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Board of education meeting—Why fewer girls in YSHS sports?

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At the Sept. 10 Yellow Springs Board of Education meeting, the board heard a presentation on data regarding why local female youth participate less in sports than their male peers. Overall, the report stated that upper-grade girls, most of whom had played sports in lower grades, now found less satisfaction in sports, rated themselves as less physically fit and also reported some discomfort with coaches.

“We need to educate our coaches,” Yellow Springs High School Principal John Gudgel said. “Coaches sometimes are more influential in kids’ lives than teachers or even parents, and that’s an area we have been really remiss in.”

Gudgel has raised concerns about equity in female sports participation — or why females participate less in school sports than their male peers — consistently at recent board meetings. Specifically, Gudgel is interested in identifying the reasons for a steep decrease in the higher grades — a drop-off in participation that has resulted in too few participants to run teams for those who retain interest.

Judy Parker, an alumnus of Yellow Springs High School and a parent, has been engaged in discussions with Gudgel and others since last spring. These conversations led to the development of a female sports equity committee and a survey, designed by Gudgel and Parker, which was recently administered through physical education and grades 11 and 12 English classes.

“In doing the survey, not only is there quantitative information, but there is also qualitative information,” Gudgel said. The full report, including the written responses of students and the assembled data in graphs, can be requested from the high school office.

Out of the current 150 female high school and middle school students, roughly 63 percent took the survey, Parker said. When asked what motivates participation, the girls responded that exercise, getting stronger and friendship were factors.

However, when responses were sorted for grade level, the survey planners found that participation decreases as students get into higher grades, even though roughly 80 percent of all females reported having been in organized sports at some point in time.

The biggest drop in participation happens between grades 10 and 11, with sports in grades 11 and 12 having the lowest number of female participants. Survey data suggests that female students in the last two years of high school find it less important to succeed, have a generally lower satisfaction level with their athletic experiences, and rate themselves lower in terms of strength, speed and ability than younger survey participants.

Parker presented to the board survey suggestions on steps that administrators and the community at large can adopt to create an environment more conducive to female participation, including focusing on the holistic benefits of sports, and building community support for girls athletics.

The written student responses repeatedly emphasized the need for encouraging young women, including encouraging those who are not into sports to get involved, encouraging participants to have confidence in their athletic abilities, and encouraging girls to develop discipline in practice to learn the skills of the game.

Gudgel noted that numerous student responses focused on less than desirable interactions with coaches, stating that one thing the high school intends to take seriously is training and mentoring coaches who will interact with district youth.

In other school board business:

• In finance, District Treasurer Joy Kitzmiller announced an estimated increase to income tax payments to the district of about $206,000 over the next three quarterly payments, the next of which is due at the end of October. The last income tax payment to the district in July was a full 35 percent lower than last year’s July payment. But Kitzmiller now has estimated only a 25 percent decrease to the October payment, a 2 percent drop in the January payment, and a 1 percent drop for the final payment in April, compared to last year’s tax revenues.

The state withholding receipts, or the amount of income tax the state collects from employers and employees, is coming in above the estimated amount, according to Mike Sobul of the Ohio Department of Taxation. While income tax receipts are less than last year across the board, the “improving pattern” is proving to be “less negative” than previously estimated — potentially indicating that Ohio’s recession-related earnings slump is beginning to turn around.

• During Community Concerns, Jerry Papania introduced himself as a parent of a former special education student and a member of the community for 30 years. He commended the board for “pursuing an independent survey of parents of special ed students,” but stated the execution of the survey “left a little to be desired.” Papania noted that some parents were left out of the original mailing and that summer vacation is, in his opinion, not the best time to engage families about their children’s education.

Papania presented to the board special education testing reports from the Ohio Department of Education, or ODE. Forty-five percent of Yellow Springs’ special education students tested below proficient across all subject areas, he said, and of the 21 districts grouped as demographically similar to Yellow Springs, Yellow Springs ranked number 14.

“Sixty-six percent of the similar districts did a better job with special education than Yellow Springs,” Papania said.

