The State of the District, Now and Future
Superintendent Brian Osborne addressed the community on Weds. night, taking questions about de-leveling and class size
The State of the District currently was on the agenda, but many of those in the audience at Wednesday’s night Board of Educaton meeting brought questions about the future.
Speaking to an audience of some 50 Board of Education members, parents, teachers, and other staff, Superintendent Brian Osborne offered a synopsis of where the South Orange – Maplewood School District stands, especially in regard to district goals. This is the fourth year the district has compiled a Report to the Community and Osborne has prepared a public presentation; a detailed list of goals, objectives and indicators is available here. Osborne, who described South Orange and Maplewood as a “unique and special place,” noted that his presentation would be brief to allow time for parent questions.
The district sees progress towards its first goal, promoting intellectual development of all students. Osborne noted “significant” gains in test scores, the “largely complete” overhaul of the English – Language Arts curriculum now in place, and a greater number of Advanced Placement students and scholars.
He described the English – Language Arts curriculum as “consistent and rigorous,” and noted that professional development is underway as a result of the math audit. Osborne touted full-day kindergarten for all students, now in its second year, as well as a practice of offering special needs students the least-restrictive environment possible to meet their needs.
In addition, Osborne cited successful summer programs, a change in the elementary school Enrichment program, and a restructuring of sixth grade to allow students more time in core classes of math, social studies, science, and English – Language Arts.
The district’s second goal asks staff to “consistently” and collaboratively lead students to learn, and Osborne noted progress towards consistency. A new teacher evaluation plan is in place, which “puts into words” what is expected in an out of the classroom. In addition, five teachers have recently garnered national certification.
Goal Three asks students and parents to partner with personnel in facilitating learning. In this area, Osborne expressed gratitude and appreciation for PTA and HSAs in the community, to the Parenting Center, and to Achieve, the education foundation that has made a goal of improving the CHS auditorium among many other projects. “Save the date,” said Osborne, noting that March 5 is an annual Achieve fundraiser.
Resource Management is the district’s fourth goal, and Osborne reported progress in areas of energy savings and costs that remain under control due, largely, to individual efforts and shared services.
However, he noted, costs will continue to challenge the district. He reminded listeners that SOMSD will need to “made do with with less” since state aid was cut by 80 percent last year. Asked if he anticipated further cuts in state aid, Osborne admitted that he didn’t know.
The district’s most significant challenge, he said, remains closing the achievement gap. “We have a long way to go,” he said, when it comes to “huge, stark inequities [in student achievement] that correlated with race and class.” Osborne credited the district personnel, Board members, and the community for a focus on this effort.
“There’s no roadmap,” he said, for closing the gap. The district has a strategy it calls LEARNS, which stands for Leadership, Evaluation, Access, Rigor, Analysis, and Support for Learning. Osborne noted that test scores suggest that the strategy is successful.
However, he cautioned, in response to a parent question, the time is coming for a community conversation about how “race and class intersect with expectations.”
A parent asked if budget constraints for the coming school year will impact class sizes. Osborne replied that there are likely to be changes at CHS, where the average class size is now 20 – 21 students.
Many parents raised questions about further de-leveling. After the Board’s spring decision to de-level seventh grade, parents asked both for results, so far, and for a timelife for further deleveling. Osborne noted that it’s too early for anything but anecdotal reports, which he says are positive, and that any further recommendation for change on his part would need to be approved by the Board. It’s unlikely that the current seventh grade will see a de-leveled eighth grade, since test results from this academic year won’t be released in time to implement changes for next.
Osborne credited seventh grade teachers for their work in de-leveling, which he described as “challenging” on the classroom level. He further noted that, “It’s critically important that we not give anything on high-end performance.”
When parents spoke about access to school information and teachers, many lauded PowerSchool and electronic communication. However, others wondered how to allow more parents to “crack the code” of communicating with schools and advocating for their children. “We meet everywhere where they are,” said Osborne, recommending that parents communicate with one another.
In closing, Board of Education President Mark Gleason reiterated the district’s focus on accountability in all areas. “Intention isn’t good enough,” he said, reminding parents that the district has set up parameters for progress in many areas. He credited previous boards for doing work that yield progress today.
Gleason also reminded parents that the budget cycle has begun for the 2011-12 academic year. The first formal look at the budget is Weds., January 19, 2011, 7:30 p.m. at the Board of Education. The public is welcome.
Finally, he noted, three seats on the nine-member Board of Education will be open this year, as every year. Those interested in running can find materials and information here.