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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ARRA and federal education funds

The federal stimulus legislation provides a number of pots of federal money that school districts may qualify to receive. The Genesee School District will not qualify for some of those funds because we have made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) as defined by the NCLB legislation (No Child Left Behind). We are also a high socio-economic school district as measured by our free and reduced lunch rate which currently stands at 14.3%. Some of the federal money is targeted to schools who are in school improvement for not making AYP and for school districts that serve primarily poorer students.

The District does stand to receive substantial increases in Title VI-B, Title I-A and Tittle II-D funds. Title VI-B funds are targeted for expenditures in school-age and preschool-age special education. There exists in federal law a requirement that a school maintain its general fund expenditure effort in order to receive the VI-B funds. Essentially this means the District cannot reduce its expenditure of M&O funds that are allocated for special education unless some very narrow and specific criteria occur. We expect to receive additional VI-B funds as part of the stimulus above and beyond what we normally receive in one year, more than double the amount. This is one time money with very specific expenditure guidelines. Most District expenditures of VI-B money are used for salaries and benefits of special education aides, supplies and professional development.

The ARRA also will provide us with additional Title I-A funds. Title I-A is compensatory education. We utilize the money to pay for salaries and benefits of a teacher and a paraprofessional who provide remedial services in reading, language and math. We also expect to receive Title II-D funds which are targeted to be expended in the area of education technology. These funds normally would be used to pay for hardware, software and/or professional development.

We are anxiously awaiting notification of estimated amounts we will receive in the next fiscal year, as well as guidance on how these funds are to be used. Existing federal law and the recently passed ARRA legislation provide that guidance but are both very complex statutes that require extra care to insure that the use of the funds remains transparent. The Idaho Legislature must also authorize the expenditure of these funds before any funding authority is released to the school districts. The Legislature has not provided this authority yet.

There is one exciting benefit for the VI-B funds which does not exist in the legislation for Title I-A or Title II-D. Up to 50% of the new VI-B funds from ARRA can offset current M&O maintenance of effort expenditures. For example, if we receive an additional $60,000 we could move $30,000 of current M&O special education expenditures to VI-B expenditures thereby freeing up $30,000 of M&O funds that can be expended on activities covered by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This will provide a small amount of help in balancing the FY2010 budget.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recess and test scores

A recent study published by the journal Pediatrics showed that children who took a recess of more than 15 minutes per day had better classroom behavior than those who did not. The study looked at 11,000 children ages 8 and 9 and found this daily break from structured learning was just as essential to a child's education as the math, science and reading lessons they received in the classroom.

This is an important study which comes at a time when many schools across the country have eliminated recess or cut physical education so that there would be more time to teach all the reading, writing and arithmetic needed to pass standardized tests. Fortunately, most experts will agree that recess is an integral part of maintaining focus in the classroom.

In the elementary grades, our students have morning and afternoon recess plus an additional recess after lunch. GSD Policy 310.15 - Physical Activity and Physical Education specifically states that all grade 1-6 students will be offered 40-60 minutes a day of supervised recess, preferably outdoors, during which the school should encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity.

According to the Pediatrics study, 30 percent of the group studied was not being given any type of recess throughout the day, which has become more common. In some districts, physical education and recess hours have been downsized to meet increased pressure to raise students' scores on standardized testing.

There is some evidence to suggest that physical activity can have a positive impact on standardized assessment results. There is no question we need to improve student achievement but we need to be careful to look at the whole child when making decisions about the efficient use of time at school.

Monday, March 16, 2009

How employee compensation is determined in the Genesee School District

The District expends 78% of its maintenance and operations funds on salaries and benefits of teachers, classified staff and administrators. That is actually slightly less than the average which ranges from 80-85%.

There are three distinct groupings of employees in the District. The instructional staff includes all certificated professional employees (CPEs) with the exception of the Principal and Superintendent who would be considered administrators. The classified employees include all non-certified employees like bus drivers, secretarial staff, cooks, instructional aides, maintenance, custodial, technology, etc.

The determination of salary differs between the three distinct groups. However, benefits are identical as required by Idaho Code. The District provides a $380 defined contribution toward health insurance for each full time employee per month.

