YS Schools — Superintendent outlines new district goals
- Published: October 4, 2018
Improving school culture, deepening the rigor of project-based learning and collaborating with the community on a plan for district facilities were among the main areas of focus in a set of proposed goals Yellow Springs Schools Superintendent Mario Basora presented to the school board during its most recent regular meeting.
While the Sept. 13 meeting was dominated by community comments and board discussion (covered in last week’s News) concerning the recently approved resignation agreement with high school Principal Tim Krier following investigations into sexual misconduct between students at the high school, Basora introduced district goals for the new school year as part of the superintendent’s monthly report.
One of Basora’s anticipated areas of focus is related to the recent high school controversy during which an internal investigation found that a male student with family ties to the principal engaged in sexual harassment and bullying. A concurrent external investigation contracted through the district’s law firm concluded that staff, including Krier, observed legally mandated reporting requirements.
In the shadow of those investigations, “growing a healthier district culture” is one of Basora’s primary goals for the new school year.
“Part of the healing process in our community is going to be in dialogue and working together,” Basora said, echoing an earlier comment by parent Jalana Lazar, who suggested “a restorative justice model” in addressing the harm experienced.
“Let’s think about how we can move forward in a way that is compassionate and thoughtful,” Lazar said.
Educational initiatives around issues of gender and consent are being planned to engage students and promote discussion about “how we honor each other and our bodies,” while additional trainings in Title IX harassment regulations and mandatory reporting of abuse are underway with staff and administrators, Basora said.
Improving school culture, however, involves not only gender issues, but also “racial competency,” Basora said.
“Increasing the racial diversity of our staff” is a major component in creating a healthier school culture, he said.
“We want our kids to have rich experiences,” Basora said. As the diversity in the village has decreased, so has the diversity in the district faculty. “Our students are the most diverse group” within the community, he said.
Toward fostering a more diverse staff, Basora said he has been talking with representatives of Antioch College and Wittenberg University about establishing a program that works with students of color interested in becoming teachers.
His proposal is to identify students in their first two years of college and then bring them into the local schools during their final undergraduate terms for their student teaching experiences.
Basora went on to propose that the district create two substitute teaching positions and “plug in those kids who have been in these [student teaching] programs with us so when positions open up, we can bring those teachers in.”
He also proposed mentoring recent local graduates of color who are interested in teaching, hoping that they choose to return to Yellow Springs to pursue their teaching careers.
Another goal for Basora is to move forward with developing plans for addressing the district’s aging school buildings.
The defeat of the levy this past spring to fund a proposed reconstruction/renovation project at the middle/high school campus has led the district to reassess and begin anew.
Basora said his goal is to “work side by side with the Yellow Springs community to develop a collaborative plan of action of our facilities needs.”
Part of the process will include conducting a second facilities assessment to compare with the one conducted last year by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. Basora said he is waiting for cost quotes from two firms.
He also suggested that the district conduct a land-use feasibility study.
“We are rich in land at Yellow Springs schools,” he said, with 30 acres at the middle/high school site and nine acres at Mills Lawn.
“Is it possible to sell [some land] for affordable housing?” Basora asked.
A study would help illuminate “what is possible,” he said.
Other goal areas for the district are improving PBL instruction by deepening the rigor of project content, and seeking alternative funding for school initiatives.
“We need to see what’s possible,” he repeated.
While expressing support for Basora’s agenda, board member Steve Conn cautioned against taking on more than is possible.
“Those are incredibly ambitious goals,” Conn noted. “We have to think about capacity and what we are capable of doing. … I love it all, but I’m just going to say that.”
Board President Aida Merhemic was also cautionary.
“It’s important to pace ourselves,” she said.
Board members Sylvia Ellison and TJ Turner were absent from the meeting.
In other school board business Sept. 13:
• Superintendent Basora presented the state-mandated bullying report for the second semester of the 2017–18 school year.
The report showed four incidents, all listed as harassment, between January and the end of the school year.
Three of the four involved McKinney Middle School students, while the fourth involved the March 8 report that led to investigations of sexual misconduct by a high school junior.
Basora noted that the state-mandated report lists “confirmed cases of bullying” that follow a “narrow” set of criteria, including a designation as “repeated acts.”
Single acts are not recognized in the report, he said.
Basora said he also has seen a hesitancy among students to report bullying experiences.
He went on to describe last year’s annual lunches held with seniors before graduation, when he asked why students didn’t come forward more to report bullying more often.
One of the answers, Basora said, is related to social media and the negative exposure it can have.
The students “felt that the community on social media behaved terribly” in the wake of the sexual abuse allegations.
• Donna First, head of student services, presented the annual special education profile for the district.
Based on 2017–18 data, local students with disabilities exceeded state standards in all measures, and the district received a 4 rating, the highest score.
