Good evening! At the QCSD Finance Meeting earlier this evening, and subsequently at the Board Meeting , I presented the Board of School Directors numerous options for closing the structural deficit projected for the ‘17-’18 Budget while addressing our many and significant facilities needs. Unlike the federal and state government, school districts are required by state law to approve a balanced budget every year. Doing nothing to close the deficit would be a disastrous option! The strategy to use the fund balance to balance the ‘17-’18 Budget will double the problem for the ‘18-’19 Academic Year. It would posture the district for serious program reductions. It is simply not an option! Meanwhile, we have students attending school in old, substandard buildings, with no solution in sight for more than a decade.
As I shared with you before, the Board is considering raising taxes to the Act I Index for next year. In deference to our taxpayers, they declined to use Exceptions under Act I and to restructure our debt service payment to free up operating dollars to help us bring our budget into balance for next academic year. At the Board’s last meeting on March 9th, they directed the Administration to come up with more options for them to consider to close the deficit, which is approximately $4.7 million. The Board’s guidance/direction includes:
Not compromising student programs - academic, arts, and athletics,
Freeing up operating dollars to pay for Phase I of the Community Facilities Plan and complete necessary annual capital maintenance.
The presentation that I made to the Board - “Budget and Facilities Options.” can be found at this link. It includes eight options for the Board to consider. A few of the options require near immediate decisions while others may be extended out over time.
As always, we would like your feedback, thoughts, and criticisms. As you consider this presentation and process some of your first thoughts, please know that the Administration’s purpose is the optimize the financial resources that we are provided to advance student achievement and improve college and career readiness, while taking care of our people. QCSD has a wonderful faculty and staff that make things happen, each and every day. I am incredibly proud of what they do. So we must be mindful of our team of professionals to sustain the positive motion and direction that the district is going!
, in faculty meetings across the district, principals will be talking to their teams about what we know and our objectives. There are a lot of thoughts, concerns, hurt feelings, and disappointment to share. No doubt, it is a lot to digest, especially if your school building is directly affected by one of the options. Nevertheless, we will work collaboratively and transparently through the decision process. We hope that you participate in this collaborative process.
Again, I am looking for your feedback. I will share it with the Board and the district leadership team.
Some important business up front! The snow make up day for today’s closing is . So thanks to Stella, now there is school on , and . Please mark that on your calendar.
There have been so many exciting things happening around QCSD besides an unseasonably warm February, and a cold and snowy March! College acceptance letters are coming in droves for our seniors, and our athletes, band and choir members, and Quakertown ES Robotics Team are reaching for excellence in competition. A rundown of some of their accomplishments:
Hayden Smith qualified two weeks ago for the Pennsylvania Music Educators All State Choir and this week, Caleb Szabo qualified for PMEA All State Orchestra on his tuba. The only winter sports teams still in season and competing are swimming and diving. Swimmer Kaylee Heimes, and the sister-brother diving team of Taylor and Bayne Bennett are competing in PIAA State Championship next week. Hudson Delisle continued to break school track records this winter, taking 3rd Place in the 800m at the PIAA Indoor Track State Championship, on top of setting a school record. Then late last week, after our wrestling team won the American Conference of the Suburban League - Noah Wood and Josh Stahl made it all the way to the Giant Center in Hershey to complete in the Wrestling PIAA State Championships. Topping all of this off, the Quakertown Cheerleading Team competed at Nationals a few weeks ago in Florida. Needless to say, all of our articistic performers, teams and athletes did well across the board. Quakertown Panther Proud!
In other community news, the Rotary Club of Quakertown is looking for three host families for next academic year to share the hosting of a foreign exchange student. Usually the exchange student spends a few months with each of the host families. If interested in becoming a host family, please contact David Freeman, President/CEO of Quakertown Bank at 267-377-5922.
