By Kris Todd
Daily Reporter Staff
The Spencer Community Schools Board of Education attempted to dissect some unfavorable data Monday night when it received a comprehensive update on student achievement data submitted in Spencer's 2006-07 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report for the district's accountability status under No Child Left Behind. The report's data has placed Spencer in a "watch year" this year as well as a school "in need of assistance" for having not met reading comprehension goals at the third-through-fifth grade and middle school levels respectively.
Both identifications were based on students' non-proficient scores in the special education subgroups.
"This does give us some red flags. But, I think we can use this data to help us make some things that we can do better," said Assistant Superintendent Kathy Elliott. "I'm trying to get us to think about the individual students in the classroom and how we're having an impact on them."
Several of the board members were quick to point out that the non-proficient numbers cited in the AYP report do not represent a large group of students that are "failing."
Next, Spencer Literary Specialist Julie Finnern presented student achievement data related to Lincoln Elementary School's receipt of a Comprehensive School Reform Grant in 2002. The Basic Reading Inventory (BRI) and Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) tests given, and the improvements seen in student scores from last fall to this past spring, were due in part to best-practice strategies implemented by teachers in the building, as well as collaborative staff time incorporated into the schedule, and materials and resources made available because of the grant.
With the new elementary leadership structure in place at the elementary level, as well as the professional development plans in place for this year, it was conveyed that it is the district's hope to mimic similar results in all elementary buildings this year. To this end, Finnern pointed to a newly-established Spencer elementary goal which will "compare individual student's 2006-07 ITBS and 2007-08 ITBS comprehension and vocabulary percentile scores, with 50 percent of students in the non-proficient range at each grade level becoming proficient and 100 percent of students who had been in the medium range staying there or moving to the high range, and 100 percent of the students in the high range staying there."
In other discussion Monday, board members approved an anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy and a "new protected classes and background checks" policy, waived second readings on both and moved to have them in place as of Sept. 1. David Schlichtemeier, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said when the Iowa legislature mandated districts to put this anti-bully and -harassment policy in their policy books is "where it crossed the line."
"My faith doesn't talk about graduation requirements, but it does talk about sex," he said in reference to the "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" categories added into the board policy.
"Policies aren't worth the paper they're written on unless they're communicated," added board member Dean Mechler. To which it was noted that these policies will be printed in several district outlets, including student handbooks. Elliott indicated that students are required to sign their handbooks and that high school pupils are then quizzed on it.
"I don't like being strong armed by the legislature, but I don't think we have a choice," added board member Ed VerSteeg after casting his affirmative vote on the measure.
In other agenda action items, the board agreed to take part in the School Administrative Manager (SAM) project, a pilot project supported by the Wallace Foundation and the School Administrators of Iowa which is designed to give principals more time to focus on classroom instruction. The administrative recommendation to hire two SAM representatives for placement in the elementary and middle school levels is anticipated to carry a $54,961 price tag, which Superintendent Greg Ebeling indicated would be paid for with at-risk funding.
The scope of responsibilities for the proposed school administration managers would include managing school activities, including supervision of classified support personnel, selecting and providing training for staff, managing and coordinating activities such as special events, transportation and building maintenance.
After hearing a description of what this should mean for Spencer, board member Les Zobrist said, "There shouldn't be an excuse for (a principal) not being in the classroom."
When asked whether he thought the district would be able to find anybody with the suggested qualifications to fill these two positions for $12.50 an hour, Ebeling replied, "I think you'd be surprised. ... We have some highly qualified teacher associates that would fit into this category." The superintendent also said he'd be comfortable funding this "pilot" for one year, but not for a five-year term.
After agreeing to implement the program for one year in the district's elementaries and Spencer Middle School, and bringing it back for an evaluation prior to the end of this school year, Mechler said, "I see great potential, but I do not want to see a SAMs for everybody. We're spending money, real money, here. If the money does what numbers indicate, it's money well spent. But, I'm going to need to be convinced of that come next spring."
During its "information and discussion" portion of Monday's meeting, the board received a brief update from Ebeling on a proposal received regarding the old Spencer Middle School building. Sheriffa Jones, an architectural historian with Rural Preservation Partners, requested a 90-day extension to the Aug. 1 deadline to submit a full proposal.
"Over the past four months, ... I have worked with a few community members to develop possible uses, funding sources and partnerships," Jones wrote in her request. "We are excited about the project and the opportunities it presents for Spencer; however, we need more time. While we know we are on the right track, this is a large project and must be undertaken with great care so the building and its historic integrity is not adversely affected."
In other action and discussion, the board:
* Learned that student enrollment is estimated to be down as much as 39 students from last school year. Ebeling stated "preliminary head counts" show 938 prekindergarten through sixth grade students, 352 middle school level pupils and 696 high school students this year. Spencer's estimated 1,986 student count for 2007-08 differs from 2,025 K-12 students accounted for last year.
* Was presented with a school board goal developed on July 30. It states, "By Dec. 1, 2007, the Spencer school board will revise the district's vision and mission statements and develop district core values, as measured by a completed document that will be formally adopted." According to Ebeling, the board's goal will be to work on this this fall while revising the district's vision and mission statements.
* Approved the resignations of teacher associates Ashley Stoermer, Tammy Freeman, Steve Stribley, Vicki Stribley, Kelli Hagedorn and Tara Davis, as well as the hirings of Jolynne Eilts as a payroll and human resource accountant, Greg Baethke as a middle school fitness center supervisor, Lynne Niemeyer, as a food service worker, Melissa Merida, as a field service technician, Katie Tanner, as the boys' swimming coach, Brian Dirkx, as the head boys' baseball coach, Nicole Stauffer, as a Fairview teacher associate, Shannon Fricton and Julie Krull, as Johnson teacher associates, Carol Elliott and Becky Prentice, as Lincoln teacher associates, Emily Merryman, as a high school teacher associate, Tracy Fisher and Megan Stuckey, as middle school teacher associates, and Steve Steele, as a volunteer football coach. The board also increased Pam Haak's full-time equivalency from .54 to .77.
* Authorized "horizontal lane changes" for Sara Buettner, Patricia Campbell, Lisa DeWitt, Tammy Delaney, Amy Freeman, Tracy Gathman, Jan Homan, Diane Hrubes, Marcia Klett, Angela Merchant, Kim Moser, Jan Mummert, Kim Noethe, Mara Seversen, Melissa Stell, Brian Webb and Kim Weeks. The pay increases, which totaled $28,872, were due to each staff member's recent achievement of a higher level of education.
* Approved a transportation agreement with South Clay Community School District for 2007-08. Ebeling explained that this agreement differs from last year's, when Spencer met South Clay's bus in Dickens and transported their students from that point. This year, under the new agreement which resembles one made two years ago, South Clay will bring the students into Spencer and drop them off at the high school, middle school and Sacred Heart. Spencer will reimburse South Clay $710 per student for the 2007-08 school year under this arrangement.
* Renewed a sharing agreement between the district and the Spencer Family YMCA. The swimming program agreement outlines that the YMCA will provide practice time and space from 4:45 - 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 4:15 - 5:45 p.m. Friday. Under this agreement, the district will pay $3,740 if it provides school year busing for the YMCA, and $5,280 if it doesn't.
* Heard from Positively Spencer Youth (PSY) representative Judi Nielsen that PSY was chosen to receive a $100,000 Drug-Free Communities Grant over the next four to five years. Grant funding will allow the organization to hire a full-time director to oversee the day-to-day activities of PSY.
* Was informed that a family forum on the dangers of inhalants and huffing will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23 in the middle school. Parents, adults and students in grades 5 - 12 are invited to attend this.