Super Blog

  • Goal-setting has been critical to QCSD's improved performance

    Posted by Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner on 6/16/2019 8:30:00 PM

    Happy Father’s Day to all of our Quakertown Dads!  Before the morning was over, I heard from both of my children, both living far away - in Washington state and Georgia.  Being a Dad is clearly my life’s most special blessing. Right after that is having the responsibility of ensuring your children get a high-quality education, and having all of the professional relationships with everyone in Quakertown as your superintendent. The life of being an educator and having the ability to positively impact so many lives is truly a gift to me!

    With graduation for the Quakertown Class of 2019 behind us, we are now focused on the 2019-20 academic year and there is lots to be done to get ready for it.  At the School Board meeting Thursday night, the Board approved with a vote of 8-1 the district’s Superintendent’s (Draft) Goals 2019-20.  For the past six years, the Superintendent’s Goals have been the blueprint for the School Board’s priorities with both long and short strategies to accomplish QCSD’s vision and mission. Board-approved Superintendent Goals have guided the district to seeing student achievement flourish, dramatically improving college and career readiness, and establishing the Board as excellent stewards of our financial resources, all while sustaining, and even growing, student programs.  

    Superintendent Goals are developed annually with both a short- and long-term view.  Some of the Goals are building blocks for sustaining a culture of continuous improvement, with systems such as the Six-Year Curriculum Cycle.  Some other Goals could be called “one and done” objectives, such as facilitating a parent committee’s work that eliminated the “open areas” for student elementary and middle school assignments.  I believe it is important every school year to have a parent-led community committee examine a topic of critical importance and report out to the Board their recommendations. This past year the community committee’s work was about safety. Next year’s Goal is looking at school start times. In August, we will be looking for parents to volunteer to do the work, with an outbrief to the School Board by January.

    Superintendent Goals are not entirely focused directly on the core classroom, or improving finances and school operations.  With the Board’s knowledge that student participation in the performing arts and athletics has a significant impact on student achievement in the classroom, for two years Superintendent Goals included improving our district’s athletic program.  One outcome of that Goal was the design and construction of QNB Bank Field behind the high school. It was a three-year project. Now, we have a quality competition venue for 10 athletic teams and our marching band.

    Superintendent Goals are developed from both the Board down and the classroom/building up, and are reported out at mid-year and the end of the academic year.  They begin with a collaborative discussion between building and district leaders around where we have been, where we are, and what we need to accomplish to become the best.  What guides these discussions are best practices and research and what data analysis of student performance tells us. Throughout the school year, Board members and members of the community talk about things they would like to see or have the administration do. One example that came from the Goals process was this year’s MLK Day of Service. For next year, that objective has been expanded to its own comprehensive Domain: Culture of Service, Respect and Diversity. The 2019-20 Goals also include execution of the Community Safety Committee’s recommendations to the Board.  Through the Superintendent evaluation process last month and subsequent Board Retreat on June 1st, new objectives were added to Superintendent Goals regarding accountability with a different set of student performance metrics. The Board expects us next year to provide more frequent and detailed updates on student achievement. This will provide an excellent opportunity for dialogue about our most important work - improving teaching and learning.  These Goals will guide our action planning throughout the summer.

    Finally, thank you for your positive response to Dr. Michael J. Bradley’s presentation this Wednesday on behavioral health and his book Crazy Stressed. More than 130 parents, teachers, and staff have emailed us of their intent to attend. The presentation is in the Quakertown Performing Arts Center at 9 am.  Please join us.

    Thank you for reading!  Have a wonderful summer.

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    Email: wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @billharner

    New Quakertown Community High School Principal Matt van’t Hoenderdaal

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  • Record-setting class of 2019 set for Stabler; 2019-20 budget approved

    Posted by Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner on 6/9/2019 7:00:00 PM

    Greetings!  

    Graduation Week is here!  The countdown that was once weeks away for seniors is now only days away. Come Friday evening at the Stabler Arena at Lehigh University, Quakertown will add nearly 400 new graduates to its alumni roles. As a class and as individuals, they have wonderful stories to tell of achievement and service.

    The Class of 2019 set numerous Quakertown school records in the three A’s: academics, arts, and athletics. In academics, the Class of 2019 set a high school college readiness record with a SAT average score of 1154. This is up 108 points over the past five years and one of the highest school SAT averages in the area.  Higher scores created and secured greater possibilities for those going to college. At Upper Bucks County Technical School, the NOCTI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) school average for seniors was 95 percent advanced or proficient. One Quakertown senior secured a job immediately after graduation that sets a new Quakertown record - it will pay nearly $100,000 a year. ($100K is not a typo.)  Athletically, the Class of 2019 set a collegiate sports scholarship record of 24 graduates.  In the arts, it was another amazing award-winning year for the Quakertown Marching and Jazz Bands, with a wonderful musical performance of Fiddler on the Roof.  We will certainly miss our seniors and look forward to learning about their many accomplishments in the years to come.

