Yellow Springs School Board

Schools support Rwanda grant

The laughter-filled April 8 school board meeting saw the approval of two new principals for village schools, the naming of the finalist candidate for the superintendent position, and the announcement of two new multi-age classrooms in the elementary school during the 2010–2011 school year. It was also the first board meeting of new treasurer Dawn Weller.

The board discussed the difficulty of functioning as policy makers when boiler-plate policy templates are recommended in unmanageable quantities by a multi-state organization, NEOLA, that may or may not represent the district’s priorities. Interim Superintendent Tony Armocida presented figures establishing the fiscal benefit of the district’s open enrollment policy, and board member Richard Lapedes presented four ideas that could help increase the board’s proactive communication with the community.

In what turned out to be an in-depth dialogue between board members, administrators and community members, the board approved a motion to support the submission of a federal grant naming the district as fiscal agent and sponsor for a multi-school exchange program between area schools and a school in Rwanda.

Al Schlueter presented the application to the board after his original fiscal sponsor, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, was declined by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The board meeting was just two days before the application deadline.

Schlueter said he had approached Armocida prior to the meeting, and felt that Armocida was going to recommend that the board not approve Schlueter’s request for sponsorship because of potential liability issues and a lack of time to thoroughly vet the application. Schlueter brought a former student and two teachers to speak in support of the effort.

Armocida countered that he had no intention of recommending against the effort, but that it was not his place, as an administrator who will be leaving, to recommend the project.

After much discussion about the need for liability insurance, the potential of health risks or other dangers, and the difficulty of approving an application without having more information and time to deliberate, the board took comments from both Schlueter’s attendees, and a few community members who were present who spoke in favor of supporting the effort.

It was decided that the board could approve the submission of the application because if the application were to be chosen as a grantee, the district would have time to get more information and make a final approval, or decide not to approve, at a later date.

Later, board members cited the conversation as an example of nimble dialogue and fast action that can happen in a small district with an engaged community.

In other business:

• Timothy Krier was approved as the new principal of McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School on a three-year contract (221 days per year) at $91,000 annually. Matt Housh was approved as the new principal of Mills Lawn Elementary on a three-year contract (221 days per year) at $83,000 annually.

• Ben Trumball and Becky O’Brien will lead two new multi-age classrooms next school year at Mills Lawn. According to administrators, multi-age learning is good for both younger and older students, as learners who are more advanced often help teach other children, thereby deepening their own learning through higher-level thought processes required to synthesize and explain. Trumball will teach third and fourth graders together, while O’Brien will teach fifth and sixth graders together.

• The special education summary included in the board packet notes that Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, review meetings are currently underway, and that most of the action steps set forth in December 2009 are completed or are in process. Also, McKinney and YSHS teachers all participated in a “Whole Faculty Study Group” this year using the text “How the Special Needs Brain Learns” by David Sousa. Parents with questions regarding their student’s IEP, or parents wishing to volunteer time, are encouraged to contact Terry Graves-Strieter or their student’s special education supervisor.

• The Waibel energy project was approved by the Ohio School Facilities Commission, and Armocida will begin working with Weller, the new treasurer, to secure funding and determine a construction schedule. Armocida noted that the project is partially funded with capitol improvement funds reserved from the last levy, and the remainder of the project will be funded through a loan that will be paid for by the energy savings from the improvements, as approved by the OSFC.  

• Policy making is what board members are elected to do, which makes it odd when they are instead called to sign off on large numbers of sometimes arcane policies recommended by a national organization, board president Sean Creighton said. The board agreed that the current process of policy recommendation and approval is unacceptable, even though Armocida is only bringing those few policies to the table that are recommended as absolutely necessary.

Armocida said if anything has changed in the two-year time frame from his retirement to this reinstatement as interim, it is the larger number of policy changes recommended by NEOLA, a corporation that employs lawyers to write and update policy in multiple states. Armocida will meet with a NEOLA representative soon for some insight, and will report back to the board. With the majority of the hiring process for the new principals behind him, policy process is one thing he can focus on for the duration of his tenure with the district, he said.

• Counter to the calculations of a community member, Armocida presented what Lapedes found to be “very conservative” calculations of what open enrollment students bring into the district, versus what it costs to provide services and space for them.

Last year, open enrollment brought in a gross $870,000 to the district, which previous treasurer Joy Kitzmiller has cited as a crucial revenue stream during the recession-related income tax declines. Because the district has a large amount of fixed costs, does not hire new teachers in order to serve open-enrollment students (they are instead declined open enrollment if student-to-teacher ratios are full), and because special education services provided to open enrollees are billed to their home district in addition to the flat-rate open enrollment sum, open enrollment can be seen to be profitable, Armocida said, citing a net income of approximately $219,637 last year.  

It’s important to understand that open enrollee students are embedded in the schools and community due to the long history of open enrollment in the village, and the breadth of activities and services offered to all students — especially at the secondary level where there are only about 300 in-district students — would be markedly less without the larger student body brought in through open enrollment, according to Armocida.

• Inspired by Village Council member Lori Askeland’s pre-meeting e-mails to community members and Karen Wintrow’s post-meeting summaries and forecasts, Lapedes presented a potential four-part approach to communicating with the community and the student body in the future. The first step would be to name a person responsible for summarizing meeting business, which would then, after editing, be e-mailed to various persons and media outlets. Secondly, he recommended that one board member hold “open office hours” in the mornings on Saturdays. Thirdly, the second meeting of the month would be reserved for suggestions by community members. Finally, he proposed that the board hold an assembly for high school students once per year, to familiarize them with board member responsibilities and the process by which concerns and suggestions may be brought.

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