Edward J. Harris
Mr. Harris' Professional Portfolio
From the Desk of the Superintendent
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.