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YS schools make good grades, still need work

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Preliminary results of the Ohio Achievement Tests that students took last spring indicated that Yellow Springs students are likely to score at least as well as or better than last year, according to new district Superintendent Mario Basora at the school board meeting, Thursday, Aug. 12. Last year the district achieved an “excellent” report card rating from the Ohio Department of Education, and the schools are on track to be rated “excellent” or “excellent with distinction” when the complete test scores are reported within the next two weeks, Basora reported.

For the school district report card, Mills Lawn and McKinney Middle School students in grades three through eight and Yellow Springs High School students in grades 10 and 11, took proficiency tests in subjects including reading, writing, math, social studies and science. Though the writing and social studies tests in four grades had not yet been tallied, Yellow Springs students in all grades tested higher than the state’s benchmark 75 percent proficiency in all other subjects, according to the state’s achievement test indicators.

“Congratulations to teachers, who have worked really hard this year,” Basora said. However, according to a different set of indicators known as Adequate Yearly Progress scores, which are calculated by the federal government and based solely on reading and math, the district still has some work to do to help African Americans and students with learning disabilities and economic disadvantages into a higher achievement bracket, Basora said last week.

The AYP results show that when all Yellow Springs students are counted together, all grades achieved the target proficiency in both subjects. But when broken down into subgroups, certain grade levels had trouble meeting the targeted percentage of students who are proficient in reading and math.

The subgroup with the highest level of students who did not achieve proficiency were those on individualized education programs, or IEPs. Special education students in five grade levels at Mills Lawn and the high school did not achieve the target proficiency in reading, and students at one of those grade levels missed the target by 34 percentage points. In math, special education students at three grade levels missed the target proficiency by between 29 and 54 percentage points.

Of the 96 economically disadvantaged students the district tested, 57 percent of fifth graders achieved proficiency in reading, which is about 17 percentage points below the target 75 percent. For the economically disadvantaged students in math, 67 percent of fourth graders achieved profi- ciency, which is about 7 percentage points below the target.

The AYP results for African-American students are similar in that just a few grade levels did not achieve the target level of pro- ficiency, out of a total group of 55 African Americans tested. In reading, two grade levels did not achieve the target proficiency numbers, and in math, one Mills Lawn grade level did not achieve the proficiency target. While those statistics are based on the small number of self-identified African- American students in each grade level, it can be compared to a comparable number of self-identified multiracial students, all of whom achieved the target proficiency in both reading and math at all grade levels.

According to Basora at the meeting, compared to last year’s AYP progress report, multiracial students as a whole performed much better in both reading and math this year, which is “a great improvement” and shows that teachers at both schools were doing some things right, he said. But the same improvement was not reflected in the special education student scores, which Basora hopes to address this year.

“It’s something we need to work on as a district, to target our kids who aren’t making it and help them to be successful,” he said.

In other school board business:

• The high school will not field a football team this year, according to Basora, who worked this month with new YSHS Principal Tim Krier, Athletic Director Julie Speelman and Head Football Coach Craig McCann to try to field a team. A football team needs at least 11 players to function, and 18 to make a safe and healthy team, Basora said. When only about a dozen students came to the school’s first football meeting in July, school leaders worked to publicize the need for players before the season’s first official practice on Aug. 4.

At the first practice, nine players had signed commitments to play. Due to the lateness of the season and to avoid injuries and wasted expenses, Basora recommended canceling the season for this year. The board approved the resignations of Assistant Football Coach Neal Perry and Head Coach McCann, and agreed to rehire McCann to coach the eighth-grade football team this year.

• The board approved the four district goals recommended for the coming school year by Superintendent Basora at the meeting. The first goal is that the schools “significantly increase academic achievement for all struggling students╔” The second goal is that the schools “demonstrate an improved district culture as defined by a positive climate and clear communication…” The third goal is that the schools “promote and develop innovative pedagogical practice in order to create an exemplary 21st-century education system.” The fourth goal is that the district “explore revenue sources and, where possible, continue to reduce expenditures for FY 2011. Additionally we will create a budget enhancement and reduction plan for FY 2012.”

• Local resident Al Schlueter expressed to the board his disappointment in the school’s inability to sponsor an exchange program between Yellow Springs students and students at a high school in Byimana, Rwanda. Schlueter and Jean Ballantine both cited the numerous academic and cultural benefits students gain from traveling, particularly to impoverished countries. Schlueter took a group of Yellow Springs students to Byimana last year, under the auspices of a grant from the Morgan Family Foundation. He had hoped that this year he could get the same program funded by a federal grant that would have covered the full cost of the program, and said that he would write a personal check to cover the amount of the liability insurance recommended by the district’s insurance agent.

Basora and all five board members expressed their support of exchange programs and their disappointment that sponsoring this year’s exchange would not be possible. According to Basora, the grant was announced late, just two weeks ago, and contained too many stipulations, including about 100 hours of documentation from the board office, a two-day turn-around time and the prohibiting of anyone from the school district accompanying the students to Rwanda due to potential conflict of personal interest.

Though Schlueter was informed of the receipt of the grant two weeks ago, the board could not address it until last week’s meeting, several days before confirmation was due. Ballantine also offered to use volunteers to complete all of the paperwork in the board’s stead, but board members agreed that timing and liability risks were obstacles too great to overcome this year.

• Basora and District Treasurer Dawn Weller presented the budget savings plan with a total of $237,700 in budget reductions for this year, including $52,000 from the Mills Lawn library, $46,000 from nonrenewing supplemental positions, $32,000 from absorbing a nine-month custodial position and $30,000 from the high school science program. Board member Richard Lapedes noted that the reductions were a small measure relative to the “gigantic deficit” the schools have to address.

• YSHS teacher Vicki Hitchcock has been appointed as the new leader of the YSEA teacher’s union. The teachers and staff unions will vote on Aug. 23 and 24 on whether to reopen contract negotiations with the schools, Basora reported.

• The board approved the district’s open enrollment policy,

• Lapedes presented an update on the Greene County Schools Shared Services Initiative to eliminate duplication of administrative services in public schools within the county and reduce costs for all 26 participating districts. The shared services program intends to raise $120,000 to administer the program and broker contracts between districts.

• The board approved the following teachers as Science, Technology, Energy and Mathematics (STEM) grant participants: Sarah Amin, Becky O’Brien, Theresa Graham, Ellen Guest, Jack Hatert, Cheryl Lowe, Peg Morgan, MacKenzie Reynolds, Ben Trumbull, Dee Ann Holly and Wendy Shelton. The board voiced appreciation for the hard work the teachers, who represent between 20 and 25 percent of the district’s teachers, had and will continue to give to incorporate science and technology into the school curriculum.

• The board approved the following residents as substitute teachers for the coming school year at a pay rate of $80 per day: Cynthia Anderson, Jude Demers, Valeria Deutsch, Margaret Jackson, Randall Loomis, John MacQueen, Kathleen Miller, Ann Piercy, Jeffrey Robertson, William Short and Heather Stambaugh.

• The board approved Lindsay Kerns as reserve volleyball coach; Christine Linkhart as head volleyball coach; Ryan Berning as volunteer volleyball coach; and John Purdin as seventh grade football coach.

• The board’s next meeting is a committee of the whole meeting scheduled for Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. The topic is “attracting and retaining young families;” it is a joint session with Village Council to be held in the Mills Lawn School music room. 

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