoor recess. Otherwise students will have recess outside and they need to be prepared to dress appropriately.

Generally we do not allow elementary students to enter the building until 8:15 AM. Please do not send your child to school earlier than that if he or she walks to school. When the temperature drops to ten degrees or below, we will allow students to go to their classroom versus waiting outside but it would be helpful if students did not arrive too early. The teachers have many responsibilities in the morning to ready their classrooms for the arrival of students. You support would be appreciated.

Idaho is a beautiful state with four seasons. Each season places personal demands on each of us. What a great opportunity for students to learn how to cope with these changing seasons. We will continue to do our part; please reinforce the message at home. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Superintendent Search

The search officially begins today to hire a new superintendent/K-6 principal to replace me as I retire June 30. The Board of Trustees appointed a hiring committee in November consisting of the five trustees, Kelley Porter, Russ Zenner, Bill Newbry, Lezah Shinkle, Peter Crowley and Heidi Waisanen to review applications, interview candidates and follow up on recommendations. The position closes on January 11, 2010.

The committee will review application materials beginning January 18, followed by interviews, possible site visit(s) and a recommendation to the Board in February for the new hire. The position begins July 1, 2010.

Rather than hiring a consulting firm, the Board opted to conduct the hiring process internally. The Board developed a hiring process with a time line, revised the job description, and requested that a four-color brochure be prepared by staff, printed and distributed to all school districts in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. College placement offices and other educational job listing services in the Pacific Northwest also have the position listed. A job description and application form is available on the District's employment web site.

We all know that the Genesee School District is the top rural school in Idaho and can compete with any school district in the region. Couple that fact with the quality of life that the community of Genesee affords its citizens and we believe we will successfully locate a superintendent/principal that can continue to move the District forward and meet the challenges that exist today and tomorrow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

School Bus Unloading

From 8:00 AM until 4:00 PM Ash Street between Tamarack and Elm is closed to all traffic except school bus loading and unloading. It is imperative that no vehicles use this portion of Ash Street during this time for the safety of the students. We have had several incidents of cars driving through Ash Street while buses are unloading students in the morning. Not only is this dangerous, it is illegal. Violators will be prosecuted. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Community Service

Genesee Junior Senior High School recently completed a Community Service afternoon last Wednesday. Organized using the school's color groups (cross-grade groupings of students) and supervised by staff members, the students performed various activities including raking leaves for senior citizens, collecting litter along roadways, organized food bank donations and stocked shelves, repainted playground game spaces, hauled firewood for senior citizens, cleaned up the memorial park and statue, cleaned the downtown park by the Verizon building, and made cookies and delivered them to the Genesee Fire Department.

Another on-going community service project organized and run by the students is a food bank drive and contest which will culminate in two weeks. Your support of their efforts is greatly appreciated. Community Service is an important component of Vision 21; the District's effort to incorporate 21st century learning skills into the educational process. The 21st century skills are embodied in the Board of Trustees Philosophy and Objectives (see Policy 300.2). "Participate effectively in civic life" is the skill supported by community service.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

$3,318.60 raised for Breast Cancer Research

Through the combined efforts of the Genesee and Troy volleyball teams, $3,318.60 and has been donated to the Side-Out Foundation in Annandale, Virginia for breast cancer research. The Dig Pink volleyball match held between the Bulldogs and Trojans on October 13 was the featured event of this multi-pronged fund raising effort.

Various activities were held including a sign auction, 50-50, serving contest, and business donations but by far the largest effort was collecting pledges for team digs during the match. Several players collected over $300 of pledges. Rachel Krick, Genesee junior, collected the most and will be awarded a pink and white volleyball at the volleyball awards banquet to be held on November 19.

Thank you to all the donors and participants in this event. The initial goal was to raise $1,000 in the event. We are so excited to have more than tripled our initial goal.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Veteran's Day

Genesee School will sponsor it's annual Veterans' Day assembly at 9:00 AM on November 11. All veterans and other community members are invited to attend this assembly in the school gym. The assembly is being held to honor those who have served in our military in defense of the United States. This program also provides an excellent opportunity for our students to learn about the importance of honoring those who have given their time, and in some cases their lives, for their country.

Other educational activities will be held throughout the day to reinforce the important concepts that this holiday embodies. If you are veteran, please consider attending this important assembly.

Monday, November 2, 2009

H1N1 Vaccination Clinic

On Tuesday, November 10 at 9:00 AM, the school district, in conjunction with the Idaho Department of Public Health, will be providing a vaccination clinic for Genesee Elementary students under the age of ten. Information and permission forms will be sent home with students of this target population. The vaccination will be administered by the Public Health Department staff. A follow-up clinic for the second dose will be held in four weeks. Vaccinations for older students may be scheduled at a later time when the vaccine becomes available.

Please watch for the forms from your child this week. Vaccine will only be given to students with appropriately signed permission forms. The recommendation of the Center for Disease Control, the Public Health Department and the Genesee School District is that all students should take the vaccine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paying for lunch

The District is implementing a new comprehensive student database software program that includes an integrated food service accounting program. We are still working out the bugs in the system but eventually all food service account balances will be available online to parents along with grades, assignments and much more information in a "Parent Portal." In the mean time, I have asked that we send home slips daily when a student's account drops to the level that he or she would only have enough money on account for one more meal. Teachers also have access to this information.

The cashier is not allowed to permit a student to charge a lunch. Only one of the Principals can do that and then the Principal assumes the responsibility for insuring the account is brought back to a positive level. As Principals, we will allow a student to eat that one time, but if the student's account is not funded, there will be no more meals served until the account is paid off. This may seem callous, but we are simply not in a position to offer credit for school lunch.

Your cooperation is appreciated.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

State Superintendent Tom Luna to Visit Genesee

Idaho Schools Superintendent Tom Luna will be visiting the Genesee School this Friday from 1:00 - 3:30 PM. First Mr. Luna will meet with the administration, then I will be taking him on a tour of the facility with several stops in classes along the way. We will visit a high school physics class conducting an experiment, and stop into several elementary classrooms to observe instruction and for the students to meet Mr. Luna. Following the tour, around 3:10 pm, we will conclude our visit in the multi-purpose room so that trustees, teachers and patrons can visit with Mr. Luna.

The Genesee School is excited to host Mr. Luna's visit. He has been a staunch supporter of education in Idaho. He has a particular interest in rural schools and has worked hard to find funding to promote improved student achievement in all schools among all students. We are proud of our school and community and look forward to this opportunity to share with Mr. Luna.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Genesee Bus Garage Project Completed

The demolition and rebuilding of the bus shop has been completed. In addition, new taller doors were installed in the parking garage to accommodate the newer, taller buses. This project began last June and is now complete. I think you will agree that the new updates provide a much better appearance than before, but most importantly to us, is that the service bay can now accommodate repair and service work on our buses in a more efficient manner.

This construction project was possible because of the interest the District earned on the bond proceeds from the school addition. Fortunately, the majority of unspent bond funds earned substantial interest (over $200,000) during the early part of construction of the school addition when interest rates were still in the 5-6% range. State and Federal regulations governing the use of bond proceeds require that they be spent in the manner for which the ballot proposed. Our bond was passed specifically to make the final payment on the 1998 remodel, build the school addition, purchase furnishings for the addition, and for other facility-related projects within the District.

A few of the other projects undertaken have been the air conditioning of the business-technology classroom. When you couple 25 students with 25-30 computers into one classroom, the heat generated creates temperatures during the spring and early fall exceeding ninety and sometimes one hundred degrees. To protect the District's investment in hardware and to keep students healthy, air conditioning was installed in this room.

One badly needed project was the re-roof of the agriculture-technology shop. Not only did we eliminate the persistent leaking, we have been able to move all the water away from the foundation which will protect the building from the movement experienced over the past quarter century. We did lift the building as close to it's original level as possible and repaired the masonry cracks. The overhead doors were switched to electrical operation to comply with needed safety standards and the ceiling in the agriculture classroom was redone.

The secondary computer lab was enlarged and updated to accommodate a full class of students and space for instruction plus an office for the Director of Technology. Both the boys' and girl's locker rooms were remodeled to replace aging fixtures, tile that was falling off the walls and updated lockers plus fresh paint. The locker rooms had been untouched since 1966.

The final project that has yet to be completed is the repair of the exterior gym foyer ceiling and the installation of an additional set of doors which will provide for a protected entrance into the most widely used space in the school. We expect this to be completed within the next couple of weeks.

Does this mean all maintenance in the school district is complete. No. Maintenance is always on-going. The District has a state-mandated ten-year maintenance plan which is updated annually. While we no longer will have bond proceeds to take care of additional maintenance, we will need to plan carefully to conduct periodic maintenance. The gym roof is the last roof with tar and gravel and it will need to be replaced with a rubber roof. We are nearing the end of the life expectancy on the rubber roof on the multi-purpose room as well. Carpet, installed during the 1998 remodel, will need to be replaced within the next five years.

