Focus on Education
State of our schools
Our most important work is preparing our students for a future that will demand they have knowledge, ability to transfer that knowledge to the solution of problems, flexibility, an expectation that continuous learning is valued, and a willingness to collaborate with others. These skills and attitudes are cultivated in the work we do with our students every day. The most visible and recognized assessment of these skills is the ISAT and resulting Adequate Yearly Progress report. In this regard, the performance of our students has never been stronger. In terms of Adequate Yearly Progress reporting, 94.7 percent or our students were proficient in reading, 89.4 percent in math, and 87.43 percent in language usage. These are impressive numbers and we should all celebrate the focus, hard work, and commitment it took to reach these milestones. We have a responsibility to sustain this level of performance. In doing so, this includes researching other best practices and strategies to build upon our hard earned success. As a result, we have worked wisely to implement strategies that will help more students realize their potential.
The most visible district goal to support this effort has been our work regarding Response to Intervention. We are in the second year of grant funding to support this initiative. Led by Randi Kulis and the teams in all of our buildings, we are attempting to break down the barriers to success for our struggling learners. Kootenai Elementary and Southside Elementary, lead schools in the grant, have been pioneers in this effort and they are to be congratulated for their participation in the grant. It places them under a higher level of expectation and scrutiny. However, all schools are working diligently to develop a system that can be sustained over time. This work in our district is receiving a great deal of interest from the State Department of Education as we are on the edge of what will be a statewide effort. It is challenging and time consuming, but is making a difference for our students.
Another initiative directed at increased student achievement is focused upon providing opportunities for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues. This has been an ongoing request from staff for the past several years and I am pleased that we have been able to accommodate this desire through the continued use of Early Release Wednesdays and visitation and observation of colleagues, both in school, and at other schools. This effort has been uneven this year, and our hope is to find more time for staff to learn from each other. We recognize that pre-planning requires extra effort such as substitute plans and time away from the classroom. However, we continue to believe we can be the best teachers of each other if we are thoughtful and strategic.
Another component of our collaboration goal is the development of a mentor program to assist staff new to the profession. These new teachers deserve all the support we can give to help them transition to the demands of teaching. We hired over 15 new staff this year. Each of them has been assigned a mentor, and four days of collaborative work time have been provided for mentors and mentees. The research regarding a mentor program is compelling. It tells us that a strong mentor program increases teacher and student success, but also leads to retention. We cannot afford to lose these quality individuals entering our profession. We are proud of this program and look forward to making it even stronger.
Through a PAFE grant we have been able to serve a large number of teachers with the Tools for Teaching program. Facilitator Gayle Hanset continues to find interested staff, both new and experienced, that recognizes the value of this coursework. Each time she creates an opportunity for the class it is filled by eager teachers. Demand has exceeded expectations and this willingness on the part of our teachers is a fine example of their ongoing commitment to learning.
We have worked with the State Department of Education to deploy Capacity Builders at Farmin Stidwell, district office, and shortly, at Lake Pend Oreille Alternative High School. Funded by the State Department of Education, these educational professionals have assisted us in best practices, data collection and analysis, goal setting and use of the WISETOOL for long term planning. I believe this will have a significant long term impact.
We are in transition with our staff evaluation system based upon the Charlotte Danielson model. All staff was provided a copy of Danielson’s book and framework. Many earned credit taking her online class or through a book study in their building. Our goal is to have all staff clearly understand the four domains, practice them, and work together on their full implementation. It will be the first time a common language around instruction exists in our district and state.
In short, we continue to explore avenues to improve our teaching and student learning. We also recognize that student assessments are but one part of a success indicator. Other valuable skills are learned through our stellar fine arts programs, Professional-Technical Education offerings, and the wide range of participation in extra curricular activities, both academic and athletic. These programs continue to be strong and healthy in our district.
Plant and Facility Levy
Our 14.1 million dollar Plant and Facility Levy was the first successful measure of this type in over 20 years. Its passage in spring of 2008 generated a great deal of work throughout our district during the past two years. All projects were completed on time and under budget. I can confidently report that our facilities are in the best condition they have been in the five years I have served the district. We will not be forced to remove dollars from our general instructional budget to address facility needs for the immediate future. This is extremely important as we move forward to improve our instructional programs.
The district and Board of Trustees anticipated the economic downturn and began working to address the potential effects over 18 months ago. As a result, our school district is in an enviable position compared to many school districts in Idaho, and in particular, our neighboring districts. We did not declare a financial emergency as did many districts. We were not forced to reduce staff salaries; although salaries were frozen. We did make some reduction in benefits for our staff to gain some savings, but by and large our employees have remained whole through this economic downturn. Our fund balance, which we have worked diligently to develop, will serve us well as we transition to an even more demanding economy. However, using the fund balance in this manner creates some nervousness, given our conservative budget practices. Unfortunately, given the reduction in state and federal allocations, we have little option. Our Board has been consistent in their determination to set aside dollars for this account and this appears to be the time to use some of those dollars.
Finally, we are pleased that enrollment is up despite the economic downturn. This reverses a four year trend and we are hopeful this will continue.
There is no larger issue on the horizon at this time than our proposed Supplemental Levy. Our current Supplemental Levy of $10,950,000 expires in June of 2011. As a result, we have crafted a two year Supplemental Levy proposal of $13,646 624 to be placed before voters on March 8, 2011. This represents a considerable challenge given the economic climate. It will be important that our voters understand this is only a replacement levy designed to support our instructional programs. The Supplemental Levy supports approximately one-third of our staffing. With state allocations for public schools precipitously declining the past two years for the first time in history, it is our community’s only opportunity to drive local funding directly into our schools. Aside from staffing, this levy supports all extra-curricular activities, most technology upgrades and technology staffing, and all curricular materials. Even if this measure passes we will be forced to make reductions in spending.
Each year we negotiate with our LPOEA regarding teacher contracts: benefits, rights, and expectations. As shared above, we did not resort to student/staff furlough days or reduced staff salaries to balance our district budget. I believe this is an important point to note for both morale and instructional reasons. Brian Smith, President of LPOEA, is an outstanding leader and works closely with us to problem solve. Contrary to what has been portrayed on a state wide level, I believe our staff always “puts students first” and it disturbs me when others who know little about us characterize our profession this way.
Our district continues to thrive with the partnerships that have been jointly created. The Panhandle Alliance for Education, Community Assistance League, Angels Over Sandpoint, Rotary, Ambrosiani-Pastore Foundation, University of Idaho, Coldwater Creek, Litehouse, Panhandle State Bank and others have all played a significant role in the success of our school district and students. Programs of which I am particularly proud include the Ready! 4 Kindergarten initiative, Secondary Transition Counselor at Sandpoint High School, PAFE Innovative Teacher Grants, Kaleidoscope Art, POAC Performing Arts Series, Life Choices class at SHS and Clark Fork, and Sandpoint Festival Music Outreach. Our relationship with local legislators is strong. We meet with them regularly and directly email regarding issues that affect our district. Finally, I believe we have an excellent partnership with our parents and community. Thank you for your help. Working together we make a real difference in the lives of our students.