Super Blog

  • 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

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  • MLK Day of Service is a go Monday!

    Posted by Dr. Bill Harner on 1/20/2019 6:30:00 PM

    Good evening!  

    What a weekend!  We were expecting the worst weather, that was accompanied by the Governor's’ State of Emergency for Saturday and today - and not much happened. Now, we just have really cold air and incredibly winds that are blowing the American Flags across Quakertown straight out for full display.  Burrr!

    While the weather will be really cold tomorrow, athletic practices and extracurricular events will be back on.  This is a reminder that tomorrow is Quakertown’s 1st Annual MLK Day of Service.  Quakertown is one of several MLK Day activities in the area.  Over two hundred students have signed up for the HS activity.  The day begins with a breakfast that is served at 8 am in the HS Cafeteria, followed by a very special guest speaker Pastor Gregory Edwards of Allentown - a MLK Scholar.  Pennsylvania Attorney General Joshua Shapiro will also be joining us for part of our service activities tomorrow.

    Special thanks to Quakertown HS English teacher Rachel Girman, along with several other teachers and community leaders who make up the MLK Planning Committee.  They began planning this event last academic year.  High school students will be bused and carpooled out to several sites in the region to provide several hours of community service. Teachers and other volunteers will be the chaperones while out in the community. It should be lots of fun!

    It’s not too late for your high school student to join us for the MLK Day of Service or anybody to simply stop in and hear our special guest speaker. There will be plenty of project work to be done right there at the high school.

    Thank you.  Have a lovely and warm evening!

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    Email: Wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @billharner

     

     

     

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  • Critical time for 8th graders as they consider HS courses

    Posted by Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner on 1/10/2019 5:45:00 PM

    Good evening!  I hope you are having an excellent week.  Be prepared for some snow this weekend and another Eagles victory in New Orleans!

    It’s that time of year when students in grades 8 through 11 sign up for their academic courses for next year.  Dr. Finnerty and his high school team of teachers and counselors are gearing up for Course Registration. Earlier this week, a packed house of parents and students attended Dr. Finnerty’s presentations on high school programs, course opportunities, and graduation requirements.  Throughout the evening, Advanced Placement, elective, and Upper Bucks County Tech School teachers met with students about courses we will be offering next year.  Today, during an 8th Grade Assembly at Strayer Middle School, a High School team, along with Jeff Sweda, the new Director of Upper Bucks County Technical School, presented some of the same material to students.  I took the opportunity at the end of the presentation to speak with all the 8th graders to emphasize the importance of their course decisions and the incredible opportunities ahead of them.

    No matter what grade your child is in, I respectfully request that all of you take a few minutes to review the HS principal’s presentation. It is quite comprehensive. While we know that we are a work-in-progress, we have come a long way in preparing our students for graduation.  We know that college and career readiness is dramatically improving and most of our graduates are flourishing in their chosen path after they cross the stage to receive their high school diploma.  

    But, I also know that we collectively can do better for some of our students who do not have a plan as they leave high school. For some, we miss the mark in preparing for them for college and/or career readiness.  I talk to students almost everyday and learn a lot from those conversations. For example, when I go into Giant - which is usually late at night, I talk with our students who are stocking shelves and working at the checkout counter.  I always ask lots of questions, to include how they are doing in school, what classes they are taking, and what their plans are AFTER graduation. Some of our seniors I talk with don’t have a plan, even with their impressive work ethic.

    This tells me that we (collectively) have to do better!  It takes teamwork between home and school to get ALL of our students on board with making a plan.  There are so many opportunities at both QCHS and Upper Bucks County Technical School that every student should have a vision for themselves accompanied by a plan. With technology driving change across every industry and in education, what is being taught at UBCTS and the high school is so far advanced over what many of us experienced in school.  Now, a student who attends UBCTS can earn 30 college credits in their specific area before graduation, attend Bucks County Community College for one year and earn another 30 college credits, then attend Bloomsburg University for two years and receive a bachelor's degree.  About 25 percent of our high school students attend UBCTS, then graduate and immediately begin earning more than what most college graduates earn.  Again, please help your child(ren) create a vision and plan for themselves, and let us work together to make it happen.

