Seven questions for school supers

With school back in session, here are seven things parents and students will want to know from their superintendents.

By ELIZABETH LEPRO
Posted 8/29/19

We asked superintendents at several of the districts in or near our coverage area the same seven questions, focusing on what to expect from the new school year, equity and equality in education, safety at school, community involvement and technology. 

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Seven questions for school supers

With school back in session, here are seven things parents and students will want to know from their superintendents.

Posted

We asked superintendents at several of the districts in or near our coverage area the same seven questions, focusing on what to expect from the new school year, equity and equality in education, safety at school, community involvement and technology. 

Here are the questions

  1. What are your goals for the upcoming school year? What can students and parents expect to be different or new?
  2. Education, and the standards by which we measure how much and well students are learning, is in constant flux. How will you measure students’ achievement in the classroom this year? And how will you ensure that the district holds itself accountable to meeting children where they are?
  3. Schools play an important role in communities and, often, in the personal lives of students. Can you discuss support services that will be offered by the district this year and the ways your district will engage with the community beyond the classroom? 
  4. Understanding of and ability to use modern technology is becoming a more important part of many schools’ curricula. Of course, there are drawbacks to introducing too much tech into the classroom too fast or without proper planning. How does your district prepare students for the modern world and what is the strategic plan for integrating tech and modern resources into education? In other words, how does your district plan to handle tech in the classroom in a way that is useful for students as well as responsible?
  5. Where can your district improve this year, and what challenges do you see ahead? 
  6. Safety is on the mind of many parents as they send their children back to school this year, after a summer of several mass shootings in the U.S. as well as a trend toward targeting schools and public places. How do you plan to keep students safe this year and mitigate parents’ anxiety in this regard?
  7. Tell us about efforts regarding diversity and inclusion in the classroom and how the district will hold itself accountable to equality in education. 

These are just first round of answers from superintendents. The River Reporter will continue to update this page as more responses come in.

John Morgano, Eldred Central School District, Sullivan County, NY 

  1. Our goals are to improve literacy and mathematics outcomes. We also have a new science program, Amplify Science. [A Kindergarten to eight grade curriculum that aims to engage students by giving them real-world problems that they then must solve through collaboration, discussion and hands-on, sometimes digital means.]

  2. We use various measures to assess where students are and again what they have learned. This is part of our APPR requirements. Our graduation rate this year is at 98%, well up from what was in the ‘70s just a couple of years ago.

  3. Student engagement in the classroom among students and with the teacher is imperative if we are to prepare our students for the world of work. In addition, we have in-house competitions where students have to speak to their projects. Further, many of our students are enrolled in various programs such as college courses, New Visions and other BOCES programs that engage them in a way that greatly assists in preparing them for the future.

  4. This year we are planning on providing all ninth through 12th graders with a Chrome Book that they will keep until they graduate and keep them. We have trained our students on the use of the Chrome Books. Technology is the future.

  5. We must work on math and literacy. We feel that there is always room for improvement.

  6. We added a Sheriff School Resource Officer to each of our schools with the assistance of our Assembly Woman, Aileen Gunther.

  7. We are an accepting and progressive school who welcomes diversity. This is an important life lesson. 

John Bell, Delaware Valley School District, Pike County, PA

  1. We are in the fifth year of a five-year strategic plan called DV 2020. It has been an exciting four-plus years with a new elementary school in Matamoras (2016), new gym project at the high school (2016), along with a multitude of new programs and classes during each year of the plan. The biggest changes this year will be in the physical layout of the high school. We are just wrapping up a 16-month renovation and expansion of our career-technical education (CTE) wing. We don’t have a BOCES equivalent over here in PA so we have our own CTE program within our high school. We are also unveiling a new STEM wing of the high school which includes the following rooms: environmental science lab, engineering class and makerspace, fabrication lab and mechanical drawing/architecture class.

  2.   While we are fortunate to be honored for our students’ performance on standardized tests (one of four districts in NEPA honored by the Scranton Times-Tribune, out of 37 districts total), they are just one way we measure student performance. The state tests aren’t the end-all, be-all. Our teachers invest a great deal of time creating and revising our written curriculum and working together to create common tests for all students who take each course. It is a team effort. Our annual report [https://www.dvsd.org/Page/3217] is a more than 200-page document that provides tons of information about our academic programs. This is our accountability program with our community to show how their money is invested.

