Thursday, December 13, 2018

Locker Rooms During Games

Q:   Why didn’t the visiting girl’s basketball team use the high school boy’s locker room for a recent game at Stephenson?  -Community Member-

A: Thanks for the question.  I am able to respond.

During the past three seasons we have made some adjustments in where we have visiting teams and officials dress for athletic contests at Stephenson Area Public Schools.  It is our goal to have the safest and most private facilities to our visiting teams and officials to gather and prepare for the contest. 

We want the dressing area to be as private as possible for our visitor teams and officials.  When visiting girl’s teams use our boy’s locker rooms or visiting boy’s teams use our girl’s locker rooms, we run the risk of unintended exposure.  We have been blessed in Stephenson with facilities that allow for more privacy and less potential exposure than most schools in the area.  Why not utilize the facilities we have and make the experience at Stephenson Area Public Schools as positive as possible for visiting teams, officials and our own students? 

Our recent visitors dressed in the MPR locker room prior to and after the game but, chose not to return to the locker room for half-time.  Our officials dressed in the coach’s office of the boys’ locker room.

Thanks for the question.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Class Size

Q:  There is a lot of concern in the community regarding class size.  Can you tell us what the educational community considers adequate class sizes?  Also what resources are available to teachers if they are struggling to cope with the demands of larger classes?  And finally, as a parent, if we have concerns about how our child is coping with the commotion in the classroom how should we bring those concerns to the school staff?    -Community Member-

A: I can respond to this set of questions:
Let’s start with the last question in this set of questions:  

As a parent, if we have concerns about how our child is coping with the commotion in the classroom, how would we bring those concerns to the school staff?

I am not sure what you mean by commotion in the classroom.  We are developing active engaged learning.  There needs to be movement, collaboration and meaningful group activity that will promote team work as part of learning.  When I went to school, we often had what is referred to as “Cemetery Education.” Line student up in rows, give them busy work and expect them to remain quiet while we answered the questions at the end of the chapter.  “Cemetery Education” is not acceptable today and should not have been acceptable 40 years ago.  There is going to be talking and moving about in today’s educational setting. Many employers want students that can work collaboratively as a team, learning how to agree and how to disagree and problem solve together.  We are preparing students to be productive team members in society. “Active Engaged Learning” is what we are after.

If a parent has questions regarding a specific classroom, please start with a face to face conversation with the teacher.  If you do not get your question answered, please contact the principal or assistant principal.  The final step to get your question being answered is in a meeting with the Superintendent.

What resources are available to teachers if they are struggling to cope with the demands of larger classes?

Instructional strategies have been a big part of the “professional development” our teaching staff has led and participated in over the past three years.  I understand from conversations that the middle school and high school worked on some of these strategies during the PLA a number of years ago.  We had an instructional coach last year who spent part of her day working with fellow teachers on instructional strategies.  The former instructional coach is now our principal.  I know she has worked with our teaching staff and has gone into classes and modeled different strategies for and with them.  We have other teachers that have led “professional development” and have modeled strategies for peers.  The vast majority of the classrooms I am in are doing activities in shared pairs, elbow partners or collaborative groups.  I know that our principal, assistant principal and teachers have worked through some situations this year.  I have been kept abreast of these situations and it is my understanding that the teacher (s) and building administrators are fine with where we are at currently.  At the end of our professional development days, teachers complete a survey pertaining to the activities of the day.  They are afforded the opportunity to make suggestions regarding future topics for “professional development days.”

Can you tell us what the educational community considers adequate class sizes?

I believe if each individual staff member were asked this question; the answer would be different from each staff member.  I believe that many staff members would say that the number may not be as important as the academic and social emotional intelligence of the individual students and students as a group.  I believe they would say the culture and cooperation of the students and parents is more important than simply a specific number of students.
The contact between the Stephenson Area Public Schools and the Certified Staff in Article VII Letters A, B and C outline “whenever possible” in regards to class size.  The teachers, negotiating team and the union fully understand what the term, “whenever possible” means.  Article VII Letters A, B and C were negotiated in good faith.  This section was adjusted two years ago and I believe that contract passed unanimously.

I would like to see class sizes be as small as possible but not at the risk of the district being unstable financially.  We also need to make sure we have sufficient revenue to be able to provide for Professional Development, Technology and the proper administration to provide the coaching of staff so their skill sets can continue to grow in a positive direction. 

More important than my opinion on the class size topic I would suggest that we look at what research and other professional organizations say.  I would caution that we reflect on data and not on a person or groups opinion.  I am attaching research done by “Hattie.”  The document is titled, “Hattie’s 2017 Updated List of Factors Influencing Student Achievement.”  I am also attaching an article from Education Weeks blogs by Peter DeWitt titled “Finding Common Ground.”

