Edward J. Harris
Mr. Harris' Professional Portfolio
From the Desk of the Superintendent
Winter 2013-2014 Gopher Gazette
School Board Appreciation Week
The Chatfield School District will join school districts throughout the state to salute their local education leaders during Minnesota's annual School Board Recognition Week February 17-21. The commemorative week is designed to recognize the contributions made by Minnesota's school board members, including the Chatfield School Board, who are charged with governing public education under state law. Minnesota school board members are chosen by their communities through election or appointment to manage local schools. They oversee multimillion dollar budgets which fund education programs for more than 825,000 students in approximately 2,000 schools. Their personnel decisions affect more than 52,000 teachers and thousands of administrators and support workers. These volunteer leaders also are responsible for formulating school district policy, approving curricula, maintaining school facilities, and adhering to state and federal education law. Legal concerns and the complexities of school finance, including budgeting and taxation, require them to spend many hours in board training programs and personal study to enhance their understanding of these issues. Our deepest appreciation is extended to the dedicated men and women who make it possible for local citizens to participate in education in our community. We salute the public servants of the Chatfield School Board whose commitment and civic responsibility make local control of public schools in our community possible: Jerry Chase, Greg LaPlante, F. Mike Tuohy, Matt McMahon, Kathy Schellhammer, and Tom Sturgis. Please join us by saying thanks to our school board members during Minnesota's School Board Recognition Week!
As mid-January, the K-6 leadership team and elementary teachers have made significant progress in developing a building wide plan of improvement that includes efforts to rebuild the academic/professional culture to include a mechanism where teachers are regularly meeting and using real-time student data to advance their practice in a professional manner and influence student achievement in each classroom. This is commonly referred to as implementing PLC's (Professional Learning Communities), which if done right, is the most widely agreed upon strategy to improving student achievement in schools. The Improvement Plan itself is taking draft form and was presented for review by the CILT (Continuous Improvement Leadership Team) on Wednesday, January 15. It is essentially a roadmap for PLC development, a recognition of what we are currently doing that is good practice, and guidance for next steps that will support increased student learning over the course of the next 2-3 years. There are a number of things at work in this process and I am very proud of the way that Mr. Ihrke and his staff have responded. I anticipate that this effort will begin to bear fruit as early as this spring's MCA results. There has also been additional developments relating to this that are going to support the eventual connection of this close examination of teacher practice and student data to the high school through involvement of the 7/8 English and math teachers.
We are preparing to review/update the current budget at the February meeting (Tuesday the 18th). A meeting has been scheduled for the Finance and Facilities Committee to meet at 6:00 that same evening to go over details and consider next steps. Here is some timely discussion on the topic of school finance…
When the community passed the referendum in November of 2011 for operating funds, we believed (based on projections at the time) that passage of it would give us 3-5 years of reasonable security before serious concerns reemerged. At that time, "serious concerns" was defined as projected budget deficits that would erode critical reserves and then force the choice of significant cuts to programs and staff and/or asking the community for increased levy authority to stabilize the budget. The good news is that our projections have held up pretty well and have not given us any nasty surprises. However, we are projected to deficit spend this year (2013-2014) and into the future if the expenditure budget is carried forward as is.
Clearly, we need to start cutting back expenses starting with the 2014-2015 budget to preserve our solvency and set the stage to balance expenditures with revenues. Cost reductions could take a number of different forms such as a) cost effective contract settlements b) reduction in staff development and operational expenditures c) maximizing new levy and aid opportunities that may arise d) opportunistically rebidding supply and contracted services/contracts d) cutting staff and programs.
I have spoken openly with the staff, administration and school board about the need for $100,000 to $150,000 in budget reductions for next year in an effort to provide some perspective on the larger budget picture since there have not been any reductions since the spring of 2010 and we have added back programs and staff since then. As spring approaches, the reduction possibilities will become more firm as planning begins in earnest for the coming year. We also will begin to get some idea as to whether or not there will be any cost savings related to this spring's legislative session which is supposed to be the "unsession" meaning another attempt at removing cumbersome, expensive state mandates for schools.