  3. We believe in educating the whole child and not just being obsessed with test results. All four elementary schools each have a full-time counselor. We have 1.5 counselors in the two middle schools and seven in the high school. We also have a social worker for middle school and one for high school. All seven schools each have a Student Assistance Program (SAP) team to identify students in need and develop a plan in conjunction with the parents and student.  Outside agencies also assist in these plans as needed.

    Our strategic plan has four overarching goals and number four is “to be a vital asset to our community.”  We offer adult and community education classes through a program called DV-ACE. We offer parent education workshops on topics such as special education, NCAA student-athlete eligibility, junior year college process and senior year FAFSA applications just to name a few.  

  4. All of our classrooms have a Smartboard and projector in them.  We also have many Chromebook carts for use throughout the district. The Chromebooks are lightweight laptops that even the youngest students can use easily. Today’s world is full of technology so not using tech would be a disservice to our kids. However, we also have to remember that technology is just a tool and not the curriculum. You don’t want the tail wagging the dog. The curriculum is priority one and using technology when it can help kids learn the curriculum is a win-win.

  5. We operate under a continuous improvement model where we are always looking to improve our facilities, programs and people. One area we are focusing on improving this year is in mathematics on the grades three through eight PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) tests.  While we are above the state averages, we aren’t excelling like we would like to be.

    In terms of challenges, we continue to see our student enrollment decrease after hitting an all-time high in 2006. In 2001, we had 4,700 students and it went to 5,700 by 2006. We grew rapidly after 9/11 then declined rapidly during the Great Recession.

  6. This is a huge priority for everyone—students, parents and staff. We have our own police force with six officers and all schools are locked during the day and visitors are buzzed into the main office. We have implemented many physical upgrades to our schools to make the schools safer. We also recently upgraded our entire video system which includes several hundred cameras to monitor indoor and outdoor activity at all schools.

  7. First, we have a program called the “Leader in Me” based on Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This program focuses on character education qualities such as leadership, respect, responsibility and acceptance. All seven schools teach the seven habits at an age-appropriate level. We also offer clubs at all levels that honor diversity and inclusion.  Many teachers have participated in professional development on these topics as well. In terms of special education, we have very few students who go to school at out-of-district placements (less than 10 out of 4,400). We take great pride in our wide array of special education programs offered within the district.

Matthew Barrett, Western Wayne School District, Wayne County, PA

*Editor’s note: Barrett preferred to answer his questions over the phone. These answers have been transcribed and shortened. 

  1. The first thing, unfortunately, is safety and security. We want to make sure our buildings are where they need to be from a security standpoint, from a safety procedures. We’re going to be doing drills throughout the course of the school year, both routine and spontaneous or unexpected… We’ve done storm drills for many years but until recently we haven’t had to execute them… We’re going to continue to collaborate with local law enforcement, state police, emergency management just to make sure we’re all on the same page and we’re communicating effectively.

    From a community perspective, we want to make sure we’re increasing communication, getting information out there in a timely manner… we want to promote a positive message as often as possible.

    We’re implementing new program, PBIS (positive behavior intervention and support. It’s basically programmatic throughout the entire district that you’re reinforcing the positive behaviors... so that when there is an infraction… we’re putting in interventions that are very targeted to the students’ needs. Rather than just throwing discipline at them, what are we doing to change the students’ behavior?

    What are we doing on a daily basis to make sure the kids are learning and growing as they should? 

  2. state assessments that we utilize to break down various parts of our curriculum… EDInsight is the name of the program. We used to use performance tracker that we input our data into there and we could break it down for grade level, for classroom, for kid… we can still do that… and we can develop assessments as a result of where the kids’ level is at.

    We use state assessments, PVAAS is statewide-- it’s another data warehouse that breaks down student growth scores… so that we can get a more fine-tuned assessment of what we’re doing.

    Also the PA Future Ready index, it’s the new score-card if you will… a little bit more of a comprehensive overview of schools and how they’re performing. [PA Future Ready] includes things like attendance career readiness, growth scores, graduation rates--all of that is compiled in the future-ready index. So that will help us get a birds’-eye view. 