To protect your investment, preventative maintenance occurs annually. The District expends at least 2% of the value of our square footage on this maintenance as required by state law. Patron financial support for these efforts is appreciated and necessary. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Appropriate dress and fall weather for elementary students

As we transition into the typical fall weather pattern, it is important that parents make sure their children are dressed appropriately for the cooler temperatures, possible rain, and even some warm afternoons. It can be chilly outside while students are waiting to enter the building. Students should be wearing a sweater, sweatshirt or jacket in the cool mornings. Remember, we do not open the doors until 8:15 AM. If your student is coming to school before that, he or she will be waiting outside.

Unless it is very cold, heavy rain or snowing profusely, we will have outside recess. There is no established connection between being outside and getting sick. As a matter of fact, getting outside exercise, breathing fresh air and moving around are healthy activities. Students need to have appropriate clothing available to them to be able to enjoy their time outdoors.

With this variable weather pattern upon us, it is incumbent upon all of us to provide the needed clothing options for our students to be comfortable at school; both inside and outside.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Real Education

Having just completed Charles Murray's Real Education, I came away from the book with a renewed sense of urgency to insure that our students are appropriately educated without regard to the political whim of the day. In this case it might be the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. While the intent of NCLB for all students to be at grade-level by 2014 is admirable, it is only possible if you water down the definition of grade level.

In Idaho, we use the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in grades 3-10 to measure student progress against Idaho standards and grade level attainment. On these assessments, Genesee is doing better than any surrounding districts. If I had the time to go through the results from every school district in Idaho and put all the data on a spreadsheet, I would guess our test scores are the highest in Idaho or certainly within the top 2%. We use ISAT results to inform instruction so that we can meet the individual needs of students. We do not live and die by the results. We do not teach to the test. We do prepare students to take this assessment since we must demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Otherwise we could end up in "AYP Jail."

The ISAT is a minimum competency assessment. The skills are basic (reading, language usage, mathematics and science) but do not measure deep understanding of advanced concepts or many other important elements of our curriculum such as social studies, fine arts, health, etc. You can see a comparison here of Genesee with surrounding districts of similar size and with Moscow. Our teachers make sure our students have basic skills but they do not stop there.

Murray points out the truth of Aristotle's insight "One of the deepest forms of human enjoyment is the exercise of one's realized capacities." Statistically, half of all students are below average. Genesee does not have a large enough population of students for this to be true here. Our students do not fall along a normal bell shaped curve. Technically their academic achievement is skewed to the right meaning they are more capable than average. That is due to local demographics; i.e., socio-economic status and the education level of parents. We should have high test scores, but we cannot be satisfied with just doing well on the ISAT.

Perhaps the Army says it best with their slogan "Be All That You Can Be." The problem as Murray points out is that the Army uses the word can. "It is not good enough just to wish children well. It is our obligation as adults to oversee their journey. Sometimes this means encouraging, reinforcing, and praising -- things that make us feel good. But dealing with can imposes less pleasant roles as well. ...sometimes (this) means pushing, criticizing and demanding -- things that make us feel like the bad guy. When a child's aspirations are unrealistic, making good on our obligation means guiding the child toward other goals." These are not always politically correct concepts in society today.

As Murray points out "the goal of education is to bring children into adulthood having discovered things they enjoy doing and doing them at the outermost limits of their potential." This applies to all students regardless of their range of ability. I hope we are a significant part of that journey for every student at Genesee School.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Latah County Fair

Next week is the annual Latah County Fair. Numerous Genesee School students will be participating in the fair. Genesee High School FFA, under the direction of Agriculture Science teacher J.R. Morrow, will feature prominently in the fair again this year. Many other Genesee students are participating through 4H under the direction of local dedicated parent volunteers. Participation in the fair provides excellent opportunities for youth development and education.

Even with a number of students gone for the fair, historically Genesee School has excellent average daily attendance during the fair week. However, one of the lowest attendance weeks is the week after the fair concludes. Given the emergence of an early flu season, it is even more important for all students participating or visiting the fair to eat a balanced diet and get sufficient sleep. Recent sleep research finds that elementary age students need ten hours of sleep each night while teenagers need nine hours.

Genesee School will have early release on Friday to provide an opportunity for fair goers to enjoy the activities. So enjoy the fair but be healthy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Genesee Booster Club

The Genesee Booster Club is hosting their annual membership drive and BBQ at the football game Friday night. The Bulldogs will host Kendrick at the city-owned sports field at 7:00 PM. The BBQ begins at 5:30 PM and is free to to all current 09-10 Booster Club members or those who sign up and pay for membership at the BBQ.

The Booster Club is an independent entity whose goal is to support Genesee School Activity programs. Over the years, the Booster Club has purchased scoreboards for the football field and gym, bought badly needed uniforms, supported student-athletes who have qualified for state championship tournaments, and helped to fund non-athletic activities also.

Throughout the year the Boosters will conduct fund-raising activities in support of Genesee students. Your support would be appreciated.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Children Do Not Come to School with D's and R's on Their Foreheads

Back in the 90's when I began as Genesee's Superintendent, I had the opportunity to attend a summer meeting of all of Idaho's superintendents and I heard then State Superintendent of Public Education Jerry Evans, a Republican, give a speech. I do not remember all of what he said but one point I have always remembered and admired was his statement that "children do not come to school with D's and R's on their foreheads."

This morning while I was riding my bike up the Genesee-Troy road, I kept thinking about this statement and how well it relates to the firestorm that has been whipped up by some of the radio talk show hosts regarding the President's speech to school children which is set to be broadcast next Tuesday. Jerry Evans had it right. Students don't come to school with a political affiliation stamped on their heads. Neither do educators.

Teachers are licensed, professional educators with significant, required training who must follow the Idaho Code of Ethics for Teachers. I am sure many of them affiliate with one political party or the other, but I couldn't tell you which party. And it doesn't matter. Their job is not to indoctrinate children. Their job is to educate children.

Genesee teachers are the cream of the crop. They are experts in pedagogy (methods of teaching) and they are experts in the subjects they are responsible for teaching. They follow district-approved curriculum. They determine what is age-appropriate, how best to utilize resources, what fits within the curriculum and how to structure instructional time to enable all students to achieve.

Does this mean we get it right every time? No. Nobody is perfect. Teachers, like Doctors, Lawyers and Accountants are human beings. But you can rest assured your children are in good hands and the education they receive is responsible and appropriate. We teach about politics but we aren't in the business of turning R's into D's or D's into R's. We'll leave that to someone else.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

President Obama's Speech to Students

As many of you have no doubt heard, President Obama has scheduled a Presidential address to school children throughout the United States for Tuesday, September 8 at 9:00 AM PST. Based on information received from the United States Department of Education and Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, the address is likely to last 15-20 minutes, and the President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

It is up to local education agencies to determine if they want their students to participate in this historic address or not. As with other televised presentations, the Genesee School District makes a determination what is appropriate for our students based on grade level, subject, and content. When such an address fits within our curriculum and is appropriate, we would consider the merits of the program prior to showing it in class.

It is not unusual for students studying American Government to watch various news programs, Presidential addresses and other pertinent content. Other social studies classes might find the content fitting well within the curriculum. Teachers have limited instructional time which they guard zealously. Often only segments of televised speeches or movies are used to demonstrate a specific idea or subject.

I would recommend that parents watch the address live or later on the Internet and discuss it with their children. Given the competition our students are in with students in China, India and other emerging economies, they would be wise to work harder, set short and long-term goals and take responsibility for their learning. As parents, we are primarily responsible for the development of these qualities in our children. These are also qualities that educators feel strongly students should develop in public school.

As parents, it is incumbent upon us to teach our children our family values. Students well grounded in the value system and culture of their family are able to think independently and reflect upon what they learn in school and in society at large. I appreciate all of the calls and emails I have received on this issue. It demonstrates to me that you care about your children and your children's education. You can rest assured we also care and will insure our due diligence when determining the content of our curriculum.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Idaho Nutrition Standards

The State of Idaho has issued new nutrition standards for school meals. The USDA is currently revising their meal patterns and nutrition standards but Idaho took a proactive stance and developed new standards with the help of a statewide panel.

The new lunch standards include:
  • Calories served may not exceed 100-110% of the appropriate level.
  • Elimination of all foods containing trans fats.
  • Deep-fat frying shall not be used a method to prepare food.
  • Limitation on pre-fried entrees and side items to no more than three times weekly.
  • Whole grains must be served at least three times weekly.
  • Serve a variety to include one fruit and one vegetable daily. Serve fresh fruits & vegetables when possible and canned fruits in natural juice, water or light syrup.
  • Only offer fat-free or low fat milk.
  • Legumes to be served once per week.
  • Not offer grains with more than 14g of sugar.
  • Limit sodium to 2mg per calorie.
  • Offer meals with at least 1g of fiber per 100 calories.
  • Limit cholesterol to 100mg.
  • No added salt and sugar dispensers or packets will be made available.
As you can see from the above list, the Child Nutrition Department of the Idaho Department of Education has taken a serious step towards improving the nutritional value of school lunches. You can be sure your child is receiving a well-balanced nutritional lunch because the Genesee School District follows the guidelines above.