In academic news, our middle school math program is gaining strength! If you recall, several years ago, accelerated math - Algebra I and Geometry - was eliminated from our MS curriculum. We put it back. In AY ‘14-’15, less than 25% of our 8th graders were taking an accelerated math course. Our projections for 8th grade next year are that nearly 50% will be taking an accelerated math course. Thank you teachers, parents, and especially students! Great work. Our objective is for students to have Algebra I successfully completed by the end of 9th grade. But, our ‘reach goal’ is to have as many students as possible successfully complete Algebra I in middle school. It sets them up to take at least one year of calculus - a known predictor of college readiness and success.
Facilities Plan and the ‘17-’18 Budget: Our problem - we have a community developed comprehensive facilities plan, and no money to fund it without compromising program. And while we wait to figure out how to afford to renovate or replace old school buildings, it’s expensive to keep old equipment going, like boilers. The sum of the parts (costs for repair), is much greater than the whole. The Board is in a Catch 22, and still staring at a $4 million budget deficit for next year. Last Thursday night at the Facilities Committee Meeting, then later that night during the Board meeting, I was directed by the Board to bring back a “clear path” to accomplish both bringing the budget into balance AND moving forward to meet our facilities needs. To make it all work will be a game changer! I am charged with bringing forward a plan next week that will maintain effectiveness (keep programs), but increase efficiency (lower costs). I expect the possible solutions to be a paradigm shift for many.
Thank you for reading. Please continue to share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and criticisms with me. I routinely share all of your input with the Board leadership. It helps us get better at what we do!
Good afternoon! Hope that you made your way to work ok this morning. While there were slippery conditions in many places, there were no road incidents that I am aware of. I apologize for the computer generated voice message you heard last night with my robo-call regarding the two-hour delay. We were still in the middle of the school board meeting when I finished chatting via text-message with my fellow Upper Bucks Superintendents and our own team about road conditions. I wanted to get the word out as soon as possible so I was multi-tasking during the meeting! I also asked our Tech Director to see if he could get a male voice for me, in case I don’t have the time to personalize it! :-)
Before the Board meeting, we had a special Finance Committee Meeting. Most of the Board was in attendance. The major question that Finance Committee Chair Chuck Shermer asked of the Administration at the last Board meeting was why is there such a significant jump in projected expenses next year over this year - about $8.1 Million more. The tight budget to expenditure in '15-'16 column came about because of the unforecasted purchase of the 126 acres on West Pumping Station Road. The significant budget pressure points are PSERS, added debt service for completing the high school renovation, federal mandated special education services, contractual salary increases, and the need for a few new federal and state mandated positions. The Committee was provided a detailed summary of these pressure points. At the conclusion of our presentation and their questions, I was directed to bring the number down through “extreme austerity.” That means controlling expenses even more this year, and seeing what we can do without next year. There is a lot of good information posted on our ‘17-’18 Budget. If you have any questions about the details, please ask.
Later at the Board meeting, five high school juniors made excellent presentations regarding their personal thoughts about “Advanced Placement and Class Rank Reform in QCHS.” The Board and I were incredibly impressed with their research and presentation skills. As I mentioned in a blog a few days ago, there is conversation at the HS about stress resulting from the increased opportunity of students taking rigorous courses and competing for class rank. It was an excellent opportunity for the Board to learn first hand from our students’ experiences and have insight into the social/emotional culture of QCHS as student performance increases. The students shared that they came out of middle school under the Standards-Based Grading system, and it was a huge paradigm shift with greater expectations required for success, and requiring better study habits and skills. I shared with them that we have been working on developing those habits and skills already in our elementary and middle schools. It will take us several years to get everything in place. Over the next few months, we will be looking further into the issues.
Following the student presentations, the Board received a presentation from the Administration on the Class of 2016 Graduate Survey results. The response rate from the Class of 2016 was 26% and almost all the respondents were attending college. Most had taken at least one Advanced Placement course, which is the board goal for students attending college. 80% of the respondents said they were expecting a 3.0 or above for their 1st semester, 75% said they were either Good, Very Good, or Excellent in how well QCSH prepared them for college, and 28% are majoring in a STEM field. This is a significant increase in each of these areas over previous graduate surveys. What was interesting was that most students had to take at least some coursework online, and that Canvas was the most utilized Learning Management System in college. As you know, that is our LMS, too. In my Quakertown student meetings and parent emails I am told that Canvas is not universally used by our faculty. , at my meeting with students, they told me that it would greatly reduce their stress if teachers made a syllabus available which included course requirements, due dates for projects, and dates for quizzes and exams. So we will make sure we improve in that area.