In math, the proficiency target for the state is 28.575 percent, and Yellow Springs achieved 41.51 percent.
In reading, where the state’s proficiency target it 21.18 percent, Yellow Springs scored 38.18 percent.
First also reported that the district is working this year with two new staff members from Clark County Educational Service Center. Becky Violet is the new school psychologist. First said Violet is in the district most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. And Mindy Severtson is the new occupational therapist, who will be in the district on Tuesdays.
• Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh and high/middle school Interim Principal Jack Hatert spoke optimistically about the start of the new school year, noting a variety of initiatives and plans.
“Some really awesome things are happening at Mills Lawn,” Housh said.
Among them are plans for the all-school musical, presented every three years. A production of “Lion King Kids,” featuring nearly every student in the school, will be staged Nov. 15 at the Robeson Auditorium on the Central State University campus.
“The kids are super excited,” Housh said.
The musical also will have “lots of project work wrapped around it,” with themes that include “journey, hero stories, family, knowing yourself.”
Hatert outlined a newly introduced senior seminar at the high school.
“We worked with the guidance counselors,” he said, to develop the program, which has both online and in-class components.
Topics will include college, job and financial applications — “everything that falls into what the next phase of life looks like for them,” Hatert said.
The seminar also will give students an opportunity to deepen their senior project experience with a change in project options this year. As an alternative to traditional project work, seniors can choose to secure a co-op job or internship or pursue service work in a field of interest.
At the same time, Well Wednesdays have been introduced in the seventh grade. The goal is to focus on “the social, emotional growth of our kids.”
Hatert also noted that the middle and high school students will have a variety of travel opportunities in the coming year, including the now annual Into the Wild seventh-grade bike trip.
He said he will bring formal proposals for several trips to the board next month.
• The board approved appropriations of $11,053,062.34 for the 2019 fiscal year. District Treasurer Dawn Bennett said that she would go over the budget in more detail at the board’s October meeting when she will present the annual five-year forecast.
“We have some things we definitely can put some money aside for,” she said, adding that she has already budgeted for roof repair on the high school gym, which needs doing “this year or next.”
• The board approved a resolution, for the fourth year in a row, allowing the district to waive a state requirement to provide a tech-career education course in the seventh grade. In his written report, Superintendent Basora noted that a tech option is offered in the eighth grade, and seventh-graders have a PBL Foundations class.
• Having earlier this summer raised school lunch prices by 25 cents for students not receiving the free or reduced-cost lunch, the board extended the increase for adult lunches as well, raising the cost of an adult lunch from $3 to $3.25.
• In personnel actions, the board approved a step advance for Assistant to the Treasurer Cara Haywood, putting her salary at $28.31 an hour, effective Aug. 1
• Supplemental athletic contracts were approved for: Stephanie Zinger, seventh-grade volleyball, $842; Kerry Crouch, eighth-grade girls basketball, $1,684; Troy Patterson, seventh-grade boys basketball, $1,824; Steven Harshaw, eighth-grade boys basketball, $1,824; Nichols Minnich, reserve girls basketball, $3,122; Phillip Renfro, reserve boys basketball, $3,122; Naomi Hyatt, cheerleader advisor, $1,333, and a second cheerleader advisor, $666.50.
• Other supplemental contracts were approved for: Jennifer Scavone, Mills Lawn professional development/exhibition night facilitator, $1,500 for the year; Alicia Horvath, McKinney Middle School Student Council, $982; David Smith, high school Leadership Council, $2,224; Cheryl Lowe, LPDC Chair, $25 an hour, for a maximum of $1,000; Kristin McNeely, LPDC member, $25 an hour, maximum $800; Chris Sidner, LPDC member, $25 an hour, $800 maximum; Nan Meekin, senior class advisor, $1,428.
• The board also approved four volunteer coaches: Allan Harris, girls basketball; Margaret Swanson, swimming; Franklin Halley, swimming; and Sharon Miller, bowling.
• Substitute teacher contracts for the 2018–19 school year, at $90 a day and $45 for a half day, were approved for: Ara Beal, Charles Bell, Elaina Cromer, Elliot Cromer, Carlos Landaburu, Dianne Light, Josh Mabra, Emily Michael, Lynn Millar and Leslie Scheper.
• Jerry Upton was approved as a substitute custodian ($11 an hour); Jane Jako was approved as a substitute night custodian ($14.84 an hour); and Tim Sandlin was approved as a substitute member of the maintenance crew ($14.84 an hour).
• Miller Fellow positions, paid for by a Yellow Springs Community Foundation grant at $12 an hour, were approved for Caitlin Bove, middle and high school special education; Nadia Mulhall, Mills Lawn kindergarten; and Sophia Singer, high school project-based learning.