The Chatfield community may be interested in knowing that, in educational terms, a pretty significant event occurred at the elementary school on January 20. Over 450 educators from several area schools (including Chatfield) converged on Chatfield Elementary for a full day of technology use learning and sharing. The event was a tremendous success due to the efforts of teacher presenters (some from Chatfield), Kristy Cook (Chatfield Tech Integration Specialist), Damon Lueck (Chatfield Tech Director), Chatfield Food Service (Taher), our Custodial Staff, Office Staff, and National Honor Society Student Helpers. Nearly the entire facility was in use and it easily supported the technology needs of everyone which was an impressive feat. There were dozens of mini sessions throughout the day that staff could choose to attend depending upon their teaching assignment and interest. Initial feedback was very positive. It was exciting to see the adults immersed in best practice discussions about current technologies and strategies that can impact student learning in a positive way. Way to go Chatfield Staff!
There have been so many examples this year of how well supported our students and staff are by the Chatfield community. I wish to thank you for that support and congratulate the citizenry on setting an example in this regard that is noticed on a regular basis from others in neighboring communities and across the state.
Fall 2013 Gopher Gazette (E. Harris)
By the time this edition of the Gopher Gazette goes to print, we will have been in school for the better part of a month. It has been a very smooth start. The students and staff really came in ready to go and in many ways the feeling of normalcy had already set in by the end of the first week. Maybe this was because fall activities started earlier than usual and we had so many staff members attending trainings over the summer to prepare this year's upcoming initiatives. The 1 to 1 iPad project has been very well received by students, staff and parents and the 2nd year of the Action100 reading program is already in full swing. I am very pleased with the start of the school year and wish to thank the students, staff and administration for their efforts thus far.
Each year about this time we begin to get state testing data summaries from the prior year and enrollment comparisons using the current year. Although, at the time of this publication we do not yet have the official results of the Multiple Measure Rating (MMR)* from the State of Minnesota, I would like to share some preliminary information from the District perspective regarding student achievement and District enrollment.
Student Achievement Measures
"World's Best Workforce" Legislation
Planning will begin in October to develop a multi-year strategic plan that focuses on the examination of data to drive decision making and teacher instruction in a way that promotes excellence in teaching and learning. Annual student achievement goals will be set for local and state assessments as well as other measures of growth. This plan will be developed by a group of teacher leaders and administrators for approval by the School Board sometime later this year. This plan development project is not only good practice, but also a new requirement set forth by the Minnesota Legislature for all school districts in the state. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) will be monitoring the progress on these plans for districts across the state starting in the fall of 2014. This new mandate was coined the "World's Best Workforce" when it was conceived by the MN legislature last spring.
Chatfield's current K-12 enrollment is 921. At this time last year, the count was 910. The average enrollment over the course of the past few years has been fairly consistent with a modest net increase of about 3% since the 2010-2011 school year. This is primarily due to large kindergarten classes, two out of the last three years. Enrollment is directly linked to funding from the State. We consider ourselves quite fortunate that we are not experiencing a significant and persistent decline in enrollment that is common in other small rural school districts around the state. At this time, our enrollment projection model suggests that the student count should remain fairly stable over the course of the next few years.
*If you are not familiar with the MMR, it is the new system used by the State of Minnesota to determine whether schools are on track to meet new statewide achievement goals. The MMR includes four measurements: student proficiency, student growth, achievement gap reduction, and graduation rates. This rating is used to identify low-performing schools that need state support, as well as high-performing schools deserving recognition. The student scores in the MMR use the results of the annual Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) exams.