Again, thank you for reading. I hope that you have a wonderful weekend. The Board and I will be holding our Mid-Year Retreat , and I will report on it shortly.
Good evening! Hopefully you have made plans for the possibility of a snow day . If we do close our schools , the snow makeup day will be next per the school calendar. I will make the call either later this evening or first thing in the morning. Regardless of the weather , the PMEA Band Festival - that QCHS is hosting beginning , will continue as planned . Additionally, there is a Finance Committee meeting and School Board meeting scheduled for night. Those meetings will also take place as planned, unless otherwise posted on the QCSD website by .
There are three other things that I would like to share with you this evening. The first is good deal and potential financial savings for many of you. The new MedExpress Urgent Care facility had its Grand Opening yesterday. It is located two buildings to the north of John’s Plain & Fancy, on the southbound side of Route 309. I attended the event and learned that they will be offering free sports physicals for the next two weeks, ending . If you have a child or children participating in sports this spring, this is an excellent opportunity to both see the new MedExpress facility and get a free sports physical.
The second thing that I would like to share are the results from the Regional SkillsUSA competition held at the Allentown Fairgrounds last week. This annual competition has students from the Upper Bucks County Technical School competing with students from across the region in career and technical skill content areas. As I roamed around observing our students compete, I ran into scores of potential employers scouting the talent. Just like in years past, Quakertown had 1st Place finishers. The are Jay Tulio - Carpentry, Kyle Rubin - Electrical Technology, and Kelsey Worley - Baking & Pastry Arts. Congratulations to them for their performance and moving on to state level competition. We also had numerous 2nd and 3rd place finishers. We are certainly proud of all of our Quakertown UBCTS students who participated, and are demonstrating their career-readiness!
The final topic is about high school course selection and student stress. After a QCHS faculty meeting two weeks ago, a number of teachers stuck around afterwards to chat with HS Principal David Finnerty about the level of stress and competition being felt throughout the building, especially amongst the junior class taking Honors and AP courses. They shared several symptoms and suggested a few solutions to the problem. A few days later, our Student Board Representative - who is a member of the junior class, shared similar thoughts with the School Board. I followed these conversations by meeting with over 25 members of the HS faculty last week, and about 50 juniors this past . As a follow up, I asked each of these groups to prepare to share their thoughts and recommendations with the Board and me in the near future.
Over the past few years, Quakertown Community School District has academically gone where it has not gone before. Our students and teachers have accomplished some wonderful things together. We know that it is already paying off for many of our recent graduates as evidenced by their feedback, Class of 2016 Graduate Survey. A part of that growth is to constantly examine what, how, and why we are doing what we are doing, while always being mindful of the answers to those questions and ensuring the proper support systems are in place for our students. We study what other high performing districts offer and do for their students. We will do our very best to provide those supports and services as our students reach for the stars and seek to fulfill their potential. I look forward to reporting more on this topic in the very near future.
Again, stay tuned to the weather! I suspect you will be hearing from me again in less than 12 hours. Have a wonderful evening (hope you have already gone and got your bread and milk)!
The SB76 School Property Tax Elimination discussion in Harrisburg and across Pennsylvania is picking up lots of steam! As I do my very best to be as transparent as possible with you so that you may draw your own conclusions on issues, I shared my SB76 blog with PA House Representative Staats and Senator Mensch last week. I have an excellent relationship with both legislators! They always make themselves available to discuss education policy issues.
Earlier this week, Senator Mensch sent out a survey regarding SB76 and other possible state fiscal priorities to those who receive his newsletters. I hope you take advantage of his initiative to solicit constituent opinions on the topic. Also, please take the time at the bottom of the survey to sign up to receive his periodic newsletter. Constituent involvement makes democracy work - let your voice be heard here, in Harrisburg, and in Washington!