CPEs are paid on a salary schedule that is negotiated annually between the Board of Trustees and the Genesee Education Association. The current salary scheduled is located on the District web site at: A CPE's actual salary is primarily a function of their educational attainment (degrees and additional credit hours) and years of teaching experience. Nationally Board certified teachers receive an additional stipend of $1,000. The standard Idaho contract is for 190 days. There are a few CPE positions which require a longer contract such as the agriculture teacher, librarian and counselor. In this case the teacher would receive 1/190 for each additional day of their contract.

Classified employees have a compensation schedule approved by the Board of Trustees. The District does not conduct labor negotiations with classified employees, but we do "meet and confer" annually to discuss compensation, benefits and other areas of concern. The classified compensation schedule is located at

There are two administrators in the District. The salaries of these employees are determined by the Board of Trustees when each administrator's contract expires. A district is allowed to enter into a two-year contract with principals and a three-year contract with superintendents. As in the case of CPEs, administrators are licensed professionals. While there is no set salary schedule, the Board utilizes comparability studies with surrounding districts to determine the compensation levels for these employees. The Principal is on a 210 day contract and the Superintendent is on a 260 day contract. The Principal earns 9.4% more per day than the highest paid teacher whereas the Superintendent earns 11.3% more per day than the Principal. In the most recently reported State Department financial information, the Genesee District expended $1,081 per ADA for all school and district administration expenses. Only one other similarly sized district (Whitepine) in the area expended less, including those districts who employ half-time district administrators.

It continues to be the philosophy of the School District to recruit and retain the highest quality staff possible. Compensation is one element of maintaining a competent and high quality staff.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"The future belongs to the nation who educates their children"

"The future belongs to the nation who educates their children." This quote from President Obama's speech earlier this week carries significant implications for the United States and the current state of our economy. The current economic crisis has touched nearly everyone in the country and has caused business and government alike to react to diminishing revenue streams. We may long for the "good old days" but, as many economists have suggested, the "good old days" may not have been as good as we think they were and they may not return.

But one thing is for sure. High quality education increases economic wealth through improved productivity. The challenge now is not to attempt to maintain the status-quo but to continue to move forward and provide an even more effective and robust education system even as revenue streams diminish. We need to identify the core of instruction. What skills and knowledge must our graduates possess in the 21st century to successfully compete with peers in India, Japan, China and Germany? How do we restructure education to accomplish this herculean task? How do we prepare students for a world with accelerating rates of change? The risks of not meeting this challenge are enormous for each student and for our state and country.

None of this is easy to accomplish. Fortunately, both public and private institutions have produced volumes of quality, replicable research to help point the way. Sometimes the research contradicts commonly held beliefs developed over time. After all, we all spent many years in school and we know "how it is done." If we are preparing students to work in factories we should utilize a factory model of education; bells, straight rows, similarity of tasks, movement from one unrelated task to another, student workers and boss teachers, etc. But, if we are in a post-industrial age then our education system needs to reflect this change. We need to insure that coming to school is not like visiting a history museum. While I would love to think that educational professionals are so powerful that we can change society, in fact, schools reflect society.

Schools also reflect their community. A community that demands and expects a vibrant, high-quality education system that changes to meet the needs of our students will produce successful graduates. Schools living with success made yesterday will graduate students who will find some career paths closed to them because of a lack of preparation. We are fortunate to live and work in Genesee, an education-minded community that has supported hiring the best staff, providing facilities that are safe and conducive to learning, and electing school trustees who put kids before personal agendas.

As we continue to restructure to meet future challenges your input and help will be needed. Thank you for your support of education.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Lesson in Self Esteem

I would like to relate a powerful story I read the other day regarding teaching our kids who they really are and what makes them special. I will paraphrase this story to shorten it up a bit:

Zack is a 12 year old 7th grade middle school student. At his school there is a clique of 'popular' kids who have begun having parties. Zack, though he is kind, funny, intelligent and warm, has always had a hard time making many friends because of his shyness in social situations. It's hard for him to be social and he's not invited to most parties. Most of the kids hand out tee shirts or sweatshirts as favors at their parties. The Monday following the party, all of the kids who were at the party come to school wearing their new shirts. Zack often comes home many Mondays feeling sad.

Last Saturday, Zack attended a party of a boy whose father does business with Zack's dad which is why he was invited since the boy doesn't really ever talk to Zack. When Monday morning came around, Zack's parents told Zack he wasn't allowed to wear the sweatshirt he had received at the party to school because Zack's parents felt it was important to teach Zack a lesson about compassion. His parents told him that just as his feelings were hurt on many Mondays, other children will be hurting now. And it's also like bragging that Zack went to a popular boy's party. Zack listened but wasn't happy. When Zack came home he said that all the kids who were wearing their sweatshirts made the others feel bad anyway so why couldn't he wear his? Zack's mother told him that regardless of what others did he knew he didn't cause others pain.

