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YS School Board — Superintendent search begins

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Following the Feb. 19 announcement that Superintendent Mario Basora would be departing to take on the job of superintendent of Huber Heights schools, the Yellow Springs School Board held a special meeting on Feb. 23 to authorize the hiring of Susan Griffith as a consultant to facilitate the search for a new superintendent for the 2019–20 school year.

No stranger to YS schools, Griffith had a 28-year tenure with the district prior to retiring in August 2018. She spent the last eight of those years working closely with Basora as the district’s administrative assistant.

Griffith’s contract took effect Monday, for up to 25 hours per month. She also still has part-time contracts with the district as the Deeper Learning Training Center coordinator and education management information system mentor, each up to 30 hours per month.

Yellow Springs School Board President Steve Conn is ready to start the search.

“We intend to move as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to ensure that we get the best person for this job,” he wrote via email.

In other board business —

Principal search continues

At the regularly scheduled board meeting on Feb. 14, one of the primary topics was the search for a principal for YSHS/McKinney Middle School as reported in the Feb. 21 issue of the News.

At press time, the names of the three finalists had not been released, pending the completion of background checks.

The community will have a chance to meet the three finalists on March 11, 12 and 13 at the high school library at 7 p.m. each night.

Facilities plan discussed

A substantial portion of the regular board meeting Feb. 14 was spent in discussion with Melinda “Mel” Marsh of Acorn Consulting in Springfield, who was hired to facilitate a community task force to explore the district’s facility needs. The 11-member task force will begin bi-monthly meetings in March. Marsh was at the board meeting to get input on the task force’s mission, the parameters of the project and the board’s general vision.

In response to a series of questions from Marsh, Conn laid out his hopes for the process.

“What I hope comes out of this is that we consider the widest range of possibilities, but that we winnow down pretty quickly to the things that are financially, logistically and educationally sensible,” he said.

Overall, Conn sees the buildings as exemplifying the district’s values.

“The buildings themselves are emblematic of the value we place on kids, on the school system itself, on education and on the teachers who work in these buildings,” he said. 

Conn added that “buildings talk to us,” and that the new facilities should impart the message to students that “you are important.”

Board member TJ Turner, who will serve in an ex officio capacity with the task force, said that with the building’s 85-year projected lifespan, future technological developments should be considered.

He also cited research indicating that facilities rank higher than salary as a reason an educator chooses to teach at a school, second only to administration.

“A future vision for our facilities is they will help recruit, maintain and keep really great teachers,” Turner said.

Other considerations cited by school board members included accessibility, environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and operational functionality.

Board Vice President Aïda Merhemic would like to see buildings better accommodate project-based learning, or PBL, giving students the space they need to do the creative work in PBL, though she didn’t specify what it might look like.

“I’m going to rely on our architects and our community to help with that,” Merhemic said of that aspect of the design.

Board member Steve McQueen expressed his hopes for a building more conducive to community involvement.

“Can it function communally?” he asked. “I think the future facilities could function more along the line of community interaction.”

Marsh asked the board to weigh in on the reasons for the failure of the previous facilities levy, in May 2018, saying she had read newspaper articles in an effort to get up to speed.

Conn responded, “if you read a lot of newspaper articles, you may have inadvertently hit on one of the reasons it failed.”

“Some of the disinformation was clearly deliberate,” Conn added.

Conn said that the task force should also consider how to do a better job of informing the community and “countering what I expect will be an inevitable set of fabrications and deceits that are going to pop up.”

McQueen and Merhemic added that discussions among villagers on social media fueled a lot of controversy about the levy.

Turner mentioned that there was a convergence of financial pressures at the same time in the community. Conn agreed, pointing to the new fire station levy and Village utility infrastructure improvements.

“A lot of bills came due at the same time because this town has kicked the can down the road on many things,” he said, adding, “We were third in line.”

