Friday, February 27, 2009

Vision 21

Vision 21 is an exciting initiative being carried out by the secondary teaching staff to incorporate 21st century learning skills into the educational process in our school. In November 2007, the Board of Trustees had the opportunity to listen to a presentation from the New Technology High School Foundation at the annual school board convention in Coeur d'Alene. The trustees were motivated to bring a similar program into our district. Last spring, a group of eight local educators visited the New Technology High School in Napa, California and were given the opportunity to learn how NTHS has enhanced student learning and student responsibility.

The returning staff members were equally excited by the prospect of incorporating these changes into their practice and took the initiative to inform the other teachers and begin working on the integration of these ideas into the school culture and academic programs. You may know that we no longer use bells at school. Using synchronized clocks, students are responsible to be in class on time. Tardies can negatively effect a student's grade just as being late to work could impact future prospects for employment. Tardies have been greatly reduced.

The secondary students and staff have been divided into cross-grade groups and several events have been developed, some by staff and some by students, which help students to work cooperatively in groups, learn leadership skills and give back to their school and community.

One of the critical pieces of the NTHS curriculum is project-based learning (PBL). PBL is a method of instruction that utilizes students working in small groups with specific responsibilities for completing the work or activity. Generally a project will incorporate numerous skills over time, may be cross-curricular (i.e., language arts and history or math and language arts) and includes a public presentation at the conclusion. Students learn to lead, work cooperatively, develop individual responsibility for their learning, communicate their ideas to others and many other important 21st century skills. Several teachers have been working hard to integrate PBL into their classes. Next year, using federal Title II funding, the district will provide a professional development opportunity on using PBL in the classroom.

Another important tool used by NTHS is a student database software program which allows teachers to create grading systems that effectively assess student progress in these 21st century learning skills. Further, this software allows students, teachers and parents to access curriculum and assessment information and readily communicate electronically with one another. A committee has reviewed six software packages to replace our current student database software which will be obsolete at the end of this school year.

If you are not familiar with the 21st century learning skills, please see Genesee School District Policy 300.2 which can be accessed on our web site at:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Four-day School Week

As school districts look at ways to save money without negatively impacting student achievement, many districts are looking at the four-day school week. Your school board has been discussing this option for several months and will continue to do so.

This is not a new concept. As a response to the energy crisis of the 1970's, districts in New Mexico began shifting to a four-day school week. There are 14 districts and two charter schools in Idaho on four-day weeks and many in Oregon, Colorado and other western states. Most schools that use the four-day week take either Friday or Monday off and lengthen the other four days.

How is it possible to do this? In Idaho, we are required to hold school for a certain number of instructional hours, not days. Thus it is not necessary to attend school 180 days. This allows us to organize our schedule differently. Right now our secondary students attend 1,068 hours of instruction while elementary students have 996 hours of instruction. This is exclusive of lunch, recess, etc. If a school had school 4 days per week for 36 weeks, students would be attending 144 days. This would require lengthening the school day to accommodate a similar number of hours of instruction in a year.

There would be no early release days. Teachers would be expected to work on two off days per month which would provide the opportunity for high quality professional development and collaboration. As much as feasible, away activities would be moved to Thursday nights, Fridays and Saturdays to preserve instructional and homework time. Students and staff would be encouraged to make medical appointments on the off day to minimize absences.

So how does a four-day school week save money? On the expense side of the ledger, there are reduced costs for classified salary and benefits, fewer bus miles are traveled to bring students to and from school, utility costs might be reduced and substitute expenses are generally reduced. On the revenue side, most school districts have seen an increase in student average daily attendance which is the most important factor in state funding. Staff absences are also generally reduced as well. It is difficult to predict the exact financial benefit to our district because the attendance improvement is an unknown factor, however, on the average, school districts save about 2% of the maintenance and operations expenses.

Are there benefits beyond financial? Yes, decreased drop out rates, fewer disciplinary referrals, stable student achievement, improved attendance, less interrupted class time, improved school morale, and higher quality staff development are reported by most schools that have switched.

What about the negatives? Usually parents are concerned about child care, however many parents indicate it is often easier to find full day day care than after school care. Also having four longer school days often eliminates the "latchkey" issue. Some have expressed concerns that it would impact student achievement, but most schools have actually increased their student achievement although there are too many variables involved to know for sure. Younger students might have a hard time adjusting to being in school for such a long day however districts that have gone to the four-day week report that even young students adapt after a few weeks.