Yellow Springs per pupil spending averaged slightly higher than the districts who achieved higher test scores — $11,300 in Yellow Springs, according to Papania, compared to approximately $11,000 per pupil spending averaged across the 13 districts that ranked higher.

“What I’m trying to make a point [of] here, is that we need some work on special education in this district,” he said. “The board needs to set goals and objectives, and the administrators on down the line need to be held accountable for the performance of special education in this district.”

• Gudgel noted that the district is down 12 open enrollment students from last year, partly because general enrollment is lower — with a smaller incoming class of seventh graders than the year before and a larger than normal class of seniors graduating last year, according to Gudgel.

Four Yellow Springs students have chosen to open enroll in public districts elsewhere this year. Two were females who left because of the lack of options in school athletics, one left to attend a Future Farmers of America program, and the fourth student left because a parent “decided to enroll in another district for whatever reason,” he said. Four Yellow Springs freshmen are attending the STEM school, and several former open enrollment students have moved into the district.

About 70 students are riding their bikes to school this year, an increase of approximately 15 new riders from last year, he noted. In addition, more students than last year have applied and been approved for the free and reduced price lunch program.

“It’s heartwarming to see that our kids are eating and are taking advantage of the new offerings and the quality of service offered through the school lunch program,” Gudgel said.

• Mills Lawn Principal Christine Hatton stated that there will be a plan by the end of the month to address the deficiencies revealed in recent Ohio proficiency test results in fifth-grade math competencies.

“We are all concerned about stagnant, and in some cases, dropping OAT scores,” she wrote in her letter to the board, reporting that all of the academic teams are holding meetings with each other and administrators to articulate a plan to refine the educational approach used at Mills Lawn.

“We are not happy with what happened in grade 5 math,” Hatton said. “We have a tentative plan, and we will have a full plan by the end of the month to address the inadequacies.”

Interim District Superintendent Tony Armocida noted that one possible factor at play in the fifth-grade test scores is a literacy issue, and that ensuring general comprehension of test questions is something that will be looked into.

• Special education supervisor Terry Graves-Strieter reported that letters have been mailed to the parents of current special education students, and if anyone did not receive one, they should contact the office.

Special education numbers are lower than at the beginning of last year, Graves-Strieter said. The open enrollment special education numbers are down to 13, with a total number of special ed students served in the district at 103.

• In response to a question from board member Anne Erickson, Armocida stated that there have been discussions about the sponsorship of the high school one-act plays being transferred to a community group, which would, according to Armocida, relieve the school district of the legal obligation to enforce content standards for the student written and produced plays.

“If you make the schools responsible then [the plays] have to meet the standards of a high school English class,” Armocida said, “and that may be a little constrictive.” However, Armocida noted that even these standards are probably broader than the standards of other schools.

“We do not want to be policemen, and we don’t want to be accused of censorship, but we are public school administrators and we really are obligated to maintain standards,” he said.

Armocida proposed that the Theater Arts Association, a group of parents of performing students, take over the full sponsorship of the plays, which can still be held at the high school with use of the district’s equipment. A resolution was passed to add the theater arts group to the district’s liability policy, but Armocida noted that while the discussions have begun, they are currently on hold while the Theater Arts Association considers the issue.

• In response to a previous school board article published in the News, Erickson made a statement to assure community members that board members are a dedicated group of individuals who do read the information in their packets.

“We read boatloads of information,” she said. “We couldn’t make these decisions and ask these questions if we didn’t.”

“I would never make a vote on something that I didn’t know I was voting on,” she said, while acknowledging that there was a point when policies were being given to the board on a Tuesday for a reading on Thursday, once in a quantity of more than 20.

• The board unanimously passed a resolution commending Treasurer Joy Kitzmiller for her assumption of “administrative duties beyond those of her job description,” which she carried out with a “high level of competence and professionalism” while the district “went through a period in which the management functions of the district were in need of stability and leadership.”

• While the board will meet Oct. 6 for a work session, the next regularly scheduled board meeting is Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. in the conference room adjacent to the Mills Lawn office.

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