If you have any questions give Mrs. Hasfurther, Food Service Director, or Dave Neumann, Superintendent a call.

Monday, August 31, 2009

School arrival and departure

Elementary students may enter the school building at 8:15 AM. The buses generally arrive between 8:05 and 8:10 AM. Students walking to school should time their arrival to coincide with the bus arrival times. Staff members are on bus duty outside to insure the health of safety of the students prior to entering the building.

Secondary students may come in the building earlier if they have a zero hour class or are meeting with a staff member. They may congregate in the gym foyer or student commons area of the new addition after entering the building. We have limited interior supervision during this time as most staff members are preparing for the start of classes. Students should not be "hanging around" unsupervised.

If you have a preschooler, please do not drop off the child before 12:15 PM. There is no supervision available for these young children prior to 12:15 PM. The preschool room door will be locked and these children should not wait outside or in the hallway without an adult present. Your help with this is appreciated.

Students not involved in study hall, consulting with a teacher or participating in extra curricular activities should depart by 3:20 PM. Staff members are on duty insuring the safe loading of buses until they depart. Students should not be roaming the halls unsupervised. This is the time for teachers to prepare lessons for the following instructional day.

Friday, August 28, 2009

First week of school

The school year has gotten off to a great start. We have 159 students in grades K-6 and 128 students grades 7-12. The secondary staff and students had a great first day with team building activities with an underlying anti-substance abuse message. I heard many favorable comments from students and staff regarding this positive start.

It has been hectic especially trying to fill two roles as Superintendent and Elementary Principal but it has been rewarding thus far. The elementary staff has been very great about acclimating me to this new role and the students are awesome. It has been hot in most of our classrooms but the students and staff have been working hard to make the most of it. I got to serve salad dressing, supervise recess and bus pick up and visit every elementary classroom. I continue to be impressed with the professionalism of the staff and work ethic of the student body.

Our football team takes to the gridiron tonight at Clearwater Valley and the volleyball teams have separate tournaments Saturday. Hopefully the weather will moderate and we will have a beautiful fall. Stay tuned...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

H1N1 (Swine) Flu

It seems all we hear about lately is the swine flu. Our District receives regular updates and information from the local public health department, the state Division of Homeland Security and the federal Center for Disease Control. Sometimes it is hard to process all of the information coming across my desk.

What can you do to protect your child and other household members? Preventing the spread of germs is obviously the most important precaution we can take. At school, we teach students to sneeze into their elbows or a facial tissue, to wash their hands regularly (15 seconds or as long as it takes them to sing the ABC song) and not share water bottles and other utensils. These are the same precautions we take with all illnesses including the common cold and the traditional flu. You can reinforce this behavior with your student at home and school.

If your student does get sick and he or she has a temperature, the student must stay home until free of the fever for 24 hours. This is very important and we would appreciate it if all parents followed this precaution. We realize it can be difficult for working parents to have a sick student at home but, given the potential magnitude of this coming flu season, it is an important step.

As a District we have stepped up our disinfecting schedule for surfaces throughout the school and we continue to educate students and staff regarding the importance of taking such precautions. All staff members are completing online training regarding pandemic flu.

If you have questions or would like additional information, please feel free to contact the school.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Elementary Lunch Entree Option

Beginning next Monday August 31, elementary students will be able to select from the main lunch menu entree or the first entree option listed of the three. Secondary students will continue to be able to select from the main entree or the three options.

Elementary students will indicate their choice (regular lunch, optional entree or no lunch) each morning to their classroom teacher. Once the choice is made it is electronically sent to the kitchen. Students will not be able to change their mind once the selection is made and entered by the teacher.

The menus are posted on the District web site or available by calling the homework hot line. Visit with your student to help him or her make the entree choice. There is no additional charge for the optional entree. We have received requests to allow elementary students some choice and this is in response to patron requests.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Genesee HS enrollment drop and IHSAA Classification

The Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA) has a six classification system for high schools in Idaho which is based on student enrollment. This past year was the time that the IHSAA reports out average enrollment numbers based on average daily attendance. Genesee High School's 9-12 enrollment has dropped below 100 students which puts us into the 1A Division 2 classification; the smallest IHSAA classification.

This change does not take effect until the fall of 2010. This coming school year we will still be classified as a 1A Division 1 school. Every two years the IHSAA reclassifies schools to create a level playing field. This has no effect on Whitepine League play because the league has determined that all schools will play each other once regardless of classification. The main change would be in the district tournament or state tournaments. Genesee would be playing against schools it's own size.

It is possible for a school to petition up or down a classification however this must be done for all sports, not sport by sport. The administration feels we should play where our enrollment places us. The petitioning process must be completed by mid-September. If you have an opinion one way or the other, feel free to call or email Mr. Caldwell, our athletic director.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Eleven more days of summer vacation

Genesee school-age children will return to school on Wednesday, August 26, 2009. Ninety-seven years ago students entered a new building which is still in use today. This is a testament to the character and perseverance of the community. That 1912 building housed the entire school population with strategically located lavatories located outside of the building. Today students enter a modernized, safe facility which is conducive to learning in the twenty-first century. For that we thank Genesee for your generosity.

This school year we welcome Kelly Caldwell as our 7-12 Principal and activities director, Kristen McMullin as K-12 music teacher, Casi Allington as secondary science teacher and Robert Johnson as part-time school psychologist. Mrs. Weeks has moved from third grade to Kindergarten and preschool.

In addition to routine summer maintenance, we have several larger projects including the remodeling of the bus shop and garage. If you have driven by the school the past couple of days you will notice some work occurring under the covered entry of the main gym. The precast ceiling system was failing which could lead to a health and safety issue so this has been removed and contractors are in the process of installing a new ceiling. Once that is complete we will be adding a vestibule with a new set of doors to provide an environmentally sound and secure entrance. One other project in the works is the air conditioning of the business classroom which is necessary for student comfort and maintenance of technology hardware.

I am excited to complete my final year here in Genesee with the addition of my new responsibility as K-6 Principal. I hope the weather clears up, harvest gets going again and the students can enjoy a few more sunny days before the 26th.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer is the time to get ready for the next school year

Summer may be a long vacation for students but for many school district employees it is a time of preparation for the next school year.

Teachers are busy taking college classes and workshops to upgrade their skills. All of the elementary teachers have taken or will take the "Mathematical Thinking for Instruction" course. The primary staff took the class in Lewiston in June while the intermediate staff will be taking the class in August being taught here at Genesee. This course is an important piece of the Idaho Math Initiative providing essential skills for improving math instruction in Idaho. Other staff members are attending a workshop in Colorado which provides skills and knowledge to help classroom teachers adapt their instruction for the differing learning needs of boys and girls. These are just two examples of the many professional development opportunities Genesee teachers avail themselves of annually.

The maintenance and custodial staff have been very busy completing summer maintenance projects, painting and heavy cleaning to get the facility ready for occupancy. Each summer we have all of the life safety systems inspected and repaired if necessary. Our groundskeeper is busy bringing the playground lawns back to life and keeping them mowed and spraying for weeds, etc. Our network technician and school secretary have been very busy with the implementation of our new student database software. Replacement computers need to be set up and installed and existing hardware maintained. The kitchen staff cleaned, painted and sanitized the kitchen for closure over the summer.

The District office continues to operate during the summer and with the close of the fiscal year on June 30 is preparing for the annual audit of the financial records which occurs in July and August and is reported to the Trustees and State officials in October. The office is also busy ordering school supplies so that teachers have what they need when classes begin on August 26.

One big project this summer is the remodel and rebuild of the bus garage. Many of you have no doubt seen that the shop portion of the structure was removed and is being rebuilt to accommodate the taller buses which could not be accommodated in the old shop. Taller and wider doors are also being installed in the parking garage to accommodate the new buses and make parking safer and easier. A vestibule will be installed on the south gym foyer to provide a safe double entry. These projects are being funded with the remaining bond funds; most of which came from the earnings on the funds before they were expended building the addition.

As you can see there is a lot that goes on during the summer so that school is ready in the fall. The District office is open from 7:30-4:00 daily. If you are new to Genesee and need to enroll your students, please stop by the office. Bring immunization records, the student's social security card and an official state-issued birth certificate with you to complete the registration process. If you want to get a jump-start on purchasing school supplies, the supply lists have been posted on our web site and in several locations around town or you may pick up a hard copy in the office.

Have a great remainder of the summer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Report Cards

Report cards provide an excellent opportunity for a positive experience for you and your kids. I always find it interesting that some students are anxious about seeing their grades. Don't they know how they've been doing all along?