In Peter Dewitt’s article he quoted class size numbers negotiated by the United Federation of Teachers in New York City as follows. (We are not New York City and we do not have some of the challenges they have but, if the largest union in New York and one of the two largest teacher unions in this county agree to these terms???)
·         Pre-Kindergarten: 18 students with a teacher and a paraprofessional
·         Kindergarten: 25 students
·         Grades 1-6: 32 students
·         Junior high school / middle school 33 students in non-Title I schools 30 in Title I schools
·         High school: 34 students; 50 in physical education / gym

Dewitt goes on to expound upon John Hattie’s research, “Hattie has a “hinge point” of 0.4. Anything that falls below that point does not have a large effect on student achievement.  An effect size above 1.0 actually is equivalent to a year’s worth of growth.  Hattie’s research gives class size an effect of 0.21.  Hattie says,
“Certainly reducing class size has a small increase on achievement—but the problem that has been found is that when class size is reduced, teachers rarely change their practices so it is thus not surprising that there are small differences.  Imagine if teachers were re-trained to optimize all the (obvious) advantages—but without major re-training the effects are likely to remain as they have when reducing class size.”
Hattie went on to say,
“Reducing class size has (not the past tense) had a small but positive effect on achievement.  Relative to other influences, it is a very low effect and the only question is why is this effect so low (but positive) given the major claims often argued for the amazing influence of reducing class size.”

As you review Hattie’s work and his findings, you will see that a huge chunk of our Professional Development is directly tied to Hattie’s findings.  The other research that is tied very close to our Professional Development in Stephenson is “Effective Schools Research.” 

I believe a HUGE part of improving student achievement for ALL students is increasing the skills sets of the adults that serve our students.  That means EVERY staff member not just teachers.  I believe we have a staff that is growing daily.  I believe the investment that will get us our greatest return on our dollar is the investment in people.  As we invest in the skill sets of our adults and then coach them by modeling and giving feedback, the opportunities for our students will increase and improve.

The goal is for ALL students to reach their full potential and be productive members of society.  The goal is not for my kids, your kids, my friend’s kids or my neighbor’s kids to have great opportunity, and the rest be left behind.  The goal is ALL kids!!

I will end this response with a conversation that I had with one of our teachers this week.  This person is a very good employee who has done a great job for a number of years here in Stephenson.  I ask the teacher to tell me two things they had learned this year.  This person said, “I have learned that I have a lot to learn and only know a little bit of what I need to know.”  We went on to talk about taking what is learned through professional development and using the skills and strategies in the classroom and to help other professionals grow. 

We need to have reasonable class size.  We need to invest in our staff and help them to increase their skill sets.  We need to coach our staff and help them grow.  The best investment of our dollars is in the investment of our staff and their skills.

Thanks for the question.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Dual Enrollment

Q:  It is great seeing how well our students are doing on state assessments.  I would like to know how are they doing with their college classes and are the credits being accepted by colleges after graduation?   -Parent-

A: I can respond to this question.

Let’s start with the second half of this question.  “Are those credits being accepted by colleges after graduation?”  By state statute colleges in the state of Michigan that received funding from the “State of Michigan” are required to accept college credit from other colleges in the state of Michigan. MACRAO agreement (Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers) is the format for determining how these credits transfer from one college or university to another college or university.  There are times that specific classes do not transfer to a specific course of study but these dual enrollment courses often transfer as elective courses if not accepted as courses for a specific major or minor.

The second part of the questions, “How are students doing with their college classes?”  I do not have access to that exact data.  I can tell you that some students do very well and other students have more of a learning curve.   The most important note here is students expand their horizons and try the most challenging course of study.   The transition to college and college courses is a unique individual experience.  One of the topics we are discussing at Stephenson is the acceptance of late work for credit, especially with our juniors and seniors.  Many of our teachers accept late work for partial credit.  This is not normally accepted at the college level.  In many college experiences, if your work is not submitted on time, you forfeit those points.

I did recently receive a forwarded message from a college that 7 of our high school math students are currently enrolled.  Here is the message:

 “I think whatever Stephenson is doing for mathematics it is amazing because between Calculus 2 ITV class and this online College Algebra, all 7 of the students I have encountered from that school definitely stand among the tops in my classes.  I am sure it has a lot to do with good math teachers as well as folks like you, doing what you do for them, which is giving them the opportunity and means to achieve.  One would be very lucky to be a student learning mathematics at that high school”.

It was definitely a nice correspondence to have forwarded to me.  We need to build on this type of feedback.  We are currently pursuing an “Early Middle College” opportunity for students starting in 2020.  This opportunity would allow students to potentially earn their Associates Degree or other vocational certificates through dual enrollment and or certified vocational experiences.  This opportunity would require a 13th year of school but the cost would be free to students and their families.  The Early Middle College opportunity is afforded to students in other high schools around the state of Michigan and we believe this should be available to students in Stephenson.  (More to come regarding this opportunity in the near future)

Thanks for the question and thanks for the opportunity to respond.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Veterans Day 2018

Q:  I will be attending the Veterans Day Ceremony on the 12th.  I wanted to send some information for the program, but lost the POC information from the Journal.  I live in Green Bay, so I was wondering if you could send me the person’s email?  -Alumnus-

A: I can answer this question.
First and foremost, thank you for your service to our country.  Without the sacrifices that you and many others made, we would not have the opportunities we have today in this country.  Thank you for your time, commitment and sacrifice.