    You may catch up on many of this year’s amazing stories here.    

    Two weeks ago, at Neidig Elementary School, students, Principal Scott Godshalk, Board President Steaven Klein and Board Facilities Committee Chair Kaylyn Mitchell led a Groundbreaking Ceremony at the school to commemorate the beginning of construction for the new elementary school.  Bulldozers are already carving out a new bus loop in the rear of the Neidig property. School construction begins in earnest this Friday, and the new Neidig will be ready for students in August 2020.

    Last Thursday night at the June 6th School Board meeting, the Board approved the 2019-20 Final Budget with an 8-1 vote.  The budget included a 2.7 percent tax increase, which is within the index of Act I, the state’s property tax law. Expenditures are budgeted to be $114.580,941.  That is a 4.4 percent increase over last year’s budgeted expenditures.  Increased costs come from contractual obligations, retirement system increases, the debt service for the Neidig construction, and adding five teaching positions and two new administrative positions that mostly support students experiencing challenges.  Mental health issues in America are at crisis levels, and we are certainly experiencing that from K-12. All the QCSD’s Finance Department’s 2019-20 Budget preparation, that formally began in January, may be found at this link.  

    Also at the meeting, the Board reported out the completion of its stated mandated evaluation of QCSD’s two assistant superintendents and me, along with approving the 96.6 percent completion of the 2018-19 Superintendent Goals. At the Board’s previous meeting on May 24th, the Administration provided a presentation on the 2018-19 Superintendent Goals and the Superintendent’s Goals Report for 2018-19  Over the past five years, the Superintendent Goals have been the road map for Quakertown reaching excellence in academics, arts, and athletics, along with operational, finance and school safety areas.  This Thursday night, at the June 13th School Board Meeting, the Board will continue its discussion with the Administration about the draft Superintendent Goals for 2019-20 academic year.  

    Thank you for reading!  Please share your thoughts with the Board and me whenever you get a chance.

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    Email: wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @billharner

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  • District’s financial health strong, Neidig under budget and 5 teachers set to be added

    Posted by Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner on 5/15/2019 8:00:00 PM

    Good evening!  

    There are two financial topics that I would like to bring you up to date on: the Neidig Elementary School Renovation Project and QCSD’s Budget for 2019-20.

    On May 6, the Quakertown Board of School of School Directors brought the district one step closer to having all 21st Century schools.  They approved the bid for renovating/constructing Neidig ES (circ. 1955) at $27 million, with another $1.9 million set aside in contingency.  The project will break ground at the end of May by starting to build a new bus loop behind the school. Construction will be completed 15 months later with doors open in the August 2020-21 school year.

    Many of you recall the 2016 Community Facilities Committee discussions and findings.  At that time, simply bringing Neidig up to code would cost $10 million.  In December 2017, six months after the Board voted to close Milford Middle School and Tohickon Valley Elementary School, the Board adopted the Community Reassignment Committee’s report that recommended to add 200 classroom seats to the Neidig project at an additional cost of approximately $10 million. This was done with the intent for the Board to reconvene the parent led Reassignment Committee after Neidig construction was completed to cross level students to reduce building and class sizes.

    With the Board’s guidance The Schrader Group, the district’s architectural firm for the renovation/construction project, was asked to create equitable spaces that students and teachers have in Pfaff Elementary School, e.g. a standalone cafeteria, gym, music and art classrooms, and office spaces. The new projected cost for construction jumped to $29.9 million.  When construction bids were opened two weeks ago, we had an unexpected surprise: $27 million is a much better number! The $1.9 million that is contingency is set aside for unexpected problems. In August of 2020, we will have a wonderful and welcoming new Neidig Elementary School.  

    You may wonder how does the Neidig project fit into QCSD’s long term facilities and overall financial strategies. Other challenges include, how can we best contain costs to retain and continue to improve student programs, reduce class size, properly maintain our facilities and be excellent fiscal stewards of taxpayers precious resources - with minimum disruption?

    It comes with an approach that executes mission, vision, and beliefs and optimizes all of the precious resources that we have and synchronizing multiple strategies with precision.  With the Forecast Five software system and PFM Five-Year Budget Projection modeling, we can examine different possible COAs (Courses of Action) for the Board to consider. We can even compare it to what other school districts are doing within each functional area of school operations, then reflect on how we can make us more efficient and effective.  We do know that QCSD’s local tax increases over each of the past six years - approximately $11.5 million, barely covers the state-mandated PSERS (retirement) and debt service increases.  Local property tax increases alone have not covered these two funding obligations.  