Some parents are more concerned with the academic performance of their children while others are more concerned with the behavior or social part of the report card. Certainly a balanced approach is best. If the student receives a C but shows good work ethic, determination, and is a pleasure to have in class, what more could you ask for? Each child has different abilities and interests, different strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, if he gets all A's but his behavior is less than outstanding or his attitude is not positive, you may have work to do! Make a plan to change the undesirable behavior.

We need to appreciate all of our children. The A students should be commended for their achievement, even the ones for whom it required minimal effort. The C students need to know that we appreciate their hard work, that we are on their side. Most of all we need to remove any fear from the experience. We need to communicate our support.

Report cards should never lead to anger or punishment, but to discussions of future possibilities and changes (Caveat here: the report card of adolescents, like everything else about them, pose a unique challenge). We cannot force good grades or good behavior from a child (certainly not without serious psychological damage), but we can encourage it.

An often forgotten ally in this effort is you child's teacher. Most teachers are wonderful and trying hard and want your child to succeed. They need appreciation and respect also. Certainly blaming them for a child's academic performance or behavior is an ineffective strategy and at most wrong, and harmful to your child.

The arrival of report cards is a great teachable moment for a family. It is our attitude as parents and our expectations that will determine our children's reaction.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

School lunch survey

This month, the Board of Trustees appointed a group of parents, students and staff to serve on the school lunch committee. The committee met last evening. Members include: Kim Monk, Kelly Porter, Becky Kopf, Nancy Becker, Sherrie Tilleman, Becky Pickard, Sammy Sperber, Tauna Tyler, Jan Hasfurther, and me.

The goals of the committee are to:
  1. develop a parent and student survey to determine attitudes regarding the lunch program.
  2. Analyze the results of the questionnaires.
  3. Make recommendations to the Board of Trustees in July for possible implementation.
The surveys will be sent home with elementary students on Friday. Secondary parent surveys will be mailed home today. The survey has also been posted on our web site on the home page. Your feedback is very important to the success of this endeavor. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey and return it to school by Monday.

The students will take a few minutes next week to complete their surveys in class. Results of all surveys will be available on our web site and will be presented to the Board in July.

The genesis for this committee came from the increasing financial deficit the school food service program generates which has a direct impact on the funds available for academic instruction. Next fiscal year the district will transfer $34,000 to the food service program to eliminate the deficit. Ironically, $34,000 is the amount a beginning teacher earns! Previous studies, using food service consultants and Idaho Department of Education Nutrition Program program managers, have been conducted.

The cost per plate has been analyzed, menus have been scrutinized, labor has been reduced, breakfast has been dropped, portion control has been emphasized, lunch room atmosphere has been improved, entree options for secondary students have been offered and other steps have been taken to control costs. It is obvious that the only way the program can break even is with increased participation. Currently we hover around 50% participation. We need at least 70% to have a chance to break even.

Please complete the survey and return it promptly to school to help the committee formulate suggestions for Board consideration which may increase participation. Thank you for your help.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thank you for your support

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, administration and staff of the Genesee School District, I want to thank the community for once again supporting quality education in Genesee through the passage of the supplemental levy.

Your trustees worked very hard during the past five months to listen to all stakeholders regarding their desires for the Genesee School. Cutting a budget, and subsequently reducing the levy, created difficult choices that had to be made. The highest priority was to minimize the educational impact on students. After making some difficult choices, the trustees were able to reduce the budget by 5.8% and achieve their goal of continuing to offer a high level of educational programs for children.

The current budget does create some challenges but together we can continue to provide the high level of service you have come to expect. Again, thank you for the opportunity to serve in a community that values education.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Classified Employees - Backbone of the School

It is easy to think of teachers when you think about a school, but did you know about all of the classified employees who create the conditions for student success? We have bus drivers, bus mechanics, instructional aides, a technology coordinator, cooks, secretaries and clerks, custodians, and maintenance personnel.

Many of these valuable employees are the first and last school people your child may see during the day. It is the bus driver who first greets your child in the morning and the last to say goodbye in the afternoon. Our bus drivers hold commercial driver's licenses with additional training in school bus procedures. In addition to their annual training, they are under similar rules as truck drivers in that they must have periodic substance tests and have limits placed on the number of hours of driving time. Our transportation supervisor and bus mechanic keep all of the buses in working order. This includes inspections every sixty days plus a full annual inspection. Safety is our highest priority in transporting students. School bus transportation is the safest method of transporting students; even safer than parents driving their own children to school.

Our instructional aides provide numerous services for students and other staff members throughout the school year. These individuals provide one-on-one and small group instruction under the supervision of a certified teacher, recess and lunch room supervision, and individual speech therapy under the supervision of a contracted speech-language pathologist. Each of our instructional aides must meet the high standards of the No Child Left Behind act which includes at least two years of college and/or passing an extensive battery of general education assessments.

Our technology coordinator provides essential services to keep our computer systems operating for the benefit of staff and students. In addition to maintaining over 200 computers, a large bank of servers, and many peripherals, he insures that we meet state and federal law, such as the Children's Internet Protection Act. Then there are software updates, repair of hardware and future technology planning. The services of a qualified technology coordinator have become critical in school today. We are fortunate to have an individual with a bachelor's degree in information technology with extensive education experience.

Our cooks arrive early daily to prepare meals for the students. Before a meal can be prepared however, they must plan the menu which includes meeting federal nutrition guidelines. Our kitchen operates under similar rules to restaurants and employees must have on-going training so that we meet all of the requirements. The cooks are also responsible for inventory and budget plus serving meals to students.

When you call the school, you are likely to be greeted by a member of our secretarial staff. The secretaries in the school office must answer the telephone, communicate via radio to the bus drivers, provide band aids for students, call home when students are ill, and maintain student records including data entry. Their duties can include student supervision, helping teachers enter their grades, maintaining the student database, tracking purchase orders, accounting for student body account funds, paying bills and much more. The Clerk of the Board handles all Board business including minutes, elections, legal advertising and documents plus she is responsible for accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll. She also handles our attendance reporting, federal grant reports and helps the superintendent complete his work.

The District employs two full-time and one part-time custodian. These people work hard each afternoon and evening cleaning the school and conducting maintenance so that the building is ready for children and staff every morning. During holidays and summer break, they conduct heavy cleaning and maintenance so that the facility will last well into the future. Recently, they have been conducting additional sterilization to protect against the swine flu.

Facility maintenance requires significant expertise to keep all the sophisticated systems operational and safe. These include the HVAC system which is computer operated for efficiency, electrical, plumbing, refrigeration and other mechanical systems. Much of this work must be conducted during non-school hours in the evenings or on weekends to minimize the disruption to student learning. Grounds maintenance, including snow and ice removal and landscape maintenance, is another important aspect of this department. We want patrons to be proud of their investment in their schools.

As you can see, we have a myriad of classified employees working hard to support our important work and make school a safe and welcoming place for our students. You may not always see them or their work, but understand how important their contributions are to the proper functioning of an effective learning environment and say thank you when you get a chance.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Retirements and new staff

We have been very busy with end of the year activities in school and at the district level. The legislature finally concluded their session and we have been working our way through preparation of the final budget.

We have several staff members retiring this year:
  • David Aiken, 7-12 science teacher
  • Karen Hagen, Instructional Paraprofessional
  • Loretta Stowers, K-12 Principal
  • Sue Bull-Pelfrey, School Psychologist
We wish them well in their retirement. It is well deserved. Mr. Aiken has been teaching science and math to students in Genesee for 29 years! Mrs. Pelfrey has been with the District for 20 years as has Mrs. Hagen. Mrs. Stowers has been with the District for eight years.

Along with retirements, comes the need to hire replacements. With Mr. Caldwell moving into the 7-12 Principal/AD position, we hired Kristen McMullin as his replacement. Ms. McMullin recently earned her master's degree in music education from the University of Idaho. She student taught at Genesee School several years ago. Originally from Rathdrum, Ms. McMullin brings continuity and new ideas to our well respected music program.

Casi Allington, a recent graduated of WSU, has been hired to teach 7-12 science. Ms. Allington student taught at Garfield-Palouse this spring. Originally from Wyoming and more recently from Spokane, Ms. Allington comes very highly recommended by her colleagues at Garfield-Palouse and her college supervisors.

We hope soon to fill the School Psychologist and instructional paraprofessional positions. We have been fortunate to have good pools of candidates to select from which can be difficult in science, music and school psychologists. We like to think that the positive reputation of the Genesee School and education-minded community helps us to attract the best and brightest to teach and work in Genesee.

Goodbye Dave, Sue, Loretta and Karen. Hello Kristen and Casi.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

School District Bus Garage and Shop

In June, we will be doing some remodeling and construction at our bus shop and garage. This important facility was originally constructed in 1912 and added on to in 1960. Since that time, our buses have gotten larger and taller. We can no longer fit our new buses into the shop portion of the building for maintenance and it is a tight squeeze to get all of them parked inside due to the width and height of the garage doors.