  3. We are working with the Penn State Extension, offering a program called Prosper. Basically, it’s strengthening families and the dynamics of families and how they communicate… We have two sessions, one in the fall, one in the spring and it’s several weeks of the parents and students come in, we provide a meal and then we break out into sessions, the parents go in one the students go in another and then they come together and communicate about what they learned… It stems from at- home but it also carries over into school and us becoming familiar with these families in the community that may need some resources or whatever we can provide, whether its counseling or whatever it might be, we can assist them in that That’s been a very successful program I’m very proud of that.

    Our student groups like to get out into the community as well. A couple years ago, our athletic teams and cheerleaders went out into the community to bag groceries and carry groceries for people… We’re just trying to help in any way we can.

  4. We want to make sure we provide our students with the tools that they may need, but may not always rely on. We have laptops for our students here, we have iPads, all of those things, but we’re also providing a new called STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics). We hired a principal to oversee STEAM implementation programmatically throughout the district as well. We provided grants… in one district a teacher was able to provide about 30 iphones for virtual reality demonstrations, so have goggles that the iPhones can connect to and they’re able to download programs and apps. They can go in and do virtual reality experiments with the device.

    We’re trying to implement that more throughout our curriculum and utilize technology to aid and assist… we want to use it as a tool, not necessarily the driver of what we’re doing. 

  5. We can improve in all areas. We want to make sure that we’re constantly identifying areas of strengths and weaknesses… academically, we’re always looking at our curriculum and redefining it. From a mental health standpoint, we’re looking to improve the amount of mental health services. We’re contracting with Friendship House. Basically, they provide counselors and therapists in our buildings so if a student goes to our guidance counselor and identifies a need or if a student is having problems at home or substance abuse… they can have sessions at school, but private. Usually the medical access will cover at least a portion of those costs and then would be responsible for the cost of a counselor beyond those.

    We created a position for behavior specialist so that that person can help students at the elementary level.

  6. . We want to make sure our buildings and grounds are up to date we want to make sure they're safe for the faculty and staff, we want to constantly make sure we’re staying on top of things that need to be updated or fixed, not just annually but five ten years down the road we want to make sure we have a plan in place. 

  7. we’ve been really focusing on targeting every students’ needs . Sometimes, in public education, it seems to be a more generalized approach, so we want to look at obviously our data across the board and then fill it out for each student… even if it’s just changing how we say hello in the morning to ‘hey how’s it going, hows your day?’ Just simple things like that to make sure we’re hitting as many students as we can.

    We want to make them feel safe, we want to make them know that they can come and talk to us. I know at times the students think that we’re adversarial in our approach… but we want to make sure we lessen that stigma. In terms of equality in education, constantly looking at our curriculum, making sure it’s adequate and it’s appropriate.

    We try to get our social studies teachers to communicate more with our English teachers so the students can learn about an event in history and then write about it in their English classes.

    Again, with the PBIS program that’s going to assist with that as well, making sure that if we have a student whose background is a little bit different, are we making the appropriate interventions for that kid? We’re primarily a rural school district, so if a kid comes in from an urban school district… how are we meeting that students’ needs upon arrival? So we’re trying to put together things like welcome packets for students, getting familiar and acquainted with Western Wayne...all of those thing to make sure that we’re not excluding anyone or making sure that they’re not feeling ostracized.

Gregory Frigoletto, Wayne Highlands School District, Wayne County, PA
Editor's note: Superintendent Frigoletto preferred to answer his questions over the phone. They have been edited for clarity and length. 

  1. For us, there’s a couple things that we have always as goals. One is that we’re going to be able to provide a culture and climate where it’s most advantageous for students to be able to be successful. So everytime we go into a new year, we remind everybody at the opening in-service that we are in a business that is a people business. It’s very important that kids know that we care, that it’s safe and that there’s always going to be somebody there for them… When we say all means all, that means every student, every day, no exceptions… there’s not going to be some artificial benchmark that we hope that they’ll grow into.

    We continue to expand in our high school in our CTE (career and technical education) programs, so we’re excited that we are going to be expanding on our programs... So this is not the first year, but we can go through them and know that we’re looking to expand on our health occupations program.