    QCSD has a strategy to contain spiraling debt service obligations and sustain what we have. In the short term, to renovate/construct Neidig, the district has already borrowed just under $20 million of the $27 million. The debt service (mortgage payment) for $20 million increases to $650,000 a next year, and is already figured into next year’s budget. In the short term, we plan to pay the remaining $7 million by a combination of using the $2 million that the district already received for selling Tohickon Valley and Milford, adding a few million dollars from fund balance, and then borrowing a comparatively much smaller final number.  That smaller number will be added to the debt service for the project in the 2020-21 Budget.  That number would be smaller than we have projected in our PFM modelling.

    In the mid-term, the Board has an opportunity create greater efficiencies and return expenditures for debt service back to the budget for re-allocation to other priorities.  With declining student enrollment expected to last for at least the next five years, there will be seat and classroom capacity to reduce class size, and further strategically approach student assignments.  For example, after Neidig construction is completed and students return to the new building, the Board may convene a parent led redistricting committee that considers several options for elementary student assignments.  In the long term, the annual $1 million capital projects allocation in the budget will allow the district to properly maintain all of our facilities. While we create greater financial efficiencies, our objective is to keep professional staffing levels constant over the next five years.  We do know that next year the professional teaching staff to student ratios will be back to the 2012-13 school year levels, and the teacher aide to student ratio will be the best ever.  

    As graduation for the Class of 2019 is only a month away, the Board’s scheduled approval of the Final Budget 2019-20, is even closer - June 6 at 6 pm. On April 25, the Board of School Directors received the Final Budget presentation.  At that time, the vote was 9-0 for the Final Budget that would raise local property taxes 2.7 percent and add $1.9 million of new revenue to the budget. The Final Budget 2019-20 also supports adding five professional staff FTE positions - two special education teachers - Elementary and High School, one behavioral analyst, one health teacher at the High School, and one Mandarin/ELL teacher for Strayer Middle School.  It also adds an assistant principal position to supervise The Academy at Quakertown - our alternative education program, and a second supervisor in special education. With the ever increasing mental health and emotional challenges we have every day, we need more staff to support our most fragile student population.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  I hope you will drill down into the data that we put together for the Board and clearly see for yourself the progress that we have made in our systems development over the past few years.  Today, student academic achievement is flourishing - thanks to the hard work of students and teachers, the financial health of district is excellent, our facilities will shortly be 21st Century, and we have systems in place to keep the momentum going for continuous improvement.  As always, your feedback to the Board and me is invaluable. Please share your thoughts with us.

    Thank you for your continued support.

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent

    Twitter: @billharner

    Email: wharner@qcsd.org

     

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  • A hearty salute to our teachers and nurses!

    Posted by Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner on 5/8/2019 9:30:00 AM

    Greetings!

    This week we celebrate some very special people in our lives – our professional staff members! This week is Teacher & Nurse Appreciation Week and I invite you to join me in thanking this group of professionals who support, instruct, nurture, challenge, mentor, love and encourage our students throughout every school year.  Public school teachers, counselors, nurses and support staff members change the lives of millions of children every day across America, and their positive impact reaches far beyond the boundaries of the classroom, that lasts across generations.

    In Quakertown, our professional and support staff members touch lives and shape the future every day. The Board of School Director and I so very grateful for the high quality team of professionals we have in our district who do their very best to insure of students become college and career ready, along with becoming active strong citizens.

    Whether you join #ThankATeacher on Twitter, take a moment to send an email or personal note to your child’s teacher, or find your own personal way to let a teacher know how much you appreciate them, we encourage you to show your appreciation in some way this week.  Don’t forget our nurses, counselors, therapists and other support staff who share in helping to support our young people.

    Many of our parents are teachers themselves, and to you – we thank you also! We join your schools and parents in thanking you for all that you do.

    Thanks and have a great week.   

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent

    Twitter: @billharner

    wharner@qcsd.org

     

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  • Several important items we’d like to share with you again

    Posted by Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner on 4/30/2019 8:30:00 PM

     

    Greetings!  Hope all is well and that you have already starting enjoying the lovely spring weather.  

    Lots of news to report!  Please take a moment to read a few of the articles in the Board Newsletter and In The Q.  As the end of the academic year approaches, Quakertown students are participating in numerous local, regional, state and national competitions.  One of the most intense and fun to watch competitions was Math 24!  It is high stakes competition for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.  In the five years that Quakertown has held the inter-building event, a Richland Elementary School team has taken first place four times.  The Bucks County Math 24 competition will be held on May 18th. TSA and FBLA (Technology Student Association and Future Business Leaders of America) have shined at state level and moving on to nationals.  We are certainly proud of all of our students!.