The proposed work includes installing wider and taller doors into the parking garage. Infilling the windows with masonry to meet current code since they are on the property line. We will tear down the shop bay which is on the east side of the building and rebuild a new shop on essentially the same footprint. The new shop will be stick-built and will provide a taller and wider access door and comply with current codes.

The project goes out to bid this month and we hope to begin construction in early June. The estimated time for completion is four months.

The financing for this project comes from the interest earned on the bonds during construction of the school addition. The District earned $208,150 in interest. The cost of this project is expected to run about $150,000.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Preparation by 8th Grade Critical to College & Career Readiness

According to a recent study by ACT, The Forgotten Middle, students who are not on track for college and career readiness by eighth grade are unlikely to attain that level of readiness by high school graduation.

Essentially, the academic achievement that students reach by the eighth grade has a larger impact on future success in college or a career than any other single factor. This includes high school courses taken, grades in high school and even socio-economic factors such as gender, household income or race.

The report indicates significant implications for the our economy. "The skills necessary for entry into the majority of the fastest-growing jobs that require a high school diploma and offer a livable wage are comparable to those needed for success in first-year college courses." The President of ACT Education Division, Cynthia Schmeiser, noted that high school-level interventions which could include taking more rigorous courses, studying harder and earning higher grades in high school would certainly help but the fact remains that eighth grade students will have a very difficult time making up the lost ground.

Many middle level students have not developed adequate academic skills and attitudes that foster this readiness. In other words, junior high classes matter! It is that simple. Students cannot wait until high school to begin school in earnest, they need to have continual achievement from early elementary through their high school careers.

The report makes the following recommendations:
  • Focus K-8 standards on the knowledge and skills that are essential for college and career readiness and make these non-negotiable for students.
  • Monitor student progress toward college and career readiness beginning in upper elementary school and continuing through middle school and intervene with students who are not on target.
  • Improve students' academic behaviors (homework compliance, attendance, and other aspects of academic discipline).
  • Increase federal and state support for intervention programs that help all students become ready for college and career.

Monday, May 4, 2009

May 5 - Teacher Appreciation Day

May 5 is Teacher Appreciation Day.

We have outstanding teachers in the Genesee School District. They are well qualified, appropriately state-licensed and highly qualified as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Perhaps, more important, our teachers, and all of the staff who work for the school district, care about students and our community.

These are dedicated employees who work hard to prepare all of the students for success. Being a public school, we do not have the opportunity to select our clients. We take everyone who walks through the doors and work diligently to provide each student with an education that meets the needs of the individual student and society.

American schools, and thus our educational professionals, are often compared to those from other countries such as Japan, India and China. One huge difference between our educational system and their systems is that ours is egalitarian. All students attend the same school regardless of innate ability and knowledge. In the United States we believe all students can learn and all students must learn to insure that our democracy flourishes. In public school, we do not send the brightest to one school and the average to another. We want them to learn together so that, as a society, we can all share in the benefits of our democracy. Comparisons are never "apples to apples."

It is interesting to note that when parents are asked to "grade" their school they always seem to give it a higher grade than the schools in the next town or down the street. Generally, parents appear to be satisfied with the job their schools are doing. That is not to say that we should not continue to seek improvement. Schools will change as society changes and we must constantly be willing to reform so that we are looking forward and not backwards. We can ill afford to live with success made yesterday.

Working with students day in and day out is satisfying but tiring work. Students sometimes bring "baggage" from outside of school that we have no control over yet we must educate all children regardless of what each brings to school on a daily basis. We do so with enthusiasm and hope.

So if you get a chance, thank your child's teacher, bus driver, classroom aide, cook, secretary, principal, etc. They care and they do their job every day so that your children's future will be bright.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bike Month

May is National Bike Month and May 11-15 is Bike-to-Work week. We would like to encourage students to ride to school this month. Bicycle racks are located on the east side of the playground and students can lock their bikes to the rack, if desired.

If your student would like to ride to school or currently does ride to school, the two most important precautions you can encourage your student to take are:
  • Always... always wear an approved bike helmet and always wear it correctly.
  • Always wear light colored or bright clothing so it is easy for motorists to see the bicyclist
As our culture has evolved with more and more electronic games and entertainment devices, young people are not getting adequate exercise. This is a serious problem locally, statewide and nationally. We are seeing a frightening increase of obesity in children attending school. Walking or biking daily, in addition to physical education and active recess goes a long way towards helping your student remain healthy and fit.

Believe it or not, Idaho is nationally recognized for their bicycle laws. Idaho is the only state where a bicyclist is not required to come to a complete stop at a stop sign or stop light. That does not mean a bicyclist can blow through an intersection. It means the rider should slow down and make sure it is clear before entering the intersection. Not having to come to a complete stop allows those riders who are clipped into their pedals to continue without taking their feet off the pedals.

Otherwise, bicyclists should follow normal driving rules including signaling turns. A bicyclist has the same right-of-way as a motorist even if the rider is traveling at a slower speed. Again, this is not to say riders should ride down the middle of the street oblivious to motorists, but motorists have an obligation to pass riders with care. All motorists should pay particular attention when passing young children as they often weave back and forth and they may not know the motorist is behind them.

Encourage your student to ride to school during National Bike Week (May 11-15) and encourage them to walk, run, bike, play sports... get outside as much as possible. But remember... if your child rides to school make sure they have their properly fitting helmet on.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Supplemental Levy

The Board of Trustees set the 2009 supplemental levy Tuesday evening $50,000 lower than the current levy. The proposed levy, to be voted on May 19, was set at $515,000. The levy covers the shortfall between state funding and the expenses of the educational program.

The decrease is a result of reducing staff by 1.3 FTE, deferring the purchase of math textbooks for one year, maintaining the status quo in the activities program, limiting activity travel, utilizing federal stimulus dollars to pay for instructional aides and slightly increasing revenue by adding a transportation fee for non-athletic activities. We are also expending about $53,000 of excess fund balance and transferring another $18,000 from the medical reimbursement account.

The current maintenance and operations budget will have minimal negative impacts on most students and families. The election is being held on May 19 from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM. There is one polling place in each county; the Latah poll is at the school and the Nez Perce poll is at the Morscheck residence.

The cost of this levy, based on an estimated market value of $124,479,343, taking into account the reductions in property tax as a result of the agricultural property tax replacement, is $3.76 per thousand dollars of assessed value.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu

The news seems dominated by swine flu these days. The Genesee School District receives regular updates from the Idaho North Central Public Health District and the Center for Disease Control. There have been no confirmed cases of swine flu in Idaho although four individuals have had flu-like illnesses that are being tested. During the past five years we have been studying and planning for a potential pandemic flu. At this point, we do not know if this will become widespread.

The best thing parents can tell their children and the advice we always give to students is to follow good respiratory etiquette. This includes:
  • Wash your hands after being in public, or after coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth;
  • Cover your cough or sneeze, or cough into your elbow;
  • If you are sick, stay home from work or school. Protect your co-workers and friends. Please don't travel when you are sick; and
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Symptoms of swine flu are similar to seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting. People cannot contract the infection from eating properly cooked pork.

The CDC will soon be shipping medications and supplies to states in case the outbreak becomes more serious. Right now the best thing we can all do is to observe the bulleted points above.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Parent-Teacher Organization

An organizational meeting to re-form the Genesee PTO will be held on Wednesday, May 6 at 7:00 PM in the mutli-purpose room. This will be an informal and informational meeting. All parents and teachers are invited.

A number of years ago, Genesee had a very active PTO group but, for various reasons, it dissolved. Tami Pope and Caty Spence recently visited with me to see about reactivating the PTO. I think it is a wonderful idea that deserve parent and community support.

Parent-Teacher Organizations can serve several useful purposes for students, parents and teachers. There are always positive ways to get involved with your school. PTO groups hold fundraisers that provide quality activities for students like carnivals and contests. They can be effective advocates for school program support. And they can offer volunteer help and moral support for teachers.

Come to the meeting and help design the goals and objectives of the Genesee PTO. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Historical Pupil/Teacher Ratio Data

There has been significant discussion in the School District regarding the possibility that there may be a reduction in the number of teachers due to declining enrollment. One of the best measures we can look at, over time, is pupil-teacher ratio. The Idaho Department of Education has published this historical data on their web site.

I have posted a chart showing our District's pupil-teacher ratio from the 1993-94 school year until the current school year. As you can see on the chart there have been three years (06-07, 04-05 and 98-99) where we had a slightly smaller ratio than we do this year. Of course, this is a function of enrollment and staffing. The statewide teacher-pupil ratio is 18.2. One of the benefits of a small school is a lower pupil-teacher ratio. The lower the ratio, the higher the cost.