Marsh noted that the task force would be taking tours of all the buildings, as well as other campuses, such as Wittenberg University and Catholic Central High School in Springfield, which have been recently updated.

The task force will also seek input from students, faculty, staff and the community, as well as contact experts in the field.

“One thing I’ve learned in my line of work — you don’t have the answer you’re going to come to when you begin, because otherwise you don’t need the process,” Marsh said.

More school days

Superintendent Basora reported that it had come to his attention that other districts were sending their students to school for 178 days per year, while YS students have been attending 174 days per year for several years.

Basora said that part of the issue was that four student non-attendance days were still being counted, citing confusion during a changeover in the way days are calculated.

The new calendar will have 177 student attendance days to align better with other districts in the state.

School will now start on a Thursday instead of a Friday, Basora reported. The other days will be made up by removing a professional day in November, and winter break will be 10 days rather than 11.

The first day of school will be Aug. 22, 2019, and the final day will be May 29, 2020. Holidays and vacation periods other than winter break will remain unchanged. The board approved the draft of the calendar, with some details still to be determined.

Special education scores well

Student Services Director Donna First presented the Ohio Department of Education’s Special Education Profile, a report on how well Yellow Springs schools are meeting state goals in special education performance. The report is based on data gathered from the 2017–18 school year.

According to the profile, 13.7 percent of local students receive special education, compared to a statewide average of 15.2 percent. About 87 percent of local special education students are categorized as having specific learning disabilities, other minor health impairments (including ADHD), autism or speech/language impairment, the profile noted.

The Ohio Special Education Profile shows Yellow Springs preschool and school-age student scores met or exceeded nearly all the state standards. Several standards are being reworked by the state, so scores in those areas are yet to be determined.

The one category where the goal was not met is Alternate Assessment, or the number of students who cannot participate in regular testing, so are assessed with alternative methods.

First said the state as a whole has a problem meeting that goal, and defended the district’s efforts in that area.

“It shows as a big red ‘not met’ on our rating profile, but then we’re otherwise told to do what’s best for the student and make a team decision based on their needs, so that’s what we did,” she said.

For outcomes, the state goal for special education student graduation is 85 percent, while Yellow Springs scored 100 percent, with zero dropouts compared to a goal of 21 percent or less.

Another category, Discipline Disproportionality, measures if there is a racial bias in expulsions/suspensions — currently, the percentage of minority students who are expelled or suspended in YS Schools is below state guidelines. There was not enough data to determine if there was a discipline discrepancy in regards to special education students, however.

Financial report

Treasurer Dawn Bennett’s written report noted several variances from previous fourth-quarter reports. The income tax payment was 14 percent below last January, but that “seemed to be a fluke” with this January showing reasonable growth over prior fourth quarters.

Casino tax income was less in January than last August, but looking at prior years, that appears to be a predictable seasonal variation.

The cash and revenue graphs “will be skewed” for this January because the district did not receive any real estate tax advance money, unlike the previous few years. All grants/allocations that are “in the red” should be made whole by the end of February.

The $1,320.75 cost of the “If You Were In My Shoes” project at YSHS were covered by a grant from the Yellow Springs Endowment for Education. Nike provided a 1-to-1 match, donating one pair of shoes for each pair purchased.

Community comments

Eli Hurwitz, president of the Yellow Springs Education Association teachers union (YSEA) addressed the board, thanking them for their willingness to move negotiation dates due to inclement weather. He also expressed gratitude to the teachers and administrators who participated in the concert band trip to Chicago, a suicide awareness health project, a student trip to the University of Cincinnati and the YSHS Day of Empowerment.

Hurwitz cited, as an example, a powerful discussion involving the school’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance at the Day of Empowerment.

“The ability of students to open up in that discussion about themselves and about the issues they’re facing is a testament to how powerful the day could be and was,” he said.

Black History Month at MLS

Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh discussed how the elementary school was observing Black History Month. He said a group of teachers had been getting together regularly for a couple months to make plans.