Zack's mother felt like this was a character-building experience that he will understand one day but she was unsure. A friend suggested she sit down with Zack and let him know how proud she was of the way he respected the parent's decision, even though it was difficult for him to carry through. Too often we criticize our children but neglect to tell them how proud we are of them. She went on to suggest that the mother explain to Zack that when he feels hurt by others in life, he should always try to remember that feeling so that he never inflicts pain on anyone else. It would be so much easier, of course, to just forget about the other kids who are feeling sad and leave them behind. But then what? You are acting the same way as those who hurt you. The point of going through something is not to grow insensitive, but, rather to grow from the experience and become a kinder, more compassionate human being. That way, you know in your heart of hearts that you have taken the higher road, and that is the greatest road to take in life.

But here is the greatest lesson of all. Ask Zack if these kids are being nice to him and including him only when he wears the "in" sweatshirt, what kind of friends are these? What happens next week, when he's back Monday morning without the right shirt on? Are they back to not including him because he wasn't at the big weekend party? If someone is your friend only for the label on your shirt, is that called a true friend? And then, if you lose the label, do you lose your friends? Do you lose your sense of self? Are you only as good as the shirt on your back? Ask yourself Zack, without this shirt, who am I?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Support Units and School Finance

School funding in Idaho is based on average daily attendance (ADA) of students which is then converted into support units. At Genesee, we receive one support unit for every nineteen elementary ADA, twelve secondary ADA, 14.5 elementary special education ADA and forty kindergarten ADA. In more populous school districts, like Moscow and Lewiston, it takes a higher ADA to gain a support unit. For example it requires 23 ADA if you have more than 300 elementary students. The discrepancy is a recognition that it costs more per student to educate students in a smaller school than a larger one.

Support units are important because they are used to generate two pots of money we receive from the state. The largest pot is for salaries and benefits. We are allocated 1.1 teachers per support unit, .075 administrators per unit and .375 classified staff per unit. In addition, a district with fewer than 40 units receives an additional .5 administrator and .5 teacher. If a district has fewer than 20 units it receives another .5 teacher. This year Genesee generated 19.6 units however we are in "protected status" which means that we cannot have less than 99% of the units we had the prior year which provides districts with declining enrollment one additional year to adjust to the reduced ADA. So this year we have 20.2 units which generates 22.72 teachers, 2.015 administrators, and 7.575 classified staff. All of these numbers are expressed as full-time equivalents. Using this information, coupled with the experience and education of the instructional and administrative staff, a salary and benefit allocation is provided to the District.

The other pot of money is for discretionary expenditures (supplies, maintenance, utilities, equipment, textbooks, etc.). The District should receive $25,696 per support unit for these other expenditures assuming that the enrollment statewide does exceed the projected enrollment. If it does, then every support unit would generate a lesser amount of funding.

There is other funding which comes from the state which is not related to support units such as transportation reimbursement which is received the year following the actual expenditures and is reimbursed at a rate of 85% of allowable costs. Other state support is related to ADA but not support units. This includes a textbook allowance, classroom supply money, and technology.

The state covers 79% of all general education expenditures in the Genesee School District. Each May I provide a presentation at school to explain the budgeting process and state funding which supports the budget. I encourage all interested persons to attend this meeting.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Genesee Preschool

The Genesee School District preschool is a tuition-based preschool operated as a service to the community. What began as a grant-funded program in 1992 transitioned to its current format in 1994 following the completion of the grant.

Idaho does not fund regular education preschool programs. Interestingly, it is against the State Board of Education rules to use state funds for a regular education preschool and it is also against the rules to transport regular preschool children on yellow school buses. In spite of these issues, the community has supported our preschool. Meeting three afternoons each week, the preschool follows an approved early childhood education curriculum to prepare students to successfully enter kindergarten both academically and socially. The preschool is taught by a certified and highly qualified teacher - Mrs. Gehring.