    Every year, we seek parent participation and leadership in developing the process and  procedures on topics that have a districtwide impact, such as the facilities study and student school assignments.  This year, a Parent-Community Safety Committee looked at everything related to school safety.  A few weeks ago, they briefed the School Board on their findings and recommendations. During the month of May, the Administration will be reviewing and prioritizing the recommendations for discussion with the Board, and for incorporating them into the Superintendent Goals for 2019-20.

    Last Thursday night’s School Board meeting was packed with action items and information briefings (meeting video). Up first was Lieutenant Commander Humphries, a Junior ROTC instructor from New Jersey.  The district submitted an application to host a program several years ago. Members of the Board’s Education Committee wanted to know what a NJROTC program entailed. Then, Strayer Middle School Principal Dr. Jennifer Bubser provided a briefing on Middle School Sports. Concerns from parents, students and coaches have been raised the last two years about the lack of participation and other issues with the current two varsity teams, two junior varsity teams per sport system.  Dr. Bubser and Athletic Director Sylvia Kalazs studied the issue, met with parents, conducted surveys and presented their findings to the Board. Next year, the plan is have only one varsity and junior varsity team per sport and to create an intramural program that includes 6th graders.

    Also at the Board meeting, the Administration provided a presentation on the Proposed Final Budget for 2019-20. In January, the School Board elected to stay within the Act I Index of 2.7 percent, which raises $2 million dollars in additional revenue. In a 9-0 vote on April 25, the Final Budget was approved in its first reading.  The final reading and approval is scheduled for June 6th. The major cost drivers or 94 percent of the increase in the budget is from contractual agreements that include salaries and benefits, an increase in debt service (mortgage payment) for building/renovating Neidig Elementary School, an increase in Upper Bucks County Technical School costs due to our increasing student enrollment there, and adding professional and support staff to address student needs.

    As we continue to project declining enrollment for another five years, our professional staffing strategy is to retain current staffing levels to reduce class size, and add staff positions to further expand our special education and mental health services.  These positions include a Board certified behavioral analyst, two special education teachers, a health teacher, and four additional special education aides. We feel confident that our student enrollment projections will once again be close to spot on. This school year we were within 12 students of our overall student enrollment forecast/prediction.  It’s important to note, especially after reading a few social media posts, that next year’s teacher to student radios will be equal to what they were during AY 2012-13. The data can be found on page 13 of the Proposed Final Budget for AY 2019-20.  Student to aide ratios will be the best they have ever been. Budget information can be found here.

    In other Board business, the Board directed the Administration to bring back a contract proposal for completing QNB Bank Field - the varsity sports field complex behind the high school.  It will be two contracts - a concession stand/bathroom/storage building and a band tower.  The total one time cost of the project will come out of this year’s budget.

    Thank you for reading!  Please continue to share your thoughts with the Board and me.

    Have a good evening!

    Bill Harner

    Twitter: @BillHarner

    (215) 529-2002

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  • Legislation would put an end to cyber charter waste - support SB34 and HB526

    Posted by Dr. Bill Harner on 3/8/2019 2:30:00 PM

    The gasoline for America’s economic engine and national security is the quality of its workforce.   When the vast majority of our workers are the product of K12 public schools, the quality of public education is the linchpin to sustaining our way of life. Policy development and decision making for K12 public education rests in the hands of 50 state governors and their legislatures.  Therefore, it is critical that our elected leaders in Harrisburg provide us with academic standards, direction and resources that get it right!

    In Pennsylvania, more than $30 billion is spent on K12 public education annually to create a future ready workforce. Though nearly $17 billion comes from local taxpayers, many decisions on how that $30 billion must be spent is made in Harrisburg through unfunded mandates!  For special interest groups, getting just a small piece of the total state expenditure is a significant windfall. Where money is involved, politics and self-interest interferes with developing the ultimate education model that is both effective and efficient for students and taxpayers.  It also compromises the creation of a future ready workforce. This is the case in the funding of cyber charter schools.

    Pennsylvania makes up more than 20 percent of the total cyber charter school student population in America.  This year, PA school districts will send more than $500 million to 14 cyber charter schools that have no accountability to an elective body or taxpayer oversight.

    Funding for the 33,857 students attending a cyber charter school in PA depends on the per-student cost of the sending school district.  For example, for a Quakertown student attending a cyber charter, we send $14,745 per regular education student, and $30,424 per special education student.  If a Lower Merion student attended the same cyber charter, their cost would be significantly higher - $20,358 per regular education and $53,756 per student with a disability.  More evidence of a profit motive: 25 percent of former Quakertown regular education students who withdraw from the district to attend a cyber charter “become” special education students after they transfer.

