Taking you behind the curtain for valuable look at enrollment, music curriculum

Taking you behind the curtain for valuable look at enrollment, music curriculum
Posted on 10/03/2018

ast Thursday evening, the School Board conducted its second meeting of the month. After receiving an update on the Parent Safety Committee and the Diversity Steering Committee meetings, the Board and the Administration did a deep dive into the District's 2018-19 Ten-Day Enrollment Report and how the Music Department fits into the Six-Year Curriculum Cycle. The combined discussions lasted for several hours, which we post for viewing after each meeting. I believe these discussions were helpful in providing the context of previous Board decisions and recent actions by the Administration. Understanding what goes on "behind the curtain" may be valuable for your understanding of these two systems.

Student enrollments drive so many facets of school and district operations, especially funding and staffing. The annual Ten-Day Enrollment Report is the first public look this year at class sizes across all schools. For decades - up until four years ago - we had "open areas" instead of hard boundaries for school assignment, to keep class sizes similar at each elementary school. This resulted in students from the same neighborhoods attending different schools. The plan to eliminate open areas and keep neighborhoods together was approved by the Board after a parent Redistricting Committee spent months studying the issue and made a recommendation to the Board. Except for the reassignment of Tohickon Valley ES students to other elementary schools this summer as a result of the building closing, the five-year commitment to the 2014 Redistricting Plan has remained intact.

The declining trend in student enrollment in Quakertown is expected to continue for at least another five years. In fact, the current birth rate across our six municipalities is continuing to go even lower. For the sixth year in a row, elementary enrollment significantly decreased - a total of 350 students. This year alone, we have 87 fewer elementary students than last year. By closing an elementary school and re-assigning students fairly evenly across the remaining schools following the Reassignment Committee plan, we have nine fewer regular education classroom sections, with class sizes increasing by 1 student on average. These hard boundary lines, however, created disparities at some grade levels.

Our current fifth-grade class is the last of the large grade level classes with 410 students. Over the next five years, as these students move up from one grade level to the next, we expect to have another 350 fewer students in the district than today, with nothing on the horizon to change that downward trajectory. With the possibility of new home construction only happening in Richland Township, and that being limited, this begets at least a few questions about the future. First, what does teacher staffing and class size look like moving forward? Second, what does it look like to optimize the use of our school facilities?

Answers to both questions are ultimately Board-level decisions. However, with the loss of teaching and administrative staff positions through attrition resulting from the closing of two school buildings - two key strategies that closed our $4.7 million structural budget deficit - we find ourselves on sound financial footing. Therefore, it is the Administration's intent to retain teaching staff to reduce class size beginning at the elementary level, as student enrollment continues to decline. Next year, before the Neidig ES renovation and expansion project is completed, we expect to form another Parent Redistricting Committee to review the possibilities of how to optimize the use of our facilities from 2020-21 and beyond.

During the first Board meeting in September, a few Board members had questions about how the Administration was planning to utilize the new Music teaching position that the Board approved in June during Final Budget discussions. This was not a position that the Administration requested for this academic year nor is it needed to sustain our Music Department programs or level of support. Adding the new Music position came from a Board member's motion before the Final 2018-19 Budget was approved in June. Therefore, during the Superintendent's Report last week, we took the opportunity to follow up with answers to their questions with an in-depth presentation.

Some of you may be familiar with "design thinking" in the business world. In education, as a significant part of our systems creation and development, we use "backwards by design" - a beginning with the end in mind, backwards planning, and other educational modeling techniques. On Thursday night, we provided a detailed briefing on the Six-Year Curriculum Cycle, how it relates specifically to the Music Department, and background documentation that captures the awesome level of support for the music program by the Board and Administration over the past five years. Currently, Music Department funding and support is second-to-none in the district. With the Six-Year Cycle, the Music Department is up next year for curriculum development, then funding for their K-12 programs will follow.

On BoardDocs, we provided the School Board several Music Department related reports that include staffing levels and growth in annual budgets, along with one-time expenditures that greatly exceed any other content area/department in the district. It is important to note that Music Department staffing was steady for seven years until two schools were closed and enrollment declined precipitously. Since there was serious music community interest to add another band teacher at the elementary level, we provided student-instrumental music teacher ratios. These ratios depict that we are comfortably staffed to the point of having unprogrammed time in many teacher schedules. Therefore, with the expectation by the Board to add a music teacher, I decided to begin to offer string instrument instruction this year as a part of our Instrumental Music Program. The Six-Year Implementation Plan is also on Board Docs.

As mentioned in a previous "Super Blog," the new music teacher will be teaching string instruments at all five elementary schools. The new teacher, Megan Edinger, is scheduled to begin with us in November once she is released from her current teaching contract. Students can begin to rent/purchase instruments now and will be able to begin instruction as soon as Ms. Edinger begins with the district. We are also exploring possible after-school sessions by Ms. Edinger in October/November for students who want to get started sooner. More information about this will be sent out in the coming weeks.

I hope you will take some time to review the detailed planning "behind the curtain" for our recommendations and actions that support our mission to prepare all students with the knowledge, habits, and skills they need to graduate ready for college or career and for engaged citizenship, all at the best value to our community.

Thanks for reading! As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Bill Harner

Superintendent, QCSD

[email protected]

Twitter: @billharner

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