The District charges $125 per month for preschool tuition. Our attempt is to run this program at break-even. Currently we are not covering all the costs with tuition, but the benefits of having well-prepared students is an investment that benefits both the students and the District. It benefits the District by reducing future costs of remedial and/or special education. Numerous individuals have questioned why we cannot run this preschool entirely using grant funds. That is a excellent question. The answer is simply that grants are targeted at specific populations. The vast majority of preschool grants target low-income, minority students neither of which Genesee has in great numbers. Further, grants are generally intended to offer "seed" money to start programs with the entity eventually taking full fiscal responsibility.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Educational Assessments

Our students take a number of educational assessments during their public school education. There are a variety of purposes for each assessment. Some, like locally developed teacher-made tests, determine if the student has acquired the knowledge and skills being taught in the classroom. These serve to inform the teacher not only if the student has learned the material but also how well the teacher is getting the material across to all students.

Genesee School also utilizes curriculum-based measures in grades 1-6 to provide a quick method of measuring student progress in basic skills. These measures are utilized to make sure students are performing at grade-level or above and, if not, to insure that the student receives additional support as needed.

Idaho has a number of assessments required for students including the Idaho Standards Achievement Test. This assessment, a requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, measures student improvement in reading, language usage, math and science. Idaho also requires the Direct Writing and Math Assessments. These are performance-based assessments designed to track student writing and math problem-solving ability. One other state assessment currently in use in grades k-3 is the Idaho reading Indicator. This short assessment given three times per year is another attempt to measure student reading progress in the early grades and provide additional support for any student not reading at or near grade level.

With all of these assessments is there any time left to learn? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. The state testing program requires from .12% to 1.46% of total instructional time for the year depending on grade level. The information gleaned from these assessments, when carefully analyzed, can provide useful information on student progress and development and, most importantly, can help the teacher tailor the educational program to student needs.

There is no question that these tests only sample a small proportion of what is learned in school. If we only focused on this thin slice of knowledge and skills, we would be missing other important vital components of every student's education. Some knowledge is easier to assess with pencil and paper tests or online testing. Many other methods of assessing student performance are used every day in every classroom; some formal and some informal.

Most assessment results are reported to parents regularly. If you have a specific question or concern about any test your student has taken or will take, please feel free to contact your child's teacher for additional information.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Math Education

Is it true that the United States lags behind other developed nations in the performance of our students in math? Yes. Even the top 15-year old U.S. students ranked 24th in math compared to the top internationally. On the International Student Achievement Exam (PISA), the U.S. ranked 28th while our neighbors to the north, Canada, ranked 6th.

What is going right for Canada? They use problem solving based math programs with an emphasis on professional development for their teachers. Conceptual understanding is also emphasized. What is going wrong for the U.S.? Often the focus is on procedural knowledge and computation without conceptual understanding. U.S. students are given fewer opportunities for problem solving and there is less emphasis on professional development. Math standards in Canada emphasize student's communicating their thinking, investigating rich problems and making generalizations. Traditionally in the U.S., the focus has been on using symbols, memorizing, procedures and quick thinking.

So what is the status of math education in Idaho and Genesee? Idaho has implemented the Idaho Math Initiative which parallels the very successful Idaho Reading Initiative. The IMI has a large professional development component with statewide classes for teachers to provide the background knowledge to successfully implement a rigorous math education for all students. The first wave of Genesee teachers will be taking these classes this summer.

In addition to professional development school districts, including Genesee, are in the process of reviewing research-based math curriculum which emphasizes the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM) national standards. The regional math consultant is meeting with our staff on March 12 to provide an overview of the IMI and background information regarding the process of curriculum material adoption. To provide a more thorough review, Genesee has chosen to take the next twelve months to review relevant research and select appropriate curriculum to present to the Trustees for adoption. The Board set up a math curriculum committee, which includes parents and staff, to make the final recommendations.

Since advanced math courses are the biggest predictor of college success, they can help the U.S. catch up on educational attainment as well. Taking advanced math courses in high school significantly improves student performance in college math and science courses. The Genesee School District graduation policy requires more math than the state minimum. Students graduating with the class of 2013 and beyond will also need to pass Algebra I and Geometry. Students may not enter ninth grade without having taken Pre-Algebra. In order to insure student success, our elementary and middle school curriculum will be reviewed for adequate rigor. Our goal is to increase the number of students successfully completing Algebra II, Trigonometry and Calculus.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

School Attendance

It is the philosophy of the School District that students need to be in attendance to benefit from the instruction provided. Regular attendance enhances learning and develops skills which relate to future educational and occupational success. When employers contact administrators for references on former students, they universally ask about attendance patterns. But there is much more to attendance than meets the eye...