    The Martin Luther King Day holiday is coming up on Monday, January 21.  It also marks the first annual QCSD Day of Service.  Currently, more than 120 QCHS students will be volunteering at 15 local organizations throughout the Bucks, Lehigh, and Montgomery counties.  We will begin Monday morning at 8 AM with a kickoff breakfast in the High School Cafeteria with Pastor Gregory Edwards, a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar, and graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA.  Our Day of Service is an exciting opportunity to have our students engage with local community activities and programs at organizations that are really looking forward to our students’ involvement and support.  For more information or to join in with our work on MLK Day, please go to our link. There is still time to sign up!  Special thanks to QCHS teacher Rachel Girman, and many other teachers, who had a significant hand in launching this new opportunity to teach good citizenship and service to others in the name of Dr. King.

    A couple of final notes.  State law now requires every district to check its plumbing for lead contamination and publicly report out its findings. If you recall, we tested our facilities for contamination several years ago before mandatory testing.  We found a few problems and had them fixed immediately. A few months ago, all of our school and district facilities were rechecked for lead. The findings were all negative. We do not have a problem!

    Finally, yesterday was a busy day for Quakertown First Responders to our schools. Fire trucks were called to both Richland Elementary and the High School - for tripped alarms due to a sprinkler system malfunction and a burnt cooking project in the foods lab.  What I really want you to know about is the third call - it was for an ambulance. It was to the high school for a student who borrowed and used a “friend’s” vaping device laced with THC.  Due to a previously existing medical condition and a high dose of chemicals ingested because of using a vaping device, the student was initially found non-responsive. It was quite scary!  To better educate our students, we are closely looking at our current curriculum for when to introduce and further discuss the harm that comes from vaping, drugs and the like. We hope that you would consider having those conversations at home, too.  I’d like to share again a video from when Mr. David Fialko, Certified Prevention Specialist, presented to parents at our high school before the Holiday.

    Thanks for reading!  Fly Eagles Fly!

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @billharner

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  • Greater consequences for vaping; plus a mixed bag on academic scores

    Posted by Dr. Bill Harner on 12/20/2018 4:50:00 PM

    Good evening and Happy Holidays!  There is a lot going on throughout Quakertown Community School District.

    December has been an incredibly busy month with school activities outside of the classroom in all of our schools - concerts, winter sports, TSA competition, and more!  One of the most exciting opportunities was experienced by our high school Varsity Singers singing for Governor Wolf at the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in the Pennsylvania Capitol Rotunda. The acoustics in that majestic building made their voices sound angelic and classical. It reminded me of the quality of the sound when I sang in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, back in the day, while in the Cadet Protestant Chapel Choir at West Point. A tour group from Bucks County was there to see the Tree Lighting Ceremony and listen to our Varsity Singers. Many of those in the tour group were from Quakertown.  A very special memory for all!

    The Board of School Directors held its Reorganization Meeting on December 6. The Board unanimously re-elected Steaven Klein and David Ochmanowicz Jr. as President and Vice President, respectively.  Also, Robert Diliberto was appointed Chairman of the Finance Committee. The Board voted on its new meeting schedule for the 2019 calendar year. With five new members on the Board since November of last year, everyone has come to learn their roles and responsibilities through numerous workshops, retreats, lots of study, and attendance at a score of meetings. They have formed a very strong governance and leadership team.

    During a recent meeting, a student representative highlighted the concerns of many of his high school peers who complain about students Juuling/vaping in bathrooms. This is not news to the Board, nor to the Administration. But those at the meeting found it quite insightful since the student brought up the topic.  He claimed that many students do not go to the bathroom during the school day because of it! The Administration maintains the problem is widespread and growing. Some students who are caught vaping at the high school have THC in their possession.