The trend line on the chart shows that, over time, our teacher-pupil ratio has declined. Within reason this is a good thing, but as enrollment continues to decline it is reasonable to consider what ratio is desirable for the District? What ratio demonstrates prudent management of financial resources? How can we best staff the school district to carry out our mission over time? These are all questions the Board of Trustees and the Administration must consider as we adjust to the current economic and demographic reality.

Based on our fall enrollment projections of 279 students (K-12) and 23.9 FTE teachers (assuming the Board accepts my staffing recommendation) our pupil-teacher ratio will decline to 11.7; the lowest level since the Department of Education began reporting this data.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Superintendent's Budget Recommendation

As promised, I have posted my fiscal year 2010 budget recommendations prior to the special Board meeting on April 28 on the District web site. The purpose of the special meeting on the 28th is for the trustees to set the amount of the supplemental levy which will be voted on Tuesday, May 19. Of course, it is necessary to have some preliminary budget figures to enable us to determine the needed amount for the levy.

In addition to my recommendations which will be forwarded to the trustees, I have also posted a very preliminary maintenance and operations budget. It is preliminary because we will continue to refine the budget until our budget hearing in June as we receive additional information from the Idaho Department of Education and the United States Department of Education. The legislature is still in session as I write this and several education bills and the FY2010 state education budget have not yet been signed into law. Changes can still occur. Final interpretations of new laws have not yet been completed by the State Department. Regardless, we need to move forward with the best information we have at the moment.

Even though we are losing student enrollment, we are fortunate that we are in "protected status" this year. This means that we are guaranteed 99% of the prior year's support units. This provision of state law helps districts that are losing enrollment to adjust to the new lower enrollment figures. However, this is only for one year. If our numbers remain the same next year, we will decrease by two support units (from 19.5 to 17.5). This is extremely significant and will have a major impact on our FY2011 budget. A support unit is like a classroom unit which has 1.1 instructional staff members attached to it. A reduction of two support units will impact the district by $175,000. It is imperative that we adjust to this downward trend in enrollment. That is one of the reasons why I am recommending the reduction of 1.2 FTE staff members for FY2010.

Some will probably question my recommendation of a lower supplemental levy. The reasons are really quite simple. First, through our management of the budget and slightly larger than anticipated state funding for FY2009, we have a higher than necessary fund balance. We are able to return this "extra" money to the taxpayers through a reduced levy. In addition, many of our patrons have lost employment or had their hours reduced. I feel strongly that we need to provide tax relief and be as fiscally prudent as we can. The third reason is the necessity to pass this levy. Without the successful passage of this levy, the District will need to make additional program and staffing cuts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ideas for raising children

Two important principles for interacting with your children are: (1) Know and follow the values you want your children to live with, and (2) understand them from their point of view. Parents should list the main values and principles for living that they want their children to master. What specific positive traits do you want your children to have. Make a list for each child.

A confident parent who creates a loving relation with his children, will find that his children will listen to him. When telling your children to do or not to do something, your voice needs to show confidence that you expect your children to listen to what you have to say. If you sound as if you don't really expect your children to listen to you, they will pick up your non-verbal message and are very likely not going to listen.

Be clear and specific when telling your children what they should or should not do. Telling a child to "be good" is too vague and not likely to be very effective. When you see things from your child's point of view, you will be careful to respect his feelings and thoughts. This will give your children a sense of self-respect and respect for others. Think about how you wanted to be treated when you were a child. Taking individual differences into account, act that way towards your children. Keep in mind that no child wants to be insulted or ridiculed by their parents.

Don't threaten your children. When you threaten a child, you create unnecessary anxiety and fear. If you make threats that you both know you won't keep, you are teaching them not to take you seriously. Threats automatically imply that you think there is a possibility that your children will not listen to you. Never give your children negative labels. negative labels create negative self-image, which is highly destructive.

Don't expect perfection when interacting with your children. Everyone makes mistakes. If you feel you have made mistakes in the past, begin again now. Be totally committed to creating a loving relationship with each of your children. Apologize to your children when it is appropriate. Apologizing is not a sign of weakness.

Don't fulfill your child's every request. Deny your children something at least once a day. Life is tough. You want to train your child to deal with difficulties and disappointments - not to expect that every whim and desire will be fulfilled. Unfulfilled expectations are the source of most misery. "Cornucopia kids" will never learn to grow up as happy adults.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Average Daily Attendance

In Idaho, schools are funded primarily based on ADA or average daily attendance versus the alternative method which would be based on enrollment. Enrollment seems to make sense since the school must supply teachers, textbooks, desks, rooms, supplies, etc. for every student who walks through the doors without regard for the student's individual attendance pattern. But that is not the way our funding system works in this state.

The implication for schools is that it financially benefits the school district to have as high an attendance rate as possible. Genesee has historically had a ninety-five percent attendance rate but we have seen some erosion of that recently. Certainly when a student is ill that student should remain at home so he or she gets better quickly and does not spread germs at school, but otherwise we would hope to see the student as much as possible. There is a financial reason which I will discuss below, but we also know that students who attend school on a regular basis perform better academically. I have seen many research studies which suggest that increasing time on task increases student achievement. I am still waiting to see even one study which suggests spending less time learning improves student achievement.

Regular attendance helps students develop positive habits which better prepare them for success in the work force. I have had numerous employers over the years inquire about students who have applied for employment. These employers seldom ask about the students' grades but they often ask about their attendance patterns, behavior, self-discipline, etc. These are all part of a thorough public education.

Financially, attendance can have a huge impact on the funding any district receives from the State. We currently have 290 students who average nearly a 95% attendance rate. This year we budgeted $2,035,644 in state funds. Assuming that is the amount we receive (we won't know until the year is over and our best 28 weeks of attendance is calculated) we have given up $107,132 in lost state funding as a result. In other words had all of our students had perfect attendance we would have received $369.42 more per student or $107,132! That works out to about $41 per day for every day of absence.

Who cares you might ask? Everyone with a stake in the School District should care. Based on the information we have today, if everything held equal next year and we had perfect attendance we would not have to make any significant cuts to programs or increase the levy. That is significant for parents, patrons and students.

Can anything be done? For the District's part we can analyze our school calendar and not hold school on days when traditionally a large number of students are gone such as during the fair or Thanksgiving week, etc. This may sound easy but every calendar committee we put together always wants to begin after labor day, have a week at Thanksgiving, two weeks for winter break, a week for spring break and get out before Memorial Day. There simply are not enough days to do that without attending on Saturdays.

Parents can attempt to schedule appointments and family vacations on days when school is not in session or on days of early release. I realize this is not always possible, but it would be helpful. Any individual action that can be taken to improve average daily attendance will have a significant positive impact on our students.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lunch Program... use it or lose it.

On March 19th I wrote about our child nutrition program (commonly called hot lunch). I explained how we are reimbursed at varying rates for lunches depending on the status of the student eating the lunch. I discussed the current cost per meal and some of the steps we have taken as a school district to reduce costs. I explained that we stand to lose $30,000 this year. I indicated that "the only way we will ever break even is to increase the participation rate to between 70-80% of all students." At the end of March only 47.8% of the first through twelfth grade students are eating on any given day.

Many patrons have expressed support for the continuance of the child nutrition program. Last evening at the Board meeting, several parents expressed the possibility of surveying parents and students to find out what we might do to encourage a higher percentage of student participation. At the suggestion of a trustee, we will reconvene our wellness committee and develop survey questions that we will make available online.

You can help us design a questionnaire that will provide us with valuable information.Would questions such as the following help you to provide us valuable information? Can you think of others?
  • What do you like and not like about the program?
  • What does your student like and not like?
  • Are the meals appetizing in appearance?
  • Are the meals a good value?
  • Does the food taste good?
  • Is it simply too expensive?
  • Do we need greater variety?
  • Should we close the campus to high school students and force them to remain on campus?
  • Should we invite the general public to eat in our cafeteria when the students are present?
  • Should elementary students have a choice of entree also?
Perhaps there is nothing we could do to encourage you or your student to utilize our lunch program. We would like to hear from you about that also.

The trustees would prefer to continue to operate the child nutrition program but it is becoming increasingly difficult as our enrollment declines and costs increase. It may come down to using it or losing it.

Please provide a comment to this post or send comments directly to Superintendent Neumann at Thank you for your help.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Driving at noon

The School Board has a policy whereby students are not allowed to drive during the lunch hour unless they have permission from the Principal (in an extraordinary situation) or they are leaving school grounds for work experience. Those students who do have permission to drive at lunch may not give a ride to another student.

Over the years numerous parents and students have questioned why the Trustees have such a rule and have, on several occasions, asked the Board to change the policy. The Board has never chosen to change the rule. Our high school is an open campus at lunch which means that students may walk home or downtown for lunch. They may not drive at lunch because the Board is concerned with the health and safety of students. Another concern of the Board of Trustees is the potential liability to the taxpayers should a student be injured while driving at lunch.