Before you answer his survey questions on property tax elimination, I request you read on so that I may share a few more details with you about what I called in my previous email the “heavy lifts.” These are things that the Board and I believe are essential for Harrisburg to become more fiscally responsible with our precious taxpayer dollars. These things should be addressed before any further consideration of eliminating local school property tax in favor of increasing state revenue collection (taxes) by $15 billion, or 50%. The school board discussed this important issue at last night’s meeting. Their thoughts were captured accurately by the Intelligencer newspaper reporter.
The three most significant “heavy lifts” that drive up our expenses that Harrisburg has control over are PSERS/SERS retirement systems, the “prevailing wage,” and unfunded state mandates.
I have shared with you in several previous blogs about the PSERS - Public School Employees’ Retirement System - issue. It is the Board’s #1 priority to be fixed by the state. This article puts the PSERS crisis for the state, school districts, and all taxpayers into context. Across the state last year, local school districts paid a net $2.8 billion into the PSERS system for their employees - the state paid the other half. That’s 20% of the total property taxes raised last year across Pennsylvania. As a reminder, PSERS costs in school districts are driven by state mandates, not by local decisions.
The second priority is the elimination of the prevailing wage. Prevailing wage dictates what districts pay for labor costs for school construction and development projects. Quakertown Community School District, and other school districts in Bucks County are assigned to the Philadelphia region for its PA mandated prevailing wage. The dividing line for our region is to our northern boundary with Southern Lehigh School District, which is assigned to the Lehigh Valley region. What a difference a few miles makes! By being assigned to the Philadelphia region, QCSD pays significantly more in labor costs. How much more? Approximately 25% markup! If QCSD was assigned to Lehigh Valley region, QCSD would have saved approximately $20 million on the $70+ million QCHS Renovation project. Instead, we pay top dollar, not competitive labor costs for our local area. Over the next decade we have new schools to build and school renovations to make. This construction will be much more cost effective if prevailing wage legislation is eliminated.
The third priority is to minimize the number of underfunded and unfunded state mandates that our local taxpayers end up paying for. An excellent illustratration is charter school funding. Up front, most of our Board members have stated their support for charter schools - as have I. I love the competition. But, charter schools lack accountability to a publicly elected board and the funding formula is catawampus! For example, when a Quakertown student attends a charter school, we pay the average QCSD per pupil cost of $12,000. If the student has a disability, the money we send to the charter school is double, or $24,000. A student living in Lower Merion attending the same charter school would pay double what we pay. It’s all based on what school district the student is from. The irony of the charter funding formula in PA is that vast majority of our charter school students attend a cyber charter school, when QCSD has its own cyber program that costs approximately $3,000 per student. As the Auditor General Eugene DePasquale of PA has pointed out, PA has the worst charter school law in the nation, and we pay a lot for that lack of accountability and transparency.
Thanks again for reading. We started a school district webpage with relevant information on SB76, including contact information for all of our elected officials. We ask that you get involved and share your opinion on this issue one way or the other. We look forward to your feedback and hope that you will take a few minutes to complete Senator Mensch’s survey.
Have a super weekend!
Shortly after the gavel comes down on Monday to begin the next session of the PA State Legislature, I expect that PA Senate Bill 76 School Property Tax Elimination will be brought forward. Last year, the bill failed by one vote, 25-26 with the Lieutenant Governor casting the deciding “no” vote. Taxes are a burden for all of us! They are relative to what we earn (income tax), spend (sales tax,) and the value of our homes (property tax). It’s even worse if you are a business owner because Pennsylvania has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the nation. Many businesses have left our state because of it. As a homeowner myself, I pay the full array of taxes like most of you. However, as the Quakertown superintendent, I have a fiduciary responsibility to keep the Board and community aware of the implications of what is out there that could put the district at risk.