The person who normally leads this process for us recently became a new mother.  We are excited for her and her family.  So with that being said, we are planning this ceremony of thanks and appreciation by committee this year.  There are two people you can send your information to.  Marcia Cross or Peggy Grille  you can reach Marcia Cross via the phone at 906-753-2221 ext. 100.

Once again thanks for your service and thank you for making the trip on November 12, 2018 to celebrate with our students, staff and community.
Thanks for the question.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Senior Citizen Sporting Events Admission

Q: Are there any discounts for senior citizens to attend sporting events?  
      -Community Member-

A: I am able to respond to this question.

At the October Committee of the Whole Meeting of the Stephenson Area Public School Board of Education President Joe LaPointe communicated with his peers regarding a letter he had received from a community member pertaining to the senior athletic pass. 

After a short positive discussion, it was suggested the board should consider free admission for those attending athletic events that are 62 years of age and older.

At the October Business Meeting of the Stephenson Area Public Schools Board of Education the following proposal was made and passed unanimously: “Starting with the winter 2018-2019 boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball season, all individuals 62 years of age and older will be admitted to the home events, other than State of Michigan Tournaments, for free.”

I believe it is outstanding for the board to provide this perk for those community members who have given so much to our students and community over the years.  Please bring your drivers license and present the driver’s license at the admission table and enjoy the event.  We look forward to having you root for our Eagles.

Thanks for the question.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Classroom Temperature

Q:  There are some points in the year where it is so hot it is hard for some students to focus and learn because either the teacher has no fans in their room, the room is so humid they cannot breathe, or it is just plain hot in the room.  Is there a possibility the school could get air conditioning, or buy fans for the rooms that don’t have any fans?  I want my fellow peers to be able to learn as much as possible, especially when it counts the most.  -Student-

A: I am able to respond.
I believe that air conditioning is out of the question presently.  Currently the elementary is not designed or built to have air conditioning.   This building has provided great opportunities for the young scholars of the Stephenson Area Public School District for a number of years.  When the building was designed and built it was not designed for central air as the heating and ventilation system is based from a boiler system with hot water providing heat and air exchanging systems in individual rooms for fresh air.  There is not duct-work to run central air.  Individual air conditioning units or gang units, (rooms grouped from one unit) is not feasible at the present time.  The design for electrical service to individual or group units is not in place and would be very costly to provide.

The middle school / high school building facilities are very similar to the elementary regarding the heat and fresh air exchange.  The east end of the middle school / high school is although better suited from an electrical service standpoint. 

I believe the best option here is for the district to purchase box fans for the classrooms.  I spoke to our maintenance director today and he will begin to price box fans out for each classroom.  We want the physical environment to be as conducive to learning as possible and what we do each hour of each day in the classroom matters.

Thanks for the question and suggestion.

Posting Board agenda and minutes

Q:  I was wondering why it takes so long for the agenda and minutes of the board meeting to be posted on the website?   -Community Member-

A: The agenda is compiled over the course of approximately a three-week period.  I have created an electronic file for Committee of the Whole Meetings and Business Meetings for each month.  Within these folders I store a document titled, “topics for the meeting”.  Throughout the month topics are added to the document as I have discussions with the administrative team, board members, MC-ISD,  Superintendents’ round table meetings, community members, parents, review legal updates, the strategic plan, financial matters and converse with the attorney.

The week before the committee of the whole meeting I begin to prepare the agenda as outlined in the Stephenson Area Public School District bylaws 0166 paragraph #1. (I am attaching a link for your review).  I frequently communicate with the Board President as the agenda is prepared.  Approximately mid to late week, a draft copy of the proposed agenda is sent to the Board President for any items the Board would like to add.  After receiving feedback from the Board President I begin to finalize the agenda and board packet.

During the month if I know there will be an item to discuss at the committee of the whole meeting I forward reading material to the board members so they have time to read, review and ask questions to me or to each other.

As outlined in bylaw 0166. I work diligently to have the agenda to the Board at least 48 hours prior to the committee of the whole meeting and 72 hours prior to the business meeting.  Working closely with my staff we make sure that when the agenda for each meeting is sent to the Board, we post a copy in the four building locations as outlined in the bylaws and than shortly after post them on line.

This is what we do regarding the posting of the minutes. 
The minutes are taken by my Administrative Assistant.  When the Administrative Assistant is not able to attend the meeting, minutes are taken by the Board Secretary.  We work to have the minutes typed in draft form within 48 hours.  The Board bylaws 0168.1 require minutes to be prepared for review in the Superintendent’s office within 8 business days.

Prior to the following business meeting, the minutes from the previous meeting(s) are distributed to the Board for their review, corrections or adjustments.  Once any corrections are made the Board approves the previous meeting(s) minutes.  As outline in bylaw 0168.0, the approved minutes are than available to the public within 5 business days.  We work diligently to have the approved minutes, signed and placed on the website and available in the Superintendent’s office well prior to the required 5 business days.

Thanks for the question