Students know the rules. Those who choose to ignore the rule and get caught are generally given detention the first time. Subsequent violations can lead to suspension. While the Principal supervises the parking lot as best she can, we are always happy to have a concerned patron call the Principal (285-1162 extension 203), identify him or herself and the students involved.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Holocaust Survivor Noemi Ban

Noemi Ban of Bellingham, Washington, a Holocaust survivor who has spoken in our area in the past, will be giving a presentation at Genesee School Monday, April 13 at 7:00 PM in the multi-purpose room. All are welcome and there is no charge.

In addition to the free public presentation, Ms. Ban will visit with secondary students on Tuesday the 14th. These presentations have been made possible through the ASB Multi-Cultural Fund which was originally funded by a donation from the United Dairyman of Idaho after Cord Barker was named the UDI Student of the Year. Cord's sister Destiny has been active in promoting diversity in our school and this program is a result of her efforts.

Noémi Shoënberger Ban is an award winning teacher and public speaker, respected and beloved mother, grandmother and synagogue senior who has lived in Bellingham since 1982. A native of Szeged, Hungary, Noémi Ban was 21 when the Nazis marched into Debrecen, Hungary on March 19, 1944. Ultimately her father was sent to a forced labor camp and she and her family (grandmother- Nina, Mother- Juliska, sister- Erzsebet, and baby brother- Gabor) were sent on a transport to Auschwitz arriving on July 1, 1944. Immediately separated from her family (where they became victims of the Nazi genocide) Noémi spent nearly four months in Auschwitz before being picked by Dr. Joseph Mengele to be transferred to a sub-camp of Buchenwald to work at a bomb factory. Escaping during the forced march to Bergen Belsen in April of 1945, Noémi and eleven of her campmates were found by a soldier from Patton’s army who informed them of their freedom. Finally arriving in Budapest in September of 1945, Noémi reunited with her father who also survived. Noémi was married to Earnest Ban in October and they settled in Budapest where Earnest was a teacher.

The Soviets came into power in 1948. While living under Communist rule and control, Noémi herself became a seventh and eighth grade teacher. Reaching the point were she could no longer live under the dictates of the Communist regime Noémi, her husband, and two sons tried to escape via train to Austria. Thwarted at the border Noémi did not give up or give in. With a friend’s help she and her family, less than a month after the first attempt, finally made it to freedom in Austria by hiding in giant balls of yarn being shipped by truck from Budapest to Sopron on December 29, 1956.

Noémi and her family arrived in the United States in February of 1957 and were relocated to St .Louis, Missouri. Both she and Earnest went back to school to learn English and then pursued American college degree-Earnest teaching math, Noémi becoming a sixth grade teacher. Upon Earnest’s retirement (he was ten years older than Noémi) they came to Bellingham, Washington to be close to their son, Steven, a pediatrician.

The importance of this event cannot be overstated considering the advancing age of remaining Holocaust survivors. Certainly we have pictures and museums, such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., but the opportunity to actually hear an individual who experienced this tragic event in human history is one you will not want to miss. History tends to repeat itself, i.e. Darfur, and there is much to be learned.

This presentation may not be appropriate for younger children.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The importance of a high school diploma

According to a report just issued by the Center for Public Education, "school districts should make every effort to help students receive a high school diploma even if it takes longer than four years."

According to the report, late graduates who receive their diploma in more than four years were compared to three other groups: on-time graduates, students who earn a GED and dropouts. As expected on-time graduates had the best outcomes in every aspect of life - not just academic, but work, civic life and even health - but late graduates were a close second ahead of GED and dropouts.

Eight-five percent of late graduates were employed compared to 77% of those who received GEDs and 81% of the dropouts. Late grads were also more likely to be employed full-time and possess a job with full benefits.

The report recommends schools offer a curriculum that adequately prepares middle level students for high school courses, identify struggling students and provide intervention programs as well as providing additional support for low-achieving students in high school.

Fortunately, our middle level students are taught by the same teachers who instruct high school students and these teachers are able to provide a sequential progression which helps students build the skills and abilities needed in high school courses while they are middle level students. This year the District implemented a policy whereby junior high or middle level courses are transcripted and students who do not make adequate progress in the 7th and 8th grade do not automatically move on to the next higher grade. It is certainly important that middle level students be prepared, but we feel it is even more important that elementary students are prepared adequately in the fundamental skills which lead to success in school. Our belief in early success led us to become one of the early school districts in Idaho to adopt the Response to Intervention model.

Genesee School has used the Response to Intervention (RtI) model to provide needed support for struggling students at any grade level. RtI has had a major impact on our school by using a data-based decision-making process. Rather than assume the student has a problem, RtI requires that we look at the instruction, the curriculum and the environment in addition to the student. Parents play an integral part in the decision-making process and students are closely monitored during the intervention to insure it is working as anticipated. We believe that the changes we have adopted as we have implemented RtI have had a major impact on student achievement in our school.

Due to our small size, it is difficult for students to "fall between the cracks" and we have few dropouts. I believe a student has to work harder to fail than to succeed in Genesee. Our teachers go the extra mile to help students by coming in early or staying after school, as needed. This is not to say that the student is not ultimately responsible for his or her own education, but that support is available for those who seek it out.

Monday, April 6, 2009


The Genesee School District has a labor agreement with the Genesee Education Association which identifies the manner in which a reduction-in-force would be completed for certified teachers. The wording for that agreement can be found on our web site at:

The agreement outlines what condition or conditions must exist before the Board may declare a RIF. Once one or more of the five conditions exists, the Board of Trustees can conduct the RIF. As with RIF provisions in other school districts, our provision utilizes seniority as the primary factor while also taking into account other factors. A seniority list, using the mechanisms identified in the agreement, is developed and checked and in place should a RIF be necessary. This is a very objective process that both parties to the labor agreement must follow.

The Genesee School District has experienced an enrollment decline for several years. Added to the enrollment decline this year is a reduction in state funding for K-12 education. Both of these factors will be taken into consideration when a school budget is produced for the 2010 fiscal year.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Labor Negotiations

Annually, the District enters into labor negotiations with the Genesee Education Association which represents all certified professional employees except administrators. The GEA is affiliated with the Idaho Education Association and the National Education Association. This process takes place annually each spring.

Historically, the District is represented by the superintendent and one trustee while the Association is represented by a committee of teachers. The labor agreement must be ratified by the full Board of Trustees and a vote of the Association membership.

There are two parts of the labor agreement. The first part is the procedural agreement which specifies the parameters for negotiations. The second part is the actual negotiations agreement. Generally, it is this second part which is subject to annual negotiations. The negotiations agreement includes leave, working conditions, insurance, a salary schedule, and an extra-curricular salary schedule. Negotiations have historically been held in executive or closed session.

Every school district in Idaho is a separate local government entity. Even though districts receive the majority of their funding from the State, each district has different agreements with their employees. The Idaho school funding system uses a salary-based allocation model. In addition to the discretionary funding based on support units, the largest amount of funds are derived from a formula that looks substantially like a salary schedule. Some districts have negotiated salary schedules that are identical to the Idaho salary allocation grid. Genesee's CPE salary schedule has evolved over time as the District and GEA have worked to craft a schedule that meets District needs. That schedule is posted in the employment section of our web site.

Normally we would have already entered into negotiations, but given the long Idaho legislative session and the lack of financial information, the two sides have agreed to wait until the legislature substantially completes their work.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Quality School

William Glasser, M.D. made the case in his seminal work The Quality School that one of the major reasons why so few students are involved in high-quality honors or advanced-placement classes is that schools historically use boss management. Students, just like teachers and other adults, have a quality world where they place things that are important to them. A student may place a specific teacher or subject in his quality world. Once this occurs, he will be intrinsically motivated to excel in that subject or for that teacher. This is what Glasser calls Control Theory.

No human is unmotivated. Boss-teachers and administrators might lament that students are not motivated but what they are really saying is that they do not know how to persuade students to work. And as long as they believe in coercion, they never will. It is always what we want at the time the causes our behavior. If keeping quiet is in the student's best interest, he will do so.

Managers can count on coercion to achieve only the simplest tasks. The same goes for reward. It isn't the reward that motivates; it is the individuals perception of how much he wants the reward that determines his behavior. What happens to us from outside has a lot to do with what we choose to do, but the outside event does not cause our behavior.

Lead-managers and lead-teachers prefer to give the workers or students the kind of information that will persuade them to do as they are directed because it is as much or more to their benefit as it is to the teacher's. Students will do things for a teacher they like and care about that they would never do for a teacher they do not care about.

Why are some students so motivated in their extra-curricular (sports, music, drama, etc.) activities? Students will tell you they feel important in these activities. Ask them and they will tell you that in these situations where they work together as a group or on a team, they work harder and accomplish more because they help each other and have more fun. This same type of work ethic can occur in academic classes as well, when students are actively engaged in their learning in a supportive and enjoyable environment.