    These are outrageous costs, especially given that it only costs Quakertown $2,000 per student to enroll in our own cyber/online program.  That is why cyber charters in PA have exorbitant fund balances. On average their reserves/fund balances are 21 percent of their total operating budgets. PA Cyber Charter has a 37 percent fund balance.  What would a cyber school be needing with $48 million from taxpayers sitting in a bank? Where do some of those funds end up? Sustaining their for-profit business model!

    Compounding the problem of wasteful expenditures are cyber charter schools’ poor return on investment. Every cyber charter school in Pennsylvania has been identified as a failing school under the former PA School Performance Profile. Two national studies, one by the Rand Corporation and the other from the Center for Education Outcomes of Stanford University, found troubling results. The Stanford study said the shortfall for most cyber students was equal to losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days in math during the typical 180-day school year. Terribly scary!

    Even the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has distanced itself from cyber charter schools.  The NAPCS is telling policy makers in state capitals it’s the legislature’s responsibility to change their state’s cyber education model.

    Fortunately, after years of intentional neglect by the PA Legislature, there is an opportunity now for bipartisanship to correct the wasteful spending on cyber charter schools and return money to taxpayers. State Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, and State Rep. Curt Sonney, R-Erie, have sponsored twin bills - SB34 and HB 526 - to protect public education cyber students and Pennsylvania taxpayers.  If passed, the PA Legislature will empower school districts who have their own cyber/online programs to be fully responsible for cyber education of ALL public school students within their district. This makes perfect dollars and sense.

    Please encourage your members in the PA house and senate to co-sponsor SB34 and HB526!  Reinvesting the projected $500 million in savings back into school districts will be a great next legislative step in workforce development for Pennsylvania.

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    Email: Wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @billharner

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  • Police verify Safe2Say threat a hoax

    Posted by Dr. Bill Harner on 3/3/2019 6:45:00 PM

    Good evening!   

    This message is to both inform and reassure you after a serious threat had been submitted to the Safe2Say Something tip line. The tip, from a seventh-grade student in Monroe County, with no known connections to the Quakertown area, has been verified as a hoax following exhaustive work throughout the weekend by Quakertown Borough Police, assisted by State Police, and several district administrators.

    In the tip, the student mentioned a first name of a male student and said he would “shoot up” the Sixth Grade Center (SGC) on Monday.  With much difficulty, Quakertown Police finally obtained a warrant to retrieve the IP address, and identify what School Resource Officer Bob Lee categorized as a “false report.”  Prior to securing the address, police spent hours this weekend interviewing SGC students with a certain first name at their homes, until gaining information which took the investigation to Monroe County. We recognize how frightening this must have been for both our students and their parents when the police knocked at their door.  To these parents, I am most grateful for your support and cooperation, and regret that a hoax S2S tip made this necessary!

    Had police not been able to determine the tip a hoax, you would have been advised by QCSD to expect a significant police presence at the SGC on Monday and why.  We will always take all necessary precautions to protect our students, faculty and staff. I want to thank Quakertown Borough Police, State Police and the Bucks County District Attorney’s office for their cooperation. They exhibited great team work.

    Quakertown Community High School and Strayer Middle School students have been trained on Safe2Say.  Since student training began, Quakertown has received and investigated more than 60 tips. SGC students are scheduled to receive a presentation on the program Friday.  

    Here’s the presentation Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards, our district’s Safety Coordinator, gave to the School Board Thursday night.  As a reminder, the Community Safety Committee will be meeting again this Thursday, March 7 at 6:30 p.m. The committee has met for several months and will make its presentation to the School Board on March 28.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this important message.

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    Email: Wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @billharner

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  • After 5 years, so much for everyone to be proud of

    Posted by Dr. Bill Harner on 2/27/2019 7:15:00 PM

    Greetings!  This is Punxsutawney Bill predicting that spring is right around the corner!  Maybe I need to change my overly optimistic crystal ball, but I am hoping Mother Nature will be kind to us in March.  Even The Morning Call and The Intelligencer have been kind to us superintendents across the region about our weather calls so far! The safety of your child(ren) and our employees is job #1 for us!  In the meantime, to repeat what you may already know, the last snow and ice day we had on February 20 will be made up on Monday, April 22, which is now a regular school day for students and staff.