    We’re very excited about our general agricultural program. We are right now in the process of a construction project… a zero-waste system that will have two forms of growing coexisting. One will be aquaponics and the other will be a traditional soil-planting bed. Fish waste to fertilizer… That construction project is started and we hope that it will be fully completed by mid to late September.

    We also now have really worked hard on the elementary end of a new ELA (English and language arts) program called ‘Wit and Wisdom’ [a literacy program] and it’s a great ELA program that we’re excited about.

    We are going into year three I believe with great success in a program called ‘Fundation’ [an early reading program] that we feel strongly has really moved our ELA programs, beginning in kindergarten, forward.

    We have quite a few new teachers this year… so were looking at a good transition of new staff into our system. We’re fortunate that a few of them are graduates of Honesdale. 

  2. This year, one of the things that we’re very proud of that has happened very consistently, I think every year except for one… is that every year the Scranton Times-Tribune puts out an article that is “called grading our school”... Wayne Highlands is consistently 100% above every state average.

    We got together an administrative team… and we took a deep dive at looking at the data of, ‘OK, where have we been? Where are we coming from?’ and then we really took a deep look at ‘Where do we want to go?’ …. So we wound up putting something, literally, it’s called the Wayne Highlands Way and we think with the Wayne Highlands Way there are certain things that are constantly evolving. Some things are in our control but we know that these things are constantly evolving… we have to be progressive in meeting the needs of these things: instruction, curriculum, technology, policy, procedures and assessment … In the center of this piece there are certain things that we think are locked. We know that everything begins with students, so every decision we make, we need to ask, ‘Well is this the best thing to do for kids?’ 
  3. In the personal lives of students, one of the things we started last year and are continuing this year, it’s through a grant Act 44 Safe Schools grant. We have in our school, and at our students’ disposals, outpatient mental health services... We have services available in all of our schools that we think meet that need. If we’re looking at that particular piece, the mental health component, we have guidance counselors, we have crisis counselors, we have school psychologists and outpatient psychologist… every resource we could have that would meet the needs that are presented.

    We continue to expand at our high school on career opportunities, whether it’s through our vocational programming or our apprentice program. What we’re looking to do is provide connections for kids for career pathways… everything from job shadowing to career speakers coming to our school… we’re going to continue operating our career day…. I think last year there were as many as 30 or more careers represented, where through an interest inventory the students rotate throughout the day.

    As students leave our eighth grade and enter high school they literally are on a career pathway… kids are entering eighth grade with somewhat of a plan on what options are open to them.

    We continue to engage our community in many ways through our clubs and community programs. We know that there’s clubs, for example, the Interact Club, these are clubs where the great thing about it is: We know surely that there are things that aren't going to be learned within the four walls of the school room, but it’s those experiences where we’re engaging students in their community… they’re seeing what the community can offer to them and they're learning what they can offer to the community. We’ve also coordinated through the Chamber of Commerce. It’s something that I started and we’re going to be in the third cycle of this… five juniors in each of the four districts are selected to be part of this youth leadership program. It really engages them in what it means to be a leader, both in their community and in their own lives. It engages them in everything from local government to entrepreneurship, there's a law day, there’s a services day… it gives these students an opportunity to see what leaders in our community are doing.

  4. We’re very fortunate at Wayne Highlands just this year, we continued our one-to-one initiative at Honesdale High School where every student in the high school received a new iPad this year. We’ve done this program now for several years but we just issued brand new iPads to every student in our high school. Part of that was to implement multiple laptop and iPad carts in the building and around the district. One of the things that we feel is important is that we are engaging students with the use of technology… —whether it be through apps or whether through assignments or research or administering tests electronically—we are using technology in instruction so that it is preparing students for what they are going to be exposed to…

    We also work hard to develop in a way that they're not just supplanting the old chalk and blackboard… we’re using technology in instruction hopefully in ways that we think is improving instruction… That’s the tricky part, not just to do it to say you did it, but to do it because you think it’s actually going to improve things. 