Just the sound of this bill makes it popular! School Property Tax Elimination! The thinking is that it is expected to be an ‘easy lift’ for the Legislature. So what’s the downside? Here it is: SB76 will virtually eliminate local financial control of schools and create an annual guessing game in the school district budgeting process. I believe this bill is short-sighted, especially for communities like ours, and in fact, for many communities across Pennsylvania. Before considering such a major shift in school funding, our elected leaders in Harrisburg need to make the ‘heavy lifts’ first, which they haven’t done yet. They need to first solve the PSERS crisis, then start controlling expenses, reduce or eliminate unfunded mandates, and balance their own budget.
How is SB76 Property Tax Elimination suppose to work? The bill promises to “replace dollar for dollar revenue lost” to school districts - that’s $15 Billion across 500 school districts. That’s a lot of funding to redistribute, and a lot of money to send to the state in hopes that we get the same amount back! To eliminate property taxes, the Personal Income Tax (PIT) rate will increase from 3.07% to 4.95%, the Sales and Use Tax (SUT) will increase from 6 to 7% and expand to apply to more items, and the state will collect all that new revenue and send funding out to school districts, to include a cost of living adjustment. This fiscal year, Quakertown Community School District receives 25% of its annual revenue from Harrisburg. If SB76 is enacted, our state revenue will jump to 86% of the ‘17-’18 QCSD Budget - if we get what is promised. A big if! This reminds me of why social security is so far in the red.
What are the repercussions for Quakertown? One wrinkle is that school districts must continue to tax property owners for debt service. In real numbers, that is over $10 million of debt payments a year until the year 2032, when it declines precipitously until 2045. Any borrowing for new construction, e.g. building, renovating or upgrading schools would have to be approved by a community-wide referendum. Historically, that route does not work. Only two school construction referenda have passed in Pennsylvania since the implementation of the Act I Index ten years ago.
Let’s put SB76 into context of past state level decision making. Over a decade ago, Governor Ridge and PA Legislature voted all state and public school employees, including themselves, a retirement increase (PSERS and SERS). It became a seriously underfunded mandate, with the burden falling on school districts. This year, 34% of every dollar of salary must be paid into PSERS by the taxpayers. That means the cost is passed on to you through property tax increases. It also resulted in cutting school programs and people as PSERS obligations crowded out other spending. For example, in Quakertown, the PSERS expenditure line item grew by a factor of 10 from what it was - 1% to 10% of our budget or $1 million to $11 million, over the past ten years. During the same time, the district cut staff by over 80 positions.
If you remember last year, the Governor and the Legislature could not come to terms on the state budget. Districts across the state received only half their state revenue until nine months into the fiscal year. Many school districts that receive 50% or more of their revenue from the state had to borrow money to make payroll - further passing more burden onto taxpayers! Exacerbating the problem in Harrisburg is that this year’s state budget was not balanced - it was underfunded by $1 billion. School boards are required to balance their budget every year by law, the state is not. So, PA began the year with a shortfall and now, half way through the fiscal year, revenue collections are running behind by $600 million, which makes that gap even bigger.
As a homeowner and district leader, who is fairly well versed in public finance, I am troubled with SB76. There is no doubt tax reform is needed badly! Let’s do it systematically! Put “first things, first!” We must address the ‘heavy lifts’ first - especially the PSERS crisis. Before we simply hand over $15 billion of our hard earned money to leaders in Harrisburg, we should expect them to get their own financial house in order. Building trust is important! The consequences of not approaching tax reform thoughtfully and in the right order could be devastating to public schools and our economy throughout the Commonwealth. I encourage everyone to follow this issue carefully and share your thoughts and concerns with your elected officials. I thought you should know.
Contact your PA State Legislature
Good evening! What an incredible Arctic blast we received this weekend. morning’s weather forecast calls for icy conditions. Stay tuned!
As usual, so many things are going on and some fun things to report on:
AP District Honor Roll Award for 2016
Elementary School Science Kits and Social Studies books
1st week of 2017 was really good for QCHS Sports
Reminder about Board Facilities Meeting this week, topic: land development
Right before the holiday, the College Board announced that QCHS received the 2016 AP District Honor Roll award - for the third year in a row! Criteria for the award are strict:: growth in student enrollment in AP courses, growth in performance of students taking the exam, and maintained or increased participation of minority students. We know from research, and I have seen through professional practice, that as student participation and success on AP exams increase, SAT scores and college freshman year success increase. What does this mean for Quakertown? As more students step up and take more rigorous courses in the short term, we should see a dramatic increase in SAT scores and college readiness.
