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YS schools on 2020 track

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Change is the operative word these days for Yellow Springs schools, and summer hasn’t much altered its meaning. With a 10-year strategic plan at the ready and a list of goals 32 items deep for the coming year, the school board took a moment during its meeting Thursday, July 12, to assess last year’s progress and look ahead to the activity in store for the 2012–13 school year.

District Superintendent Mario Basora presented a recap of the past year’s efforts to create an educational model that is both less expensive and more effective at preparing all students for academic success. Last year the district began implementing the initial strategies of the Class of 2020 10-year strategic plan, including strategies for a more interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum as well as utilizing data to track the impact the strategies make on student performance.

Basora also presented a summary of the district’s second annual survey used to gauge the perceptions of students, faculty and parents regarding the school system’s performance.

The district is seeking funding outside traditional avenues, partly to help fund the transitions prescribed by the 2020 plan and also to supplement a tightening budget.

Academic intervention
Yellow Springs High School has seen some academic improvement in the first year of the 2020 plan, Basora said. This year the high school and McKinney Middle School started academic lab, a 30-minute period every day that students use to get either extra support to catch up or enrichment support to explore a field more deeply. For example, in May McKinney students with reading deficiencies engaged in a Six-Minute Solution Fluency Program to improve reading skills. To track progress, the school is attempting to follow the numbers, and some results indicate that intervention strategies are working. After five weeks of the Six-Minute reading fluency program, students showed 10–15 percent improvement in the number of correct words they read per minute, Basora said. With the help of an Antioch College Morgan Fellow next year, the school hopes to implement the program year-round.

A closer look at students’ grades at the end of the year showed that after a full year of academic labs, the number of McKinney students and high school seniors with two or more Ds on their report cards in the second and third quarters this year was lower than the number of Ds posted in the same quarters last year.
Another achievement indicator is the Ohio Graduation Achievement tests that all high schoolers have to pass in order to graduate high school. According to an article in the Dayton Daily News last month, in Yellow Springs those passing the test in all five subjects climbed steadily each year from 69 percent in 2007 to 89 percent in 2012, which is the biggest increase among the 28 schools surveyed in the Dayton area.
Improving school culture

Broad goals this year also included improving district culture by increasing student participation in school governance and opening lines of communication between school staff, parents and students, according to Basora. The middle/high school held several communication and governance workshops, while the district established a new website with increased access to school board documents.

One metric used to track progress on the culture front is the annual student, staff and parent survey the district began administering last year. According to the responses, both parents and students observed a slight improvement in the school as a safe space for people of special needs and sexual orientation. And Basora thought it significant that students indicated greater satisfaction with the school’s ability to inspire excitement about learning, he said during the board meeting. Basora attributed some of the progress to the work of Yellow Springs High School Principal Tim Krier and teachers over the past year to support struggling students and tap into new styles of teaching and learning through the 2020 plan. The efforts were part of a series of goals the district established at the beginning of the 2011 school year to address achievement issues.

By contrast, the district survey showed high school students have less faith this year than last in the school’s awareness and prevention of drug and alcohol use in the school. Students also gave the school one D for its ability to communicate why and how decisions get made and another D for the effectiveness of student government.

The survey also covered satisfaction with administration, and there was a marked increase in the grade teachers and students gave Principal Krier for openness and response to student issues. Faculty and parents also gave higher ratings for the superintendent and school board regarding openness to school staff input and job performance in general. The full survey can be accessed from the district website

Fundraising and the 2020 plan
Yellow Springs completed its first full year of implementation of the Class of 2020 strategic plan, and the coming year promises to be the busiest with changes guided by the 2020.

District personnel are already continuing some of the transition work this summer. As part of the 2020 health and wellness goals, the school plans to implement a farm-to-table initiative for getting more local produce into school breakfasts and lunches. The plan calls for a fresh vegetable and fruit bar to be offered as a stand-alone meal for students, as well as retrofitting the kitchens in both buildings to accommodate fresher food options. Next year, the district plans to institute more physical after-school options for kids.

Also this summer the district will continue to work on a technology plan that includes tools such as AIMSweb, software used to track math and reading performance for elementary students. These changes follow last year’s work to upgrade technology by instituting a bring your own technology (BYOT) policy and installing a district-wide wireless network and Google computing.

For the academic plan this year, the district plans to consider block scheduling and flexible scheduling for students and teachers at the high school, as well as distance learning credit. The school also expects to develop a clear three-to-five year plan to implement a robust project-based learning curriculum. Teachers will also continue training for the Common Core curriculum, a new national standard for college and work readiness that encourages acquisition of both knowledge and the ability to apply it.

To financially support all of the activity and change, the district is seeking a levy this fall and is also working toward establishing a private fund known as Yellow Springs Capital & Endowment Fund through the Yellow Springs Community Foundation. The support for a half-time advancement director and secretarial support for the first year of operation has already been committed by an anonymous donor. The district hopes to fill the position in August.

Other items of the board’s business will be in next week’s paper.


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