Idaho defines school age as "all persons between the ages of 5 and 21... The age of five years shall be attained when the fifth anniversary of birth occurs before the first day of September of the school year the child is to enroll in kindergarten." (Idaho Code 33-201). In addition to identifying when students can begin public school, Idaho has a compulsory attendance law which states that parents or guardians of any child between the ages of 7 and 16 shall cause the child to be instructed in subjects commonly and usually taught in the public schools.

This education can occur in public, private, or parochial schools or through home study. While there is virtually no state regulation of home schooled students, our District has several policies relating to the transition of these students into the public school and dual enrollment of non-traditional students. See GSD Policies 320.8 and 430.9.

When parents or guardians of school age children choose to enroll them into the public school, they fall under local policy which identifies a ninety percent attendance requirement (Policy 440.2). Students are allowed to miss ten percent of the time school is in session. This is nine days for secondary students each semester and eighteen days annually for elementary students. The only days NOT counted in calculating attendance include: school-sponsored activities and field trips, bereavement in the immediate family, subpoenas to appear in court, and illness or hospitalization verified by a physician. Exceeding the allowable absences may put a student in jeopardy of moving to the next grade level and, in the case of secondary students, earning credit toward graduation.

Interestingly, attendance also factors into the funding of the local school district. The funding formula for Idaho schools is based on average daily attendance not enrollment. We must provide facilities, instruction and materials for every student enrolled, yet we are only given funding for those who attend. Generally, we have a very high attendance rate in Genesee which hovers around 95%. Even a one percent increase would provide an additional $23,000 of state funding to the District.

Very few students would ever have 100% attendance. They get sick and they should stay home to get better and protect other students. They may have a medical or dental appointment that cannot be scheduled outside of school hours and other legitimate reasons. Encouraging your student to be successful in school through regular attendance will allow him or her to develop a positive attitude toward life-long learning.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Board Meetings and Community Participation

Regular monthly meetings of the Genesee School District Board of Trustees are always open to the public and each agenda has an opportunity for public input. Agendas are always posted at the post office, City office and on the door at the school by the district office. Further, an agenda is always posted on our web site. This is so interested persons know what business the trustees intend to discuss and possibly take action upon.

A parent, patron or student who would like to address the trustees may either contact the superintendent ahead of time and be placed on the agenda as a scheduled visitor or s/he may opt to address the Board under the unscheduled visitor portion of the meeting.

Both of these opportunities have been provided specifically to solicit input on agenda items or even non-agenda items. A Board meeting is technically a meeting held in public, not a public meeting. This means that the Board's business is conducted in the open but it is their meeting and it is not open to general participation by visitors. Anyone wanting to address the Board should be prepared to do so as a scheduled or unscheduled visitor. There may be times when the Chairman allows a visitor to speak at other times, but this is not generally the case. Once the visitor input portion of the agenda is over, the trustees will proceed to discuss and act upon unfinished and/or new business. They cannot act upon new items that have been brought forward by visitors.

The Trustees have developed policy regarding public participation (see Policy 140.15 - Participation by Patrons). This policy outlines the steps an individual should take to have his or her concerns addressed. The Board will never discuss personnel issues in open session. The Board can meet in closed session, under specific circumstances as outlined in Idaho Code 67-2345, but they cannot take any action except as provided by law. The meeting procedures are outlined in Genesee School District Policy 140.3 - Board Meetings.

The draft minutes of all Board meetings are posted on the District web site for two months or are available at the District office. Minutes do not become official until they approved at the next regularly scheduled board meeting.

This is your school district. Public participation is an important and vital ingredient to the success of the operation of the District. Your are always encouraged to contact your child's teacher or an administrator if you have day-to-day concerns. While you may call a trustee and they will listen to your concern, trustees have no legal authority except when they meet as a board.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Staffing a School

The most important controllable factor leading to increased student achievement is the quality of the teaching staff. This is not to say that the support staff members (instructional aides, cooks, custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, technology directors, etc.) are not vital to the proper functioning of the school or that the administration doesn't play a vital role in the overall success of the school operation, but research has proven time and again that teacher quality is paramount in improving achievement.

So how does the administration (Principal and Superintendent, in our case) staff the school with high quality teachers?