**The 2013 MCA reading and math results are not valid comparisons to the Districts previous years' results for several reasons. The Commissioner of Education presented a letter for districts last May to distribute to their patrons at a later date explaining why the State expects a dip in scores compared to 2012 and why that should not be considered a result of lesser performance, but instead a function of different content standards and test structures. The Commissioner's advice is to use the 2013 MCA reading and math results as a new baseline to work from. Here is a link to her public statement to parents on the matter. http://tinyurl.com/lqv7vzq
The 2012-2013 school year has gone amazingly fast. It seemed like we leapt straight from winter to summer. Oh, wait, maybe that had something to do with the weather! At any rate, I would like to publically thank the students, staff, and parents for the tremendous effort this year. There are so many success stories! If you were able to attend the academic banquet held on May 8, you would have seen a remarkable example of how the efforts of students and staff (supported by parents) throughout the entire K-12 system collaborate to support student achievement in academics and activities at a very high level. By the time you read this, the senior banquet will also have occurred on the 21st of May. This is a showcase of academic accomplishment for our graduates that could rival schools larger than ours based on the value of the scholarships that are earned by our graduates.
At the end of every year, we reflect back on how far we have come as well as await the summer and school year ahead with anticipation. This year is no different. In 2013-2014, our Action 100 program will enter its 2nd year while an iPad/mobile device project involving multiple grades in each building begins. In preparation for these types of major initiatives as well as numerous other curriculum and course development projects in all grades, over 30 teachers have requested a total of nearly 1000 hours of curriculum writing time this summer to prepare. I think this speaks well to the level of commitment that our staff has to professional development that supports student learning. We are going to try very hard to support as many of those requests as we can. Needless to say, there is a lot to be proud of here in Chatfield!
As a District, we were very pleased to see the our Minnesota Competency Assessment (MCA) scores in both reading and math increase over the previous year. Those results coupled with other measures such as our graduation rate and achievement gap combined to produce a favorable rating from the State of Minnesota this year. This new universal rating system called the Multiple Measure Rating (MMR) is the next generation school effectiveness tool being used by the state to determine if schools are “making the grade” so to speak. We are confident that our focused attention on such efforts as the pre-K through 6 reading initiative (Action 100), secondary SMART goal and culture initiatives, MCA III Math preparation strategies, and K-12 curriculum alignment process will position us to continually improve as a institution of teaching and learning.
From a business perspective, our position continues to be favorable. Preliminary indicators are that the 2011-2012 budget will close to within about 1% of the projected expenditures. Also, this fall’s enrollment has increased compared to this time last year and the preliminary levy projection indicates a change of less than ½ of 1% (.33%) compared to last year. The 2012-2013 budget was expanded to some degree to address the cost of new program initiatives and increased staff needed to accommodate the increase in enrollment. These new costs and revenues from the increased enrollment will be integrated into our financial planning model (fund balance and enrollment projection system) and assessed for sustainability later this fall. I am hopeful that in the coming years, the state economy stabilizes enough to allow the legislators and the governor to come to an agreement on school funding that is somewhat fair, but maybe more importantly, predictable. If that were to happen, long-range fiscal planning for schools would certainly become more of a science and less of an art.
Action 100 and the 100 Book Challenge
Chatfield Public Schools Referendum
On November 8, a school election will be held to ask the community for renewed financial support and additional funds to maintain our current staff and program levels through what is likely to be several years of budgetary uncertainty. Over the course of the past 10 years, the gap between state aid for schools and inflation has grown to nearly 13%. What this means is that the State of Minnesota has not provided funds to fully maintain educational programs. Local communities have had to pick up the slack if they want to keep pace with the demands of educating kids in the 21st century and ensure the vitality of their schools. This is the primary reason why over 90% of the schools in the state have operating levies in place and why there are more school districts holding elections this fall compared to any other year in the last decade. Over 120 school districts are asking their communities to support critical renewals of current operating levies and/or increases in funding to balance budgets that are short of revenue. As is the case in Chatfield, these schools have likely already cut staff and programs that impact kids and are hopeful that they can hold the line if their communities respond favorably on election day.
Property owners may have noticed some small variations in the debt service levy over the past two years. The debt service levy is what covers the annual payments for voter approved debt (building projects). It is projected that the debt service levy will stabilize this coming year at a level that should be predictable for the foreseeable future. This new level of stabilization will be less than what property owners paid in 2009 but more than 2010.