It is not always easy to conduct school business in this fashion. Sometimes we do not have enough time or outside interests or pressure dictate what we must do, but the more we can help each student to place school into his quality world, the more effective we will be and the more the student will derive from his education.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Life of a school building

In addition to teaching School Finance and Advanced School Finance classes at the University of Idaho, I have also had the privilege to teach the School Facilities course. While doing research in preparation for that course, I discovered that the average life span of a school building is 42 years. That is a national statistic. Had it been an Idaho statistic it would more likely be much higher.

The original three-story portion of the Genesee School was built in 1912. It was added onto in 1938 (old gym, now MPR), 1966 (gym and classrooms) and the current addition in 2008. The agriculture shop was built in the mid-fifties and connected to the existing 1938 portion several decades later.

The 1912 and 1938 portions of the facility were remodeled at least once prior to the extensive remodel we completed in 1998. In addition to some reconfiguration to increase instructional space, the remodel also provided necessary health and safety modifications. The 1912 portion of the school received the most extensive remodeling (85%) while the 1938 portion saw a fifty percent remodel effort. Energy efficient lighting and mechanical updates were installed district-wide including the 1966 portion of the school. It is anticipated that these updates will extend the useful life of the school at least twenty-five additional years.

It is not unusual in Idaho for a school building to be used for 90-100 years. Genesee residents are justifiably proud of the quality school facilities available for their children. Routine maintenance is required to insure the investment the community has made in their school. Idaho requires that districts expend 2% of the value of their facilities on maintenance annually. This is at the low end of the national recommendation for maintenance which is 2-4% of the value of the buildings.

Deferring maintenance is a hazardous enterprise. The Genesee School had a large backlog of maintenance issues which led to the extensive remodeling effort in the late 90's. There is legislation pending that would allow Districts to defer maintenance until the current economic crisis passes. I have not been in support of this legislation because I feel this is short-sighted and will lead to increased costs down the road. If maintenance is deferred too long it can jeopardize the health and safety of our students. This is precisely what caused the on-going court struggle between the Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity and the Idaho Legislature. Genesee has been a plaintiff in this case for nearly twenty years. Currently the case is being appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Education of our children is an investment in the future. Some have argued that brick and mortar schools are a thing of the past and we should be investing in online technology rather than spending money on facilities. In the meantime, we will protect your investment in your school facility to insure that your children attend school in a safe environment that is conducive to learning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cyber Bullying

Bullying has unfortunately always been a reality for some school children. Bullies have always existed and school personnel are always on the lookout to prevent bullying. Now bullies have a new way to prey on their victims - cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is using technology to threaten, insult, or harass. Cell phones and the Internet allow for aggressive expression toward others that doesn't rely on physical strength or even physical contact. Students who cyber bully can quickly and aggressively spread rumors, threats, hate mail, or embarrassing photos through text messages, emails and instant messages.

It is all too easy for bullies to remain anonymous. It is much easier for those who cyber bully to harass when they are able to hide their identities with false screen names or temporary email addresses. A recent study found that 42% of the student respondents had been bullies online, and one in four more than once. 35% indicated they had been threatened online with nearly one in five having been threatened more than once. 53% admit to having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. These statistics point to the insidious misuse of these technologies.

The Genesee School District passed Policy 310.17 - electronic communication devices to provide an avenue to deal with misuse of cell phones and other electronic communication devices. Existing policies regarding harassment and bullying have been in place for some time. The District has no tolerance for bullying of any kind. Students, or parents of students, who feel they have been subject to bullying or harassment at school should contact the Principal and complete the Harassment Reporting Form available on our web site.

Parents can help their children to use new technologies appropriately by talking about Internet safety:
  • not giving out personal information
  • not responding to suggestive, threatening and belligerent messages, and
  • not clicking on links in email from people they do not know
Also explain cyber bullying and what your child can do to prevent it. Consider including the following:
  • do not respond to or forward emails and messages that are mean or spread rumors
  • don't open emails or messages from someone they know bullies others
  • block messages from anyone who cyber bullies
  • save or print all bullying messages
  • show the messages to an adult they trust - like a parent or teacher - and ask for help
  • never arrange to meet someone who bullies them online
The District response to all cyber bullying is:
  • teach lessons to educate students about cyber bullying
  • respond quickly and sensitively to cyber bullying reports
  • take seriously families' concerns about cyber bullying
  • look into all report cyber bullying incidents

Monday, March 23, 2009

Current construction projects around the District

After completing the Genesee School addition, the District had slightly less than $400,000 remaining in the construction account. These funds may only legally be used for capital expenditures as identified on the ballot for the bond issue. These funds are not available for general fund expenditures.

The staff prepared a listing of potential projects for the Board of Trustees. The Board narrowed this list to the highest priority items. The first project undertaken was a re-roof of the agriculture shop and classroom building. Rather than just re-roofing the structure as it existed, the slope of the building was changed so that all of the flow of water is to the north where it can be collected and moved away from the building. Earlier, during the construction of the addition, the District decided to stabilize and lift the shop to as close to its original floor level as possible. The re-roofing will provide energy efficiency and the new rubber roof will prevent the infiltration of water which has been a problem for several decades.

The next construction project for the District is to remodel the existing bus garage and shop. We are fortunate to be able to park all of our school buses inside which protects them from the elements and vandalism. Unfortunately, newer buses are taller than existing buses and will no longer fit inside of the parking garage. Our plans for the garage include enlarging the width and height of the existing doors to better accommodate all of the buses.

The bus repair shop, built in 1905, also does not allow the newer buses to fit inside. Even some of the existing buses are tall enough that we cannot lift them in order to complete repair work. It was determined it would be better to replace the existing shop rather than try to modify the existing structure and make it taller. We are currently in the design phase of for the shop which will occupy the identical footprint of the current shop.

We are excited to proceed at this time with this project because we anticipate very competitive bids for this work given the current state of the economy. There is a short list of other projects that may be undertaken after the bus garage and shop remodel have been completed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

School District Insurance Program

The Genesee School District has an extensive insurance program to protect the patron's investment in their educational system. We do not provide insurance for students. It is a parental responsibility to provide accident insurance for individual students. The school offers voluntary student accident coverage through an independent agent. Brochures describing this coverage are available annually to students and parents.

The District does purchase the following types of insurance: property, equipment breakdown, crime, general liability, abuse and molestation, educators legal liability, and vehicle coverage. The cost of our current insurance policy was $28,053. Each spring, the District solicits bids for insurance coverage. Our current agent is the Fred A. Moreton Company in Boise and our policy is offered through the Idaho School Boards Association.

When non-school groups or organizations use school facilities we ask that the group provide comparable insurance coverage to protect the interests of the District. This requirement can be waived for some community groups depending on the activity.

The District has a risk management program in place to reduce or eliminate problems before they occur and thus hold down the cost of insurance. These include health and safety inspections and training for staff and students, as needed. Our agent sends risk management specialists to visit the school annually and provide help and support to us.

When you consider the wide variety of activities that occur in a school and the number of individuals involved, having a high quality insurance program in place is an important facet of operating a school district.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hot Lunch Program

The Genesee School hot lunch program is operated under guidelines from the Idaho Department of Education and the United States Department of Agriculture. School districts must comply with numerous rules and regulations in order to participate in child nutrition programs. In addition to complying with health department regulations, just as a restaurant must, school food service programs must meet nutritional guidelines set by law.

The federal reimbursement to school districts for serving a lunch is
$ .24 for full-price lunches, $2.17 for reduced lunches and $2.57 for free lunches. Students who qualify for reduced lunch pay $ .40. Elementary students pay $2.45 while secondary students pay $2.75. There is no federal reimbursement for adults who pay $3.45. The Genesee School has 14.3% of its students receiving free and/or reduced lunches.

The current cost of serving one lunch is $3.54. We are currently losing $ .71 per meal. This is not a new phenomenon. We have been losing money in our food service programs during nineteen of the past twenty years. School lunch programs are supposed to break even. We have reduced labor 46%, we have analyzed and refined the menu, we have worked hard to change the atmosphere in the cafeteria and yet we still continue to lose money.

During the time we have taken these steps, we have seen food prices continue to increase and student enrollment decrease. The participation rate in our food service program is right around 50%. The only way we will ever break even is to increase the participation rate to between 70-80% of all students. Various steps have been taken to achieve this, and we have increased the percentage of participation but decreasing enrollment has mitigated the financial benefits.

We are not alone. Other school districts in Idaho are also experiencing difficulties in breaking even in their child nutrition programs. It is estimated our loss this year will total $22,000 plus an additional $8,000 which must be paid out of the M&O fund for food service employee benefits required by law. The question for the District is how long can we sustain these type of losses in the current economic situation. $30,000 pays for half a classroom teacher.