Science and social studies at the elementary level are content areas frequently overlooked in the era of high stakes testing and national accountability movements. A common occurrence in schools is that textbooks and other resources bought by districts become the curriculum versus building curriculum maps that are aligned to state standards, then selecting resources to match that curriculum. We have found some of those curriculum deficiencies and inconsistencies. As a result, our K-12 STEM, Reading/English Supervisors, and Social Studies specialist spent a full day in each of our elementary schools to solicit feedback/input on various resources, e.g. non-fiction books related to grade level social studies standards and science kits. After wonderful collaboration and support during these visits, we will present to the School Board several books from the American Reading Company for approval, and a contract to upgrade and maintain our Foss Science Kits.
The first week of 2017 was an impressive week for Quakertown Community HS sports - 10 wins for 15 competitions! The co-ed Bowling Team had its first ever competition and held its own. The popularity and excitement in the HS for the bowling program reminds me of years ago when Jamaica had its first bobsled team at the Olympics. Our Girls Varsity Basketball Team went 3-0 for the week - winning two of the games in overtime. Boys swimming went undefeated in two meets (5-1 overall, you go, Coach Peters and swimmers); wrestling went 3-2 against some hefty competition; girls swimming went 1-1; and boys basketball went 1-2 for the week. Capping it off yesterday was underclassman Hudson Delisle running a minute mile at the Armory in New York City despite losing his shoe half way through. His time qualifies him for the PA State Indoor Championships.
As a reminder, during Board Facilities Committee Meeting, we will see the initial conceptual drawing options for our land on West Pumping Station Road. A few months back, the Board approved the Community Facility Committee recommendation to develop the land - initially building an elementary school, then joining a middle school to it several years later. We have invited our 36 neighbors whose homes adjoin or are near the property to this week’s meeting. You can watch a video about the school building plan by clicking here. Next month, we will bring before the Board the final approval for the Sports Complex behind the high school.
Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts about these topics or anything else of interest with us.
Greetings and Happy Holidays from the Quakertown Community School District office!
The Holidays are already off to a wonderful start with winter concerts, athletic events, and of course, a few major exams for high school students right before the winter break. I heard so much about them last night before the HS choir concert.
Before everyone shoves off to destinations far and wide I wanted to share a few important items. Please read:
Beginning on January 9th in the Senior High School Cafeteria, for the first time ever, Chartwells - our food service provider, will be providing a free or reduced breakfast for eligible students. For decades, we have provided the free/reduced meal opportunity at the lower building levels, but not at the Senior High. The service will begin at 6:45 AM and run to 7:10 AM. The meal will be in accordance with the federal breakfast program, so the meals will be French toast, pancakes, waffles, breakfast sandwiches, or cold cereal with assorted muffins, juices and milk. Many of our children qualify for this offering. The Panther Café that is out in the front lobby area will continue to serve a la carte items, including coffee.
A few parents have asked me to provide follow up information about the bomb threat at QCHS back in September. It was determined that the bomb threat came from an overseas source. As I believe I mentioned to you before, the week after the threat, local first responders - in particular Scott McElree, the Quakertown Borough Police Chief and Rich Ficco, the Richland Township Police Chief joined with our Administrative Team for an After Action Review to discuss lessons learned. We took action on those lessons.
It is that time of year to consider those who are not as fortunate as many of us. Quakertown Cares is a not for profit local organization that supports children and their families who are in need, and senior citizens. Already the annual winter campaign has surpassed previous years. They have raised over $40,000 that has already found its way to our local families. Not a single dollar goes to overhead! The campaign this year is extended to February. Please consider supporting QC by supporting our families in need. Checks may be sent to Quakertown Cares, @ QNB, P.O. Box 9005, Quakertown, PA 18951.