Most school districts and their patrons that have transitioned to the four-day week indicate that they would never return to the traditional schedule. This includes the Orofino School District to our east, Challis School District in the south and Boundary County Schools up north. It may or may not be the best fit for Genesee, but it is part of the on-going discussion of how the District will respond to the current financial crunch while maintaining the highest quality education services possible for our clients.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Development of the District Budget

A school district budget is prepared annually and approved by the Board of Trustees after holding a public hearing, usually in June. Many patrons have expressed surprise that we do not know how much money we will be receiving from the state yet. In prior years, we have known our state funding by mid-March. This year it will likely be in April because of the federal stimulus.

The primary factor which affects our funding is student attendance. Since we can only estimate what our enrollment and attendance might be, based on historical trends, we really do not know how much state funding we will receive until February 15 of the following year. That is the date that the Department of Education fixes the support units for staffing purposes which drives the majority of our funds. In other words, we will know on February 15, 2010 how accurately we budgeted in the spring of 2009. In fact, the February 15 numbers only account for about 85% of our state funding. The remaining 15% we will not know for sure until June 2010; the end of our fiscal year.

Our enrollment has been decreasing which makes budgeting even more challenging. This fiscal year we have been “held harmless” by a law which says a school district cannot receive less that 99% of the funds they received the prior year. This law helps a district to adapt to decreasing enrollment. Certified professional employees are under contracts which must be signed in the prior spring. This law helps districts through the current year and allows them to adjust their staffing and budget to reflect the enrollment the following year.

85% of a school district’s expenses are related to salary and benefits. We are in the “people” business. The remaining 15% includes supplies, textbooks, maintenance, custodial, transportation, purchase services, equipment, utilities, etc. It is very difficult to significantly reduce a school district budget without impacting personnel.

While all of the above is the reality, the budget document is really a blueprint for the quality of educational programming a district intends to provide for its clients. Without a doubt, the budget drives the education program. If the patrons believe that the funding provided by the state is inadequate to support the quality education program they desire, a district’s only alternative is to request additional local funding through a supplemental levy election.

One of the primary responsibilities of the elected trustees is to shape and approve the budget. Last year, the Board made some program cuts to reflect decreasing enrollment and decreasing state funding. This is never an easy process because there will always be support in some corner for every program the District provides. This year, the Board began the process early. The Board solicited input from the instructional staff and the extra-curricular staff in two public meetings this month. On March 23, the Board will be listening to patron input. Patrons can find cut “ideas” on the web site. Please understand these are ideas for discussion and no specific cuts have been identified yet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

District to receive federal money from stimulus package

According to information posted by the State Superintendent, the Genesee School District is estimated to receive $20,000 additional federal funds for Title I-A (compensatory education) and $60,000 additional funds for Title VI-B (special education).

Any other federal stimulus funds would flow through the state, not directly to the District, and would impact the state funding formula. The best guess of how that money might be used, should the Governor choose to initiate a block grant request to the federal government, would be to mitigate the hold backs this fiscal year and the remainder would be spread over the next two fiscal years. It is anticipated there will be reductions of at least $70 million statewide next school year even with the stimulus money.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Kelly Caldwell hired as new Principal

The Board of Trustees approved the hiring of long-term Genesee educator Kelly Caldwell to fill the principal position being vacated by Mrs. Stowers after she retires this summer.

Mr. Caldwell received a B.A. in Music Education and an M.Ed. in School Administration from the University of Idaho. He has taught K-12 music in Genesee for 17 years. His accomplishments as a music teacher are well known locally and throughout the State of Idaho. Mr. Caldwell has served as President of the Idaho Music Educators, a board member on the IHSAA and District Music President. He has been the athletic director at Genesee as well as holding several coaching positions. He was named 1A Athletic Director of the Year in 2007.

FY2010 Budget

Normally at this time of the year we are heavily involved in the budgeting process for the next school year. While we know that the economy and state revenues are not doing well, the unknown factor remains the federal stimulus package and it's potential effect on the Idaho education budget for FY2010. Until the Idaho Legislature determines the impact of the stimulus, assuming the Governor requests the money, they will not set the K-12 public school budget. It is anticipated that the education budget will be the last one set; probably in April.

The latest news we have is that the FY2010 education budget will be $70 million lower than FY2009 even with the stimulus package. However, this information seems to change daily.

Keep posted for updates.

News and Views from the Superintendent

I have created this blog to keep patrons, students, and other interested persons informed about important activities regarding the Genesee Jt. School District 282. While the District publishes a monthly newsletter, there are many important news items that occur in the interim. This format will allow interested persons to stay up-to-date with their school district.