    Last month, I celebrated my fifth anniversary as the Superintendent of Quakertown Community School District.  A little more than half of you were district parents with me back then and might remember that you first got to know me by voice through the 5 a.m. telephone call that cancelled school seven times.  It was a brutal winter when the snow did not melt for more than a month and roads were treacherous. I started blogging to you the next month, to tell you what I was learning about Quakertown’s story through my eyes and ears. What I found I shared with you through my blogs, the good and great news and the things that we needed to work on.  I immediately learned that we had a wonderful team of administrators, teachers and support staff and a committed parent community who wanted to be involved in the “heavy lifts” of the district, such as the elimination of “open areas” for student assignments. It was an ideal situation for enabling the empowerment of the entire school-community family in policy and systems development, and we have benefited greatly from your feedback all along the way.

    For those of you who joined the QCSD family more recently, most of our school community did not realize that back in 2014, less than 20 percent of Quakertown graduates were completing a college or university degree in four years.  This data matched a survey taken by the Class of 2013, where the vast majority of graduating students said they felt they were not prepared for college. With our core purpose being about creating college and career readiness, and less than 15 percent of a Quakertown graduating class successfully completing a Upper Bucks County Technical School job/career program, that left a lot of work for students who were caught in the middle.  Many of our graduates who attended Bucks County Community College had to take remedial courses before beginning a two-year program of studies. On average, our athletic teams won fewer than 20 percent of their competitions. There was much work to do!

    There were no systems-thinking or processes across the district in instructional and operational areas - such as curriculum and professional development, facilities, finance, and transportation.  At my first administrative staff meeting in February 2014, every administrator, e.g. principals and district staff, said that they thought about leaving the school district. With K-12 education being people intensive, and culture being everything for an organization, one area we immediately looked to was the distribution of staffing.

    We found a serious imbalance of staffing - our smallest class sizes were at the high school level versus being at the elementary level.  Also, we found the $70 million High School Renovation project without executive oversight and our transportation system inefficient. At the outset, there were only two overarching specified tasks for me. The most important was taking care of our faculty and staff.  (No one has been furloughed over the past five years.) The other was financial - living within the Act I Index. This was a high bar given that the cost for the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) has jumped from 5.64 percent of employee salaries to 34.29 percent between 2011 and 2020.  

    Let’s fast forward to today!  With the support of our Board, the administrative team, our faculty and staff, and you, we have moved mountains for our students and community.  We empowered teachers to participate in designing curriculum, selecting programs and textbooks, and offered the opportunity to participate in professional development. Parent committees have worked tirelessly to study and make recommendations to the Board on redistricting and the elimination of open areas, facilities maintenance and planning, redesign of the elementary report card, the reassignment of students resulting from the closing of Tohickon Valley, and a plan to renovate and expand Neidig Elementary.  Next month, the Parent Safety Committee will present to the Board its recommendations for moving the district forward and improving student safety. Thank you to all who have served on one or more of these vital community committees.

    With our core purpose of preparing college and career ready students, we have come a long way.  We took a three-level approach simultaneously - elementary, middle and high school. Through the implementation of a multi-year restaffing plan, we now have a Full-Day Kindergarten program to support our at-risk learners, full-time guidance counselors, and Spanish and coding at all elementary schools. Through a state grant we have had a Pre-K program for the past three years.  In the middle school we added world languages - German, Spanish and Mandarin, pre-engineering courses, and brought back accelerated and enriched core course options. At the high school level, while completely renovating the building, we added 13 additional Advanced Placement (college level) courses, expanded our performing arts program by adding dance and theater, and popular elective courses such as chefs. We also opened up attendance to Upper Bucks County Technical School to 9th graders, allowing them to receive more clock time in their chosen program toward industry credentials.  We upgraded our curriculum to meet PA core standards. Finally, we also created a structure and regular evaluation cycle for all of our curriculum development so that what our students are learning is current, relevant, meets state standards, and financially resourced.

    In addition to our changes to academic programs, we have also increased supports for students’ social and emotional needs. We know that mental health and behavioral disorders are diagnosed in 1 out of 7 children ages 2-8, the average age of depression dropped from 27 years of age to 14.5 years old over the past few decades, and 1 in 12 high school students intentionally harm themselves.  With a greater number of students coming to us needing mental health support, adding the full time guidance counselors in every elementary building was invaluable. Three years ago, we added a mental health professional. This year, we added two additional Student Assistance Program (SAP) counselors and now have one dedicated SAP counselor for each level. Last year, we added a Board Certified Behavior Analyst to assist our teachers in supporting our students who are experiencing behavioral challenges in their classrooms.  The Pupil Services Department provided additional training for employees on Trauma Informed Care, Functional Behavior Assessments, Positive Behavior Support Plans, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and many other topics designed to support the changing needs of our students. For parents, training has been provided on de-escalation and parenting strategies, data shared from the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, Vaping, Bullying and topics related to parenting children with special needs. This year, we started The Academy at Quakertown with targeted supports to meet the needs of 8th-12th grade students who were not experiencing success in a larger school environment.  So far, seven students have completed QCSD graduation requirements at the Academy, and have graduated. We plan to expand the program next year to meet the needs of additional students.