The School Board is moving forward with the developing of 126 acres that QCSD owns behind Target and BJs. At the January 12th Facilities Committee meeting - beginning at 5:30 PM in the Board Room, the Board will be discussing for the first time initial planning ideas for the development of an elementary school - middle school complex that would replace Tohickon Valley ES and Milford MS. You are cordially invited to attend this one-hour meeting. We have already invited all of the neighbors around the 126-acre property.
Finally, so far, the weather has been kind to us this winter! We have not had to have a snow day. Currently, the day right after the New Year, Monday January 2, 2017 is scheduled to be a school day for student attendance. With this notice, it will be officially a non-school/non-work day for the entire Quakertown Community School District. Yes, no school on January 2nd.
On behalf of the Board of School Directors and all of us at the District Service Center, we want to wish you and yours a very Happy and Joyous Holiday! I could not be prouder of our school community and grateful for your faith and confidence in us. As always we look forward to listening to your ideas and feedback, as they are invaluable for building a quality school district.
Travel safely during the Holiday!
Holiday Greetings! Hope this finds you all well. There is a lot to report from the school district office:
School Board Reorganization/Annual Budget for ’17-’18.
Elementary Social Studies Curriculum
Elementary School Science Curriculum & STEM Clubs.
Challenges to our School District Culture
On December 1st, the School Board conducted its annual Reorganization Meeting. Paul Stepanoff and Chuck Shermer were re-elected President and Vice President with committee chairs remaining the same. Stephen Ripper chairs the Facilities Committee, Chuck Shermer the Finance Committee, Mitch Anderson the Education Committee, and Steaven Klein the Policy Committee. These committees meet once a month. The Board also directed the Administration to plan for Act I Index (2.9% on local property taxes) for Budget ‘17-’18, with no funding “exceptions.”
Moving to celebrations, congratulations to teachers Frank Parker and Joe Santanello, and the Quakertown Marching Band! The Marching Band had another amazing year in competition and at home supporting our school community at Night Lights. Last month, they concluded their competition season by finishing second nationally at MetLife Stadium. We are incredibly proud of Assistant Marching Band Director & Strayer Middle School Band teacher Joe Santanello, who is currently a semi-finalist for the National Music Educator of the Year Award. Another key component of Nights is our Varsity & JV Cheerleading squads. In her first full year as head coach, Quakertown grad and parent Carrie Maha led her two squads this past weekend to a qualifying spot in the national cheerleading championships, which will be held in Florida in February. Speaking of sports, last month the Board authorized the administration to begin a HS Bowling team with teacher Alan Hunsicker as coach, with Shelby Miller at Keller Williams Realty Group as the team's sponsor. Practices begin this week!.
Since high stakes testing took hold of classrooms across the country by federal fiat 15 years ago with NCLB (No Child Left Behind), social studies and science have often taken a back seat to reading and math. This is a national K-8 phenomenon and created several problems in what teachers are supposed to teach and what students are supposed to know and be able to do. Fitting everything that is expected and required into a day/week/month/school year is problematic. Our Office of Teaching & Learning is taking on this challenge systematically, deliberately, and by working collaboratively with teachers in a Six Year Curriculum Cycle. I was surprised to learn that we do not have in place a K-5 social studies curriculum across all elementary schools. A team of teachers is working on that right now, which will be integrated into the reading program.
Behind the scenes we are updating our K-5 Science Kits and science curriculum to the draft National Science Foundation standards. A topic that comes up frequently at my Parent Council meetings are STEM Clubs (Science Technology, Engineering & Math). In the past, the district only supported TSA Clubs at the middle and high school levels, but nothing STEM related at the elementary level. Therefore, STEM Clubs only existed where parents stepped up to financially support them. It was not an even playing field for all students. Therefore, in order to create cohesive extra-curricular opportunities for all students interested in the STEM fields, we re-allocated resources to support STEM Clubs at each of the elementary schools (ESs). That began this fall for Grades 4 & 5. Each of our ESs received support in selecting a STEM Club theme and activities that would best meet the needs and desires of our students. Their choices are really cool: Designing and building simple powered machines, robotics, volcanoes, geodesic gumdrops, straw bridges, and marble mazes. We expect a high student interest and participation rate.