Certainly the recruitment and selection process for new teachers is one way. Unfortunately this has become more and more difficult during the past fifteen years. As more opportunities have opened up for women and minorities, as teacher pay has not kept pace with other professions and as the respect teachers once had has withered under intense political criticism, the pool of high quality candidates has shrunk. We are fortunate in Genesee to be within a 25 mile radius of three colleges or universities which enhances our pool of available teachers, but even this factor will not guarantee our ability to hire the top of the class. In the mid-1990's we averaged 150 applications for every elementary position advertised. Now we are lucky to receive twenty. For some hard to fill positions, we might get two or three applications. Hiring the best and brightest will continue to pose a challenge for the district as the "baby boomers" retire from the profession.

Retention of the teaching staff is another important factor in putting a quality teacher at the head of each classroom. Once we hire a quality teacher, we need to retain his or her services for as long as possible. Providing professional development opportunities here or at professional training and conferences out of the District is one way to not only retain quality staff members; it also directly benefits students. Teachers need adequate time to plan individually and with their colleagues in order to provide quality service to students and for professional satisfaction. Giving teachers the opportunity to impact the educational process can enhance job satisfaction.

The mechanics of determining the number of teachers needed to carry out the educational program is a function of many factors including curriculum, class size, training and qualifications, and finance. When do we split an elementary class? While it might be intuitive that a smaller class size would improve student achievement, the research does not bear this out. Certainly there are limits and guidelines; factors which the administration and Board take into account. In most cases, the teacher/student ratio in all classes in Genesee is smaller than it would be in districts like Moscow or Lewiston. Idaho pays for 1.1 certified professional staff member per support unit. A support unit is 19 students at the elementary level and 12 students at the secondary level (based on attendance, not enrollment). This provides for classroom teachers, ancillary staff, counselors, specialists, librarians, etc. Genesee has chosen to hire additional staff which has been supported through the supplemental levy election.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires districts to employ Highly Qualified Teachers in all core subject areas. This poses an interesting challenge because Idaho's licensing requirements and NCLB regulations differ. I am happy to report that all of our teachers meet or exceed both the state and federal regulations for the classes they are assigned to teach.

We have a significant number of Nationally Board Certified teachers and several more working on this designation this year. National Board Certification is a highly structured, time consuming process that benefits both the professional educator and the students he or she teaches. The District supports teachers who choose to work on this level of certification.

We will continue to staff our classrooms with the highest quality individuals we can. We will continue to supervise and evaluate our staff to help them become the best they can be for the benefit of the students we serve. If ever you have a specific concern or question regarding your child's education, please contact the teacher directly. If you continue to have concerns, contact the Principal.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Why Pay for Activities?

During times of falling revenues, people often suggest eliminating extra-curricular activities to save money. Certainly it is reasonable to put everything on the table for discussion. And when cuts are necessary to balance the budget, school officials need to review all programs to insure that core educational goals can be achieved. So what conceivable educational values are there in extra-curricular activities? Why do schools expend taxpayer dollars to pay for programs like sports, music, drama, and other activities?

Extra-curricular programs are an integral part of the educational program. That is not to say that a specific program is necessarily integral, but that the benefits to be derived from participation in extra-curricular activities helps the school achieve its mission.

In my last post I touched on the importance of developing 21st century learning skills in order to successfully compete in a global economy. Many of these important skills are fostered in extra-curricular programs, such as developing leadership skills, working collaboratively in small groups, making appropriate health-related decisions, solving problems, working effectively in a climate of ambiguity and changing priorities, showing initiative, working appropriately and productively with others, meeting high standards and encouraging and guiding others.

It is not that these skills cannot be taught and fostered in traditional academic courses. They are. Extra-curricular activities provide a highly motivating environment to help students refine these skills. And, in the case of many extra-curricular programs, like music and athletics, students are performing these skills in a "real world" environment that puts additional pressure on them to strive for excellence; a quality that we certainly hope to foster in all of our students.

Does it work? Is the expense worth it? Yes. Research has demonstrated time and again, that students who participate in extra-curricular activities maintain higher grades in their academic coursework than do their peers who do not participate. Many accomplished individuals will point to the skills they learned in sports, FFA, BPA, music, drama, etc. as an integral part of their success.

Does society often get caught up in the competition and forget about the values that should be learned? Often yes, but let's not compare college and professionals with public school students. The goal of education-based activities is not to develop professional athletes and musicians, although if a student chooses to pursue such a goal we would not stand in his or her way, but to develop well-rounded, contributing members of our democracy.