    Behind the curtain in school operations we have restructured and put effective systems in place. The District has transitioned from a reactive model to a proactive model with regard to taking care of its facilities.  The Facilities Study completed in 2015 documented years of neglect, to the tune of over $60 million in maintenance needs. The School Board committed to developing and maintaining a capital projects fund, currently funded at $1 million per year.  In conjunction, the District hired D’Huy Engineering to conduct a detailed facilities assessment to drive the specifics of five-year capital projects planning. Each year the five-year plan will be updated so that the District is always looking forward and being proactive in caring for the community’s assets. In addition to addressing maintenance needs, we also completed four phases of the high school renovation project and have the Neidig renovation/addition project well under way.

    The heavy lifts the last few years with regard to closing buildings, while stressful for many teachers and me, has resulted in a much healthier and sustainable financial situation.  The Business Office team is committed to providing a greater level of detail into the district’s finances and updates the board on such each month. This includes the development of a financial/ budget reporting page which is maintained HERE.  The financial reporting page will continue to evolve to keep the Board and community abreast of important financial happenings. The recent purchase of Forecast5 software, will allow the administration to further analyze the district finances for recommendations to the Board, including long range planning and in year projections.  Furthermore, the district utilizes the software to benchmark against other districts.

    Pundits say that leading change and transforming an organization into high performance takes four to seven years to change a culture, and longer yet to get results.  Because of the hard work of our teachers and administrators, we have seen dramatic results in college and career readiness already. For example, we know predictively through our high school student performance on Advanced Placement exams that we have almost double the number of high school students who are college ready.  We have had a fivefold increase in the number of AP scholars, and we earned AP Honor Roll and US News & World Report's America’s Best High School accolades. Others across the Pennsylvania have recognized the significant steps Quakertown is making toward academic excellence! Our extraordinary teachers have become Pennsylvania Teachers of the Year for Social Studies and Physical Education. Other state accolades include Trumbauersville Principal Adam Schmucker as 2018 PA Principal of the Year and Dr. Lisa Hoffman as the 2018 PA Curriculum Administrator of the Year. Currently, QE full-day kindergarten teacher Kristen Martin is a semifinalist for the 2020 PA Teacher of the Year. We are blessed with extraordinary talent across the district.

    There are so many other topics that I have reflected on but not written about - our work on safety (adding two School Resource Officers and significantly ramping up our protocols and practice), our work on culture and diversity, our work on parent and community engagement through parent committees and sharing academic course guides and student portfolios with parents and improvements in the data and technology areas. Each is important, but I will save some things for another day!  

    To everyone who has played a role in the district’s success, I thank you. There’s still so much more to do, and with everyone’s continued efforts QCSD will accomplish even greater things in the next five years!  Thanks for reading.

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    Email: wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @BillHarner

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  • Much to make you aware of, please read

    Posted by Dr. Bill Harner on 2/5/2019

    Good evening!  

    I wanted to reach out and share a few upcoming events and review some recent happenings across the school district.

    • February 7, Parent-Community Safety Committee Meeting
    • February 11, Act 34 Hearing on Neidig Elementary School Renovation/Addition Project (provides formal notice to the public that construction is coming)
    • February 15, first Inclement Weather (Snow) Makeup Day (school is in session)
    • February 28, School Board Meeting (2019-20 Preliminary Budget Presentation)

    On January 24, the School Board’s Finance Committee received the Administration’s first presentation of the 2019-20 Preliminary Budget, which calls for $114 million of expenditures.  As it’s the “first look” and early in the budget development season, which concludes in early June, it is likely to change as more information becomes available.  The budget continues to maintain $1M for Capital expenditures to support an active preventative maintenance and capital improvement program, along with additional staffing and security needs.  The bulk of the Administration’s new staffing requests ($853K) is to support growing enrollment at The Academy at Quakertown, with the need for additional special education support personnel, an additional health teacher at Quakertown Community High School and a Mandarin teacher at Strayer Middle School.  Next year, our current Mandarin teacher will be teaching five different levels at the high school and will no longer to be able to support the program at Strayer MS as she currently does.