This year, the school chose to focus specifically on the Harlem Renaissance, inspired by an exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art celebrating the cultural movement’s 100th anniversary.

“Instead of just a broad landscape, why not focus on a specific period so we can really highlight what happened during a time in history?” Housh said of that decision.

Each classroom prepared a presentation on a historical figure from the arts, sports or thought from the time period, with a presentation shown on the “Morning News” each day, wrapping up with an assembly at the end of the month.

Housh said Black History Month at Mills Lawn is a “huge event and series of learning activities and opportunities for the kids.”

“What we try to do is make sure it’s stretching across the whole month, and talk about how it’s not just a month,” he said.

Housh also reported on the school’s Day of Discovery, held Feb. 12, for fourth- through sixth-graders. Modeled on the YSHS Day of Empowerment, the objective is to address social-emotional needs of students, with two main themes — a strong sense of self and healthy relationships.

According to survey feedback, kids overwhelmingly indicated they enjoyed the day and learned from it. He thanked collaborators Jack Hatert, YSHS guidance counselor Shannon Morano and the SPIDEE group (Students Promoting Diversity through Equity Education) from YSHS. The project received grants from the Human Relations Commission and the Paent Teacher Organization.

Housh also reported that the planned two weeks of meetings with faculty to discuss PBL needed to be condensed into one due to weather-related school closings, but that they made good progress.

“It’s really impressive,” Housh said. “We’re at a nice depth with this work now, where we can talk about pretty intricate details of planning and assessment and student experience.”

YSHS/McKinney update

Interim Principal Jack Hatert highlighted several recent activities at YSHS. He spoke about the success of the school hosting its “Fearless Forensic Festival,” a speech and debate tournament attended by 13 other schools on Jan. 26. (See report in Feb. 7 issue of the News).

“It was fun to see our kids as leaders, when all those other people came to our building,” he said.

Hatert shared photos from the band and orchestra’s recent trip to Chicago where they performed at two K–8 schools and played with another high school band. Hatert and district band and orchestra teacher Brian Mayer accompanied the students.

“Just to see our kids step up and get to perform and be kind of celebrities for the day was really exciting,” Hatert said.

Hatert also discussed this year’s Day of Empowerment, in which around 25 speakers  took part. Student participation in the Day of Empowerment was comparable to what it’s been in the past, but still lower than desired, Hatert reported. Surveying will be conducted, especially among students who did not attend.

“Those are the kids we really want to hear from,” Hatert said, suggesting questions such as, “Why did you not come? What would it take to encourage you to be there?”

Bullying report reviewed

A bullying report was presented to the board. The semi-annual report is required by law. According to Basora, this year’s report is consistent with prior years.

During the first semester, for grades K–12, a total of seven incidents were reported to a principal — one classified as bullying, the rest as harassment.

Basora explained the results.

“It doesn’t mean that people aren’t being treated poorly by other kids, or called names,” he said. “It just means it wasn’t reported in a way that was repeatedly directed at one student.”

Board member Sylvia Ellison said calling the report a “bullying report” wasn’t quite accurate because it also includes other negative behaviors.

“I wish it wasn’t called the bullying report,” she said. “It’s rudeness, unkindness and harassment. I’m not belittling bullying as a problem, but it leads people to call any unkindness ‘bullying’ and that’s not really accurate.”

Contracts renewed

The board renewed three-year contracts for Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh and district Athletic Director Nate Baker.

Career Center update

Board member Steve McQueen, who is also the district’s representative to the Greene County Career Center board, reported that the renderings of the new GCCC building are “amazing.”

He also said they are reviewing building security due to the recent event in Xenia where schools were closed and evacuated due to what seemed to be a credible threat of a school shooting, but which were later determined not to be genuine.

Next meetings

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 14, at which the board is planning to select the principal of YSHS/McKinney.

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