Having a high expectation and positive school district, school building, and classroom culture is essential for us to make the leap from “Good to Great” as a school community. We may have the best strategy to advance student achievement to the highest level for your children, but as I have said to you before, “culture trumps strategy every time.” When your child(ren) walk across the stage at graduation, they will be entering a culturally and ethnically diverse world in which they will meet many people who are different from them, significantly different from their experience right in our backyard of Quakertown. We need to prepare them for it.
In the news across the country and right here in Bucks County after the national election, there were many news reports of bullying by adults and students against their peers who were not of the same ethnic, religious, or racial background. You need to know that these types of incidents happened right here in our schools. Those reports broke my heart! Sadly, these types of incidents also happen every so often at bus stops and in our schools year round. That’s simply unacceptable! Saying something disparaging that is racially or ethnically charged about another adult or child for any reason is inexcusable behavior. Your children and our employees are my responsibility to protect. Please know that I take that responsibility seriously. "Community" is in our district name for a reason. So, please help us foster an environment of respect and tolerance. Thank you.
As always, thanks for reading and for all you do to support your children and us! I look forward to your feedback, which I will share with the Board and the administrative team.
On November 10, the Board adopted a new mission statement, vision, and set of shared beliefs. These are part of the 2017-20 Comprehensive Plan, which the Pennsylvania Department of Education requires us to develop and submit every three years. Our objective is to make every student in Quakertown college and career ready by graduation day. If you think about that for a moment, that is thirteen years of serious work and heavy lifting by scores of teachers along the way for every student, as they pass through the kindergarten through 12th grade continuum. Most of the teachers will have 180 days/class periods a year with your child. Their time together is precious as the student, teacher and content converge into learning the task.
Creating a district-wide community of learners - students, faculty, administrative staff, parents, and even the School Board, is paramount to our success. For the adults in this equation, professional development is key, and our children are watching our example. Leading from the front, the School Board participates in numerous activities - weekend retreats, workshops, numerous committee meetings, and just recently, in a board-administrator book study group. Currently, the Board and the district’s senior leaders are discussing The State of the American Mind.
The administrative team - building principals, their assistants, and district office leaders are constantly looking inward to determine how we can provide more effective leadership in our areas of responsibility. Year round, we expect our administrators to seek continuous improvement to become more effective leaders. In a word - to grow. We conduct book studies together, bring in guest speakers, attend relevant workshops, and invest lots of our own time into personal professional development. This year four of our nine principals volunteered to participate in a principal leadership training program through the National Institute for School Leadership. Four other school leaders are working on their doctorates.
Across the district, teachers take professional responsibilities seriously and are doing their part to grow and learn every day! At the elementary level, with introducing the new Eureka math program this year and re-aligning the curriculum for reading, teachers are working both together and on their own to be prepared every day. To help them, we have made an adjustment this school year to some of the specialist positions in our elementary schools. Our reading and math specialists, supported by the Office of Teaching and Learning, are now supporting teachers with the planning and instructional supports they need to impact the learning of all students in our reading and math classrooms.
Research on professional development for teachers consistently points out the need to provide ongoing, robust support, such as co-planning, co-teaching, and coaching to transfer knowledge and skills learned in workshops to classroom practice. At the Freshmen Center, the two middle schools, and Quakertown ES, our teachers are leading the implementation of the Instructional Rounds process to look as school wide instructional practices and determine areas for improvement. Improving classroom instruction across all of our schools is key to lifting student achievement so that ALL of our children are college and career ready. Fortunately, built into our teachers contract are 15 non-instructional days, the most in Bucks County! Six of those days are curriculum and conference days working in teacher teams and meeting with parents. The 9 remaining days are “untracked” so teachers are afforded the time they need to be the best, and they are!
A couple months ago, I promised elementary school parents the second installment of the Reading/Language Arts and Math Parent Resources guide. This is an invaluable resource that will help you follow along with what your children are doing in class.
As always, sharing your thoughts is invaluable to us. So, please do so! I share all of your input with our district’s leadership team as we all work to grow and learn every day.