    Vaping by students in grades 6 to 12 is skyrocketing, on and off campus.  We know from the 2017 PAYS report that 37 percent of our high school students have tried vaping. Last week, The Intelligencer ran a front-page story on the issues of teenage vaping.  Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a similar story. To assist in your understanding of the challenges, related health hazards, and discipline issues tied to vaping, we are providing a web page full of resources for you and encourage all parents to check it frequently.  

    We are taking this problem and health risk to our students very seriously. Previous consequences have not worked for us. To aid in deterring this health-threatening activity, effective January 2, 2019, any student in possession of vaping material or vaping on QCSD property will be fined $50 for the first offense, $100 for each offense thereafter, to be paid within five days of the offense or be subject to other administrative consequences.  This new Administrative Regulation is similar to what other school districts are doing across Bucks County.

    Early last fall, Dr. Hoffman, the Assistant Superintendent for the Office of Teaching & Learning, presented a report on Academic Year 2017-18 student performance as measured by the PSSA, Keystones, SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement exams.  The Board asked for a longitudinal look back of COHORT/year group performance on state assessments.  We went back to 2014, the first year that the PSSAs were aligned to the PA Common Core Standards. Remember, the student performance standards are now aligned with an upward progression of rigor that leads to freshman year college readiness.  

    There are reasons for celebration for how our students are performing relative to other high schools and districts across Pennsylvania.  For example, on high school Keystone exams, QCHS students jumped from 97th best performance in the state in 2017, to 45th in 2018.  It is a dramatic improvement, but only a snapshot of one year group - last years seniors! Also, high schoolers have greatly benefitted by stepping up to the plate and taking Advanced Placement (college level) courses and passing the national level AP exam for the courses they take. We have had a four to five fold increase in participation and success.  In turn, student performance on the SAT and ACT dramatically increased because of the hard work students and teachers are putting into these rigorous courses day-in and day-out.

    But there is still a lot of work to be done by all - students, teachers, parents, and the administration. In looking at student performance in Quakertown - over time, in grades 3 through 8, we have not yet “broken the code” on declining student performance on academic standards in mathematics and now, in reading language arts.  For example, last year only 38 percent of Quakertown’s eighth graders were proficient or advanced on the PSSAs.  As PA Common Core Standards are aligned through high school for college readiness, this means that 62 percent of our current ninth graders have a lot of catching up to do to be ready for college.

    At the Dec 6th meeting, Board member Keith Micucci asked if the Board should panic!  I said no, but we definitely need a sense of urgency at all levels of the school district, from the classroom to the district office.  Historically, 60 percent of our graduating classes attend a four-year college institution, and we need to continue to prepare them to be successful. Working together, there is no doubt that we move mountains for our students.  In the meantime, over the Holidays, please take a few moments to study your child’s past performance scores and talk with them about how they are doing. Then share what you learn with us! I am very much interested in your thoughts, as I am sure your teachers and principals are.

    Have a wonderful Holiday!    It’s supposed to be a record year on America's highways, so safe travels in all that you and your family do.

    Bill Harner

    Email: wharner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @BillHarner

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  • KidsVote, Bucks Arts Expo, drug abuse education and Veterans Day highlight the week

    Posted by Dr. Bill Harner on 11/11/2018

    Good afternoon!   Happy Sunday! It is wonderful to have blue sky above us.

    Lots going on throughout the District since we last chatted besides the usual hard work that goes on every day by our students, teachers and staff. For Red Ribbon Week SRO Brain Hendrzak taught numerous drug abuse classes at Strayer MS, the week before, HS school students worked days to prepare the decorations for the Homecoming Dance at which a record setting 900 students attended, The Neidig Renovation Planning Group conducted its 20th planning meeting, Trumbauersville ES hosted elementary principals from across Philadelphia School District for a day to watch and learn from our awesome teachers, then Friday night, in the rain and drizzle, our Panther Football team made us proud in the second round of the playoffs, and finally last night the Quakertown Marching Band placed 4th in national competition at MetLife Field.  It is life in the fast lane, and its been fun and worthwhile!