    On January 31, during one of last week’s two-hour delays, the school district began its rollout of the Safe2Say Something tip line information and procedures with faculty and staff. Information for parents is being sent home this week detailing what Act 44 of 2018 requires of school districts, schools, and teachers.  The state initiative requires every school district’s five-member safety team to be available 24/7/365 to receive tips about potential risks to our children. Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards is the district’s designated Safety Coordinator. On her team is Dr. Lisa Hoffman, Assistant Superintendent for the Office of Teaching and Learning; Janet Pelone, Director of Pupil Services; Dr. David Finnerty, principal of QCHS; and myself.  The PA Tip Line is already operational. So far, Quakertown has received three erroneous tips.

    On Saturday, February 2, the School Board conducted its annual Mid-Year Retreat to receive an update on the 2018-19 District Goals from the Administration and discuss other Board development issues.  The four-hour Retreat was facilitated by Rebecca Robert-Malamis, Deputy Executive Director and in-house legal counsel for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit.  The School Board routinely meets for a retreat three times a year, facilitated by a School Board professional. This year, five School Board seats will be up for the municipal primary and general elections.  The first day to circulate and file nomination petitions is February 19, 2019 and closes March 12, 2019.

    Recently, our Kindergarten through 8th grade students participated in one of two mid-year assessments.  They are Dibels for K-5th and NWEA MAP for 3rd-8th. Dibels are a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy and math skills.  The assessments help us progress monitor and benchmark individual student performance. NWEA Map measures what students know and informs us what they’re ready to learn next. By dynamically adjusting to each student’s responses, MAP Growth creates a personalized assessment experience that accurately measures performance. In the past week or here shortly, you have or will receive your child(ren)’s Dibels and/or NWEA MAP scores. This is how our students are doing across the district.  There are lots of celebrations with work still needing to be done.  Please take some time to understand your child(ren)’s scores, where they are relative to grade level performance and where they still need to achieve before the academic year is over.  As it is a mid-year assessment, there still remains several months for our students to attain grade-level proficiency. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask your teacher(s), principal, or me.

    Dr. Finnerty at QCHS is seeking nominations for the school’s Wall of Fame. Alumni considered will have demonstrated exceptional achievement in a career or have contributed significantly to the health, welfare or human rights of the local, state, national, or international community. Please consider nominating someone.

    For other district highlights, including the results of our first MLK Day of Service, check out the latest “In The Q” newsletter.

    Thank you for reading!  Enjoy the warmer weather.

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    Twitter: @billharner

    Email: wharner@qcsd

     

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  • Here's what happened today at Strayer

    Posted by Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner on 1/23/2019 6:30:00 PM

    Good evening!  Wanted to do a quick follow up with you regarding this afternoon’s bomb threat at Strayer Middle School. Most importantly, all SMS students, staff and faculty were amazing in evacuating the building, walking to the designated safe place, and patient while waiting for transportation home.  What complicated the problem a bit was that at the time the threat was received, all QCSD 2nd and 6th graders where in the process of departing from Strayer back to their own buildings after watching a matinee performance of Mary Poppins, Jr. Nevertheless, movement to a safe place by everyone went well.

    While student accountability checks were being made by teachers after everyone got to the designated safe place, buses were redirected for bus pickup, our first Blackboard ConnectEd messages was sent out to parents of 2nd, 6th, 7th and 8th graders notifying them of the situation, and Richland Township Police provided traffic control, protection for our students, and supervised the searching and clearing of Strayer MS with Bucks County law enforcement assets. With all of these moving pieces going on simultaneously, it was truly amazing that students started loading buses for home at 3 PM, and bus and parent pickup was completed by 4:05 PM.  Then we received an all clear by Richland Township Police for Strayer Middle School at 4:35 PM.

    We do know that the bomb threat incident set our school district bus transportation schedule back almost an hour or more for some elementary bus routes this evening.  For that I apologize, and thank you for your understanding. I was troubled by a few middle school parents who were expecting to have their students released to them upon arrival at the safe place before we completed our accountability check and were ready to release students. Others posted on Facebook the location where we were taking our students, which compromised student safety!  I respectfully ask every parent to understand, reflect, and share with your child(ren) about the seriousness of these types of situations, and the complexity of all the moving pieces when one or more of our schools are disrupted like it was today! It is not business as usual when we have an emergency incident.

    The good news is that today’s incident appears to be a hoax, and no one was hurt.  The bad news is that even unfounded hoaxes or “jokes” take a toll on our students, families, our awesome teachers and staff, and disrupt the learning and sense of safety for all children in the building. We must and will exhibit zero tolerance for this behavior - there is nothing funny about it.

    Finally, our teachers, staff, and administrators did an awesome job today under difficult circumstances, and I am personally grateful for their professionalism and dedication to our students.  Thank you.

    Have a good evening!  

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    Email: wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @billharner

    Comments (-1)