  5. When you look at the Wayne Highlands Way, you’re going to see, on the outside of this diagram, the things that are always evolving that are always going to be the challenges. I think a great challenge is going to be to keep up with assessment to make sure that we are up to speed and… making sure the curriculum that we have in place is the right curriculum to make sure that students are college or career ready… now, it’s not good enough or it’s not appropriate to say you're not, we want to make sure we have a system in place… in having kids understand that there are many ways of getting to that career.

    We had students last year who were part of our apprenticeship programs and part of our carpentry program who, through their job experience while they were still in school, had employers competitively seeking them to work there.

    We work hard and as we continue to be a district that prides itself on tradition … we also have to understand that we have to continue to meet the needs of what society presents.

  6. We have a director of safety and security, Joe LoBasso, but we just hired Brian Vennie as the assistant director… he was a lieutenant trooper, Blooming Grove station commander, he also was the station commander at the Honesdale barracks. He's gone through the ranks everything from lieutenant to sargeant to corporal at the PA state police. He also was a petty officer first class in the U.S. navy. He’s had many commendations, he’s had a medal of honor, state police military service award… so here we have a guy who I believe is the second-most decorated state trooper since the early 1900s and he’s a wonderful addition for what we can provide here for safety concerns.

    So I’ve gone to a lot of trainings as you would expect and when you go to trainings, specifically for safety and security, there's a lot of things that are out in the media that some would think are the immediate go tos in safety and security… but with every training we go to… [we learn] you need to have a climate and culture that is one that is conducive to providing a safe environment… that students  know that if they 'see something and say something,' there’s going to be somebody in that school that they can go to and they can trust.

    Every one of our buildings as a vestibule secured entrance, which is a locked secured entrance through vestibules.

  7. We live in a rural area but what we also know is that does not exclude us even remotely from making sure that we are acknowledging and addressing any issue appropriately that deals with diversity and inclusion.

    When we say 'all means all, every student, every day, every student, no exceptions'… it means that we understand that every student is unique and that we honor every student that walks through that door.

    Each generation has new challenges to face and I think what we feel very strongly about is that obviously we have to embrace it and we have to accept those challenges… but we also feel strongly that we are not doomed and that this generation of students will allow us to grow and persevere like every generation of students has before them. This is important to note, that people get hung up on, 'This generation is so much different,' well it’s really not that different… it’s different only in that the challenges and what’s being presented is different.

    There are times obviously where we have to be aware of what our legal responsibilities are. That's just the responsibility of being in the public school system… butwe  also  know that it goes back to that climate and culture piece that we are very serious about providing—'all means all'— so that when students walk through the door, they’re comfortable and accepted. 

Ivan Katz, Fallsburg Central School District, Sullivan County, NY

* Editor's note: Ivan Katz declined to answer the full set of seven questions, but sent these statements instead.

Building project update: Building project work continued this summer at the junior-senior high school and at the Benjamin Cosor Elementar School (BCES).  Because the majority of the work has to take place over the summer months, there will be several areas that will not be completed until next summer. We are making sure that all of those areas are safe and functional while we wait for the project to get completed.  We are asking our school community to please excuse our appearance in the interim.  Building project work is, unfortunately, not a perfect science, but, in the end, we will have much improved facilities that will serve our school community well for the years to come.

School Improvement Update:  We will be implementing several initiatives in 2019–20 designed to continue improvements in curriculum and instruction, and, ultimately, student achievement.  Consistent with our district comprehensive improvement plan (DCIP), and Jr.-Sr. High School’s school comprehensive education plan (SCEP), we will require teachers to develop and post high-quality, standards-aligned learning objectives, daily, in their classes.  Teachers and instructional leaders will develop these standards-aligned objectives during conference day activities, with follow-up support from administration.  Later in the fall, we will introduce a gradual release model (GRM) of instruction.  This will be a systems approach to what many teachers do, already, in their classrooms: i.e., transferring the responsibility in the learning process from the teacher to the student.   The goal of this model is to provide appropriate instruction, moving students towards greater independence.

Additional improvements are in our continued expansion in bilingual education.  The Benjamin Cosor Elementary School’s dual language program will extend into third grade.   The JSHS will begin a transitional bilingual education program in grades 9–10 social studies in 2019–20.  Also at BCES, teachers will implement new core programs in K–3 science (Science 21) and K–6 social studies (Pearson’s myWorld).

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