    Prior to the 2018 Election Day on Tuesday, our students took to the polls at their schools between October 29th and November 5th.  As a school community, before every election, students from grades 3 through 12 are offered the opportunity to participate in KidsVote. For 2018, the participation rate was 58 percent of “eligible voters,” or 2439 ballots cast.  Naturally, we had a fun referendum question that got voted down. We asked, would you prefer a four-day school week versus the current five-day school/work week. Remaining on a five-day week squeaked by - 52.3 to 47.7 percent. The individual school and districtwide results may be found here.

    The first Bucks County Student Arts Expo was held Wednesday evening at Bensalem High School.  Visual and performing arts programs were on display from the 13 districts across Bucks County.  I was thrilled and proud to witness that Quakertown was well represented that evening! The Strayer Players performed two songs from their upcoming musical Mary Poppins, under the direction of teacher Marcia Vanderslice and parent Karen Quinn, and then Strayer’s Messa di Voce performed two of their songs for this year’s program, under the direction of teacher Cynthia Teprovich.  QCHS teacher Laurie Stoudt provided numerous pieces of artwork for display in the Bensalem HS lobby.  It was a wonderful evening of celebration for arts programming across Bucks County schools. I heard many compliments on our student performances from my superintendent colleagues.

    School safety is front and center on everyone’s mind!  Early last week, I shared with you that David Fialko from the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania would be making a presentation on recent trends in drug abuse in the Quakertown Performing Arts Center Wednesday night.  His presentation was preceded by QCSD Pupil Services staff member Carrie Staffieri on Quakertown’s PA Youth Survey results for 2017. Quakertown’s PAYS Report is at the link. Thanks to our Lincoln Kaar’s students in QCHS TV Production Studio for filming both presentations for you.

    With today being Veterans Day, a hearty thank you to those who wear a uniform in defense of our country. Last Friday, several of our sixth graders traveled to Palisades Middle School for a Veterans Day event that rotates each year among the Upper Bucks districts. They were very fortunate to hear from Navy Rear Admiral Linda Wackerman, who was the guest speaker. Three of her children are Quakertown graduates, and one more is on his way. Here’s the story on our website that highlights her words to students.

    As I have mentioned before, we take very seriously the safety of our students and employees of Quakertown Community School District. Providing a safe and healthy environment for every student is a clear expectation of yours for us - as it should be!   One of the most common and unfortunate disruptions to the social, emotional and behavioral context in our schools is bullying. Bullying comes in many forms, and it often comes from the lack of understanding, respect, and tolerance for individual differences.  One of those differences are students that identify as LGBT.

    Recently, in Quakertown social media a few of our parents have commented on a perceived change of QCSD policy or practice regarding LGBT, specifically regarding transgender students. That is not the case.  Quakertown’s practice has not changed. In fact, school-based faculty and staff have worked closely with parents and transgender students for decades, ensuring their safety, respecting their rights, and providing social-emotional support.  With the prevalence of LGBT becoming more common across the world, QCSD brought in a consultant that conducted a professional development session for our principals, guidance counselors, and school psychologists. It was invaluable and timely!  In June 2018, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision to uphold the Boyertown Area School District policy that allows transgender students to use the school bathroom of the sex that the student identifies with. The Court’s decision is explicit in its justification, it is the law that QCSD must follow, and it’s been our practice for a very long time.  

    Finally, the Diversity Committee meets again tomorrow evening at 6:30 PM, in the District Support Center. Lots more to share on this, and the MLK National Day of Service in January a little bit later!

    Thank you for reading and I look forward to your feedback!

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    WHarner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @BillHarner

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  • Big issues to discuss: Selling schools, taxes, musical instruments, vaping and a level playing field

    Posted by Dr. Bill Harner on 10/28/2018 6:45:00 PM

    Good evening! Hope you had a relaxing weekend!  

