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Community Summit sparks ideas on how to make schools better

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A more proactive effort to link Yellow Springs High School seniors with community members so that the seniors’ community service projects can be more meaningful and community-oriented. A way to erase the perceived gap between school board members and Yellow Springs students. Better engagement of students with all learning styles, especially in science and math, from the early grades. And more events and projects that bring together different “cliques” of high school students, especially white students and students of color.

These were the four main recommendations from students, teachers and community members who met in March at a “Community Summit for Yellow Springs Schools,” an event aimed at “using respectful and innovative methods of discussion to build a successful future for Yellow Springs schools,” according to organizers. More than 60 people took part in the event, which was the senior project of YSHS students Colby Silvert and Ryan Phillips, who presented their findings to the board at its May 13 meeting.

Board members expressed their appreciation to Phillips and Silvert for their project.
“I thought the process was run beautifully,” Richard Lapedes said. “This is a teachable moment for all of us.”

The March 17 event followed a community survey on the schools organized by Phillips and Silvert, whose faculty advisor was Pamela Stephens. Based on survey results, the students had identified four “prompts” that they asked summit participants to respond to.

Regarding community service, several participants felt the student experience could be much more meaningful if it were more clearly linked with Yellow Springs and its resources. Community service projects could include help for community gardens, Antioch College, Mills Lawn and local businesses, one participant said, while another suggested that high school seniors could volunteer as bus monitors for elementary school students.

“Advertise to members of the Yellow Springs community that their help is needed in helping to find service options,” one participant wrote.

Overall, participants felt the program would be stronger if a school staff person could be available at least part time to help organize and market the program, Phillips said.

Regarding social stratification at the school, the summit organizers stated community concerns that divisions exist between different groups, especially white students and students of color.
In an interview last year students “stressed the importance of unity among classes in Yellow Springs. They said that in a small school the formation of cliques and social boundaries can have negative effects on the esteem and education of individuals,” organizers wrote.

Summit participants suggested that the school sponsor more work projects that bring students together, and that the school board research why some classes seem more unified than others.
The summit results will be taken seriously, Board President Sean Creighton said.
“As we look to the future, this is important data,” he said.

In other school board business:

• Several parents of students in the special education program expressed their frustration that a survey of the parents of special ed students regarding the effectiveness of the program would not be conducted until the end of the next school year. At meetings held earlier in the school year to address special ed parents’ concerns, many had brought up the survey as ineffective and difficult to understand, and an agreement was reached to revise the survey. However, while Superintendent Tony Armocida and special ed supervisor Terry Streiter stated that all had agreed the survey would not take place until next year, several parents remembered differently.
“This is a seriously underperforming district,” said parent Jerry Papania, based on a previous survey’s finding that 30 percent of special ed parents said their child’s teacher was not aware of their child’s IEP, or Individualized Education Plan. “To wait two years to see if we’re making progress is not fair to teachers or parents.”

At the meetings, participants agreed that the district would focus this year on initiating 12 “action steps,” and progress on those steps has been made, Armocida said.
“We did listen,” Armocida said. “We developed the action steps and have been giving you updates all year long.”

• The board approved a resolution that requested authority to issue qualified school construction bonds to fund the upcoming construction project at the high school and McKinney schools. The project, to be performed by Waibel Energy Systems, will take place over the summer, and is to improve energy use at the buildings. The energy savings from the project, which is not funded by the school’s operating fund, will make up for the cost of the project within several years, according to Lapedes.

• The family of late Board President John Graham presented the board with a plaque and framed portrait of Graham, to be displayed in the board room, which is named in his honor.

• The board approved former YSHS Principal John Gudgel, who retired this year as principal, as the longterm sub for the position of Mills Lawn counselor. Gudgel will after October of next school year fill in for Linda Sikes, who is taking a sabbatical year.

• The board reduced the teaching contract of YSHS teacher Philip Lemkau from full time to .57 FTE, at Lemkau’s request, according to Armocida.

• The board approved a new instrument of teacher evaluation, which was developed between the board and the Yellow Springs Education Association, the teachers’ union.
Board members expressed concern at the length of the evaluation, but YSHS teacher John Day said that the length seemed necessary.

“Our goal is to have something that gives meaningful feedback to teachers on how they can do things better,” said Day, who helped to create the evaluation. “I’ve been here 17 years and we rarely get useful feedback.”

The new evaluation, modeled on one which is widely used in schools, is “aimed at professional improvement in a collaborative way,” according to Armocida.

• The board planned a work session for 1–4 p.m. on Friday, May 21. Its next regular meeting is Thursday, June 10, at 7 p.m. in the John Graham Conference room at Mills Lawn School.


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