    Last Thursday night, the School Board conducted a Finance Committee meeting, then its second Board Meeting of the month. There were important items that were discussed and subsequently voted on that I wanted you to share with you. The Board voted 7-2 to approve the contract to sell Milford Middle School (and its 39 acres) and Tohickon Valley Elementary School (and its 10.4 acres) to Faith Christian Academy for $900,000 and $1.1 million, respectively.  Faith Christian Academy now has 90 days to do its “due diligence” to complete its own feasibility study of the two facilities, then complete the purchase no later than March 31, 2019. Selling two old schools is a coup for any school district. I expect the Board will use the $2M from the sale to apply it to the renovation/expansion cost of Neidig Elementary School. Additionally, the $580,000 which was set aside in this year’s budget for the demolition of Milford MS will become a savings to the district.  

    Another item discussed and recommended by the Finance Committee, and subsequently approved 9-0 at the Board Meeting, was to “Opt Out” of Exceptions to the Act I Index for the next school year. The Act I Index for Quakertown for Fiscal Year 2019-20 is 2.7%. Making sound financial decisions that includes controlling expenses is so important to maintaining a healthy financial posture. To give you a balcony view of the district’s overall financial posture, please take a moment to review the PFM Budget Model. It’s a snapshot of the district’s financial health - where we’ve been, where we currently are, and how things are projected to look for us five years from now.  It assumes an Act I Index tax increase each year of 2.7%. Specifically, find the Total Expenditures row on the left column (reddish brown shaded area), then follow it across to columns for Actual 2017 and Estimated 2018.  You will find QCSD’s expenditures for both years, not yet finalized as the audit hasn’t been completed, were an estimated $104 million.  We expect to net more than $1 million from the 2017-28 school year to our Fund Balance.

    Another fiscal item the School Board approved Thursday night was the purchase of $65,000 worth of band instruments for our middle school students. While used high school instruments migrated down to middle school after the infusion of $265,000 worth of new instruments for the HS band program, the middle school had additional needs.  We heard from our teachers that transporting tubas home on the bus has been problematic, and a safety concern. So, we threw the net a little wider and ordered more than just tubas for the middle school band program.  Next year, all of our music programs will be in “Year Two of the Six-Year Curriculum Cycle” when music teachers will be refining and realigning their curriculum. Once Year Two work is completed, then additional funds will be allocated toward the music program’s needs. Our instrumental music teachers have provided top notch programs - concert, marching and jazz bands. In turn, the Board has done its part to keep the momentum going!

    A point of concern to us is the dramatic, if not alarming increase in the use of e-cigarettes and vaping - not only while at school, but out in the community. The most popular brand of vaping device in America is the Juul, which makes up 71 percent of the national market.  Juuls look like a small USB flash drive for a computer.  While vaping is medically safer for adults than smoking regular cigarettes, vaping still creates nicotine addiction, and vape devices are also used for smoking marijuana and other illegal substances. I encourage you to take the time to thumb through the 2017 PA Youth Survey report that summarizes what Quakertown secondary students - grades 6, 8, 10, 12, are self-reporting about their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors towards alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use to help communities address root causes of antisocial behavior. Last spring, we invited David Fialko of the Council Of Southeast Pennsylvania to present at Parent Council about drug abuse and trends.  On November 7, at 6:45 PM, in the Quakertown Performing Arts Center, David will be back to do a reprise of his spring presentation. Additionally, Director of Pupil Services, Janet Pelone will provide a short presentation on the results from our PAYS survey. I encourage you to attend this important presentation!

    Finally, the Board unanimously approved a resolution that recommends the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association redesign postseason athletic competition, separating  boundary (traditional high schools) and non-boundary (parochial and charter) schools from each other in the playoffs. Already scores of other school boards across PA have supported a similar resolution. The PA Legislature, hopefully, will take note and direct the change to level the playing field.

    Thank you for taking the time to read.  I encourage you to share your feedback whenever you have the time.  We are most grateful for the opportunity to hear your perspective.

    Bill Harner

    Superintendent, QCSD

    WHarner@qcsd.org

    Twitter: @BillHarner 

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