Edward J. Harris
Mr. Harris' Professional Portfolio
From the Desk of the Superintendent
Another school year is drawing to a close and with that comes a good time to update district patrons on larger items of interest and changes that may be forthcoming for the next school year. Before I get into updates I first would like to publically commend our students and staff on a great school year. Our students are demonstrating academic growth while continuing a high rate of participation in activities and co-curricular programs that have seen a lot a recent success. Our staff continues to develop their skills through professional development efforts that are proving to be effective and we are in the process of finding new and better ways to increase efficiency in operations and resource management. The community has great reason to be proud of our students and the adults that work every day to help them succeed.
Since the spring of 2014 we have been discussing schedule and calendar options to maximize the instructional time we have with kids while giving adequate time to teachers to plan for and fully deploy new knowledge and skills to increase learning in the classroom. Needless to say, this has been a challenge given all the variables and constraints involved. However, after much discussion, research, and debate we have developed an alteration to the current calendar and daily schedule that will allow us to move further ahead with initiatives that we know are good for kids and effective. Below is the rationale I gave to the school board for recommending a change which they approved at the April meeting. From a public perspective the biggest changes are 1) a 30 minute late start on nearly every Wednesday throughout next school year and 2) no more early outs.
Goals (what we set out to accomplish)
If you look at the minutes spent with kids, we will be at about the same levels as we have always been previous to this year. The big difference is that we are not spending any of those minutes on early out days which are instructionally less effective. Additionally, we have found a more effective plan to get teachers together and work on things that we now know are making a difference for kids in the classroom in terms of student achievement.
The current budget forecast continues to indicate a significant budget shortfall in the coming years. This is due to a combination of inflationary expense increases, flat enrollment, program expansion, and revenue support from the state of MN that is not keeping up with the CPI (inflation). To slow the pace of deficit spending (reserves) we cut $225,000 from this year's budget. Fortunately, most of these cuts were either opportunistic savings or operational expense reductions that were not directly related to kids and programs.
We have already determined it necessary to reduce next year's budget (2015-2016) by another $200,000 in an effort to further slow the rate of deficit spending while we await the outcome of the MN legislature session. The outcome of that in terms of K-12 funding will dramatically impact our budgetary future. The cuts for next year impact staff and programs that have proven effective for our students that are in need of the most help. We are hopeful that another round of cuts for 2016-2017 of $200,000 is not necessary, but as I write this the legislative session is still ongoing so our financial path is yet unclear. Much like we did in 2011, it is quite likely that the School Board may need to consider asking the community of Chatfield for further support (operating levy) depending upon how things turn out.
This is a tough position to be in. We have determined what we need to increase the learning of our students and staff and have put effective resources in place to support those efforts. Now, we are forced to begin dismantling some of these things due to financial constraints. I am very frustrated by this. However, for every problem there is a solution. So, we will continue to discuss how to proceed in ways that allow us to serve kids to the best of our ability.
Currently, there is a community/school task force studying the present condition of the high school in terms of maintenance concerns, safety issues, updates, and the effectiveness of educational spaces. While there are parts of the building nearing 60 years old it has been well cared for and is generally in pretty good condition. However, it does have some issues that will need to be dealt with relatively soon. To preserve the high school's structural integrity and maintain an appropriate level of service to students into the future (20+ years), a comprehensive study and determination of needs and desired needs to be done which is what this task force is currently doing. Sometime this summer, the school board will be presented with the findings of the task force and presented with a recommendation.
I am honored to serve this community as the Superintendent of Schools and am continually impressed with our kids, staff, parents, and level of support from the community. Despite occasional challenges and a future that appears uncertain at times, extraordinary things are happening in our buildings for kids and staff on a daily basis in terms of academic and personal growth. Some of these things are visible and some are intangible. Our job is to continually seek ways to remove obstacles so learning and teaching meets and exceeds the growing expectations of our young people both locally and globally.
Edward J. Harris
Greetings from Gopher Country! This is a great time of year for an update because we are now getting information back about the prior year in terms of student performance and budget outcomes. It is this type of information that we will now be using to further predict what the upcoming needs of the District are in the short term and what they could be in the long term.
According to how the State of Minnesota now measures school performance (Multiple Measure Rating), our kids and staff gave us a lot to be proud of last year. While the high school succeeded in increasing by over 10 percentage points what was already a strong rating from the year before, the elementary completely blew away their modest score from the prior year by over 48 percentage points! This rating is based upon the Math and Reading state test results (MCA) and how much students have improved from one year to the next and if we are closing any achievement gaps present for at-risk student groups. The teachers and principals in both building should be commended. Last year was a "watershed moment" so to speak where new insights were realized and plans were developed that should support teacher development, training, and use of student data in a way that sets new standards for how our teachers teach and how our students learn. However, it is fair to say that one year of great scores across the District does not constitute a trend, but, we like what we have seen so far and are going to do all we can to continue it.
Budget and Enrollment
There is mixed news on this subject. Current financial and enrollment projections indicate impeding budget shortfalls in the next couple of years (i.e. expenses increasing at a faster rate than revenues). The good news is that this is pretty close to what we were forecasting when the operating levy was passed/renewed in 2011. Since then, there have been some increases in state funding which we have used to expand programming. To slow the advance of the shortfall, the operational budget for this year was cut by about $200,000. After this year's cuts, future reductions (if needed) will likely begin to impact programs. We may be looking at another reduction for 2015-2016 depending upon what happens in the state legislature next spring and if our enrollment trends continue. As of now, our enrollment growth appears to be stalling and gently receding. After 2 big classes in the last 4 years, (2nd and 4th grade) this year's kindergarten is smaller than projected with next year's set to be smaller yet. This is somewhat concerning as our revenue is directly tied to student enrollment. We have been slightly over 900 students for several years, but are projected to dip down below that next year. In the coming weeks, the school board and administration will be discussing this and determining proactive measures to address it.
When the school board and administration address the operational budget concern noted above, there will also be discussions related to long term facility needs. Specifically, larger/longer term maintenance and capital projects which are needed and/or desired but cannot be funded through annual budgets will be identified, prioritized, and estimated for cost (most of which are at the high school site). At that point, further discussion will ensue regarding next steps.
It has been several years since the District has engaged in a strategic planning exercise where such things as vision, mission, and school district goals were reviewed. At the last school board meeting, I suggested that we consider a process that would assist us in reviewing how we want the District to function and what the priorities should be to guide decision making and program management. At the next meeting I intend to share with them some ideas on how this may be actuated and what types of outcomes they could expect.
I continue to be honored to serve this fine school district. Our students and staff enjoy strong support from the community and perform in so many exemplary ways every day that it is often humbling. Go Gophers!!
Summer 2014 Gopher Gazette
This summer has been another busy one as we prepare for what should be another very successful year in Gopher Country! Last year’s successes in student achievement, performance, and teacher development were nothing short of tremendous. Plans to build upon those are in the works and should prove to get us off to a great start in 2014-2015. Community and parent support for our students and the work that we do here has been terrific and certainly a big reason why Chatfield is a great place for kids. As of July, we have brought several new people on board. I would like to officially welcome them to our team as we look forward to supporting their work within the District.
As Superintendent it has been a pleasure to support the recent developments in student programming and teacher training. This summer, a number of teachers have been engaged in technology integration training as well as planning for further exploration during the school year of best practices relating to examination of student achievement data to continually improve classroom instruction. An exciting prospect in this area for both buildings are the plans to reorganize time on a weekly basis for groups of teachers in each building to professionally collaborate on specific projects that should continually support quality instruction and preparation of all students to be ready for post-secondary education and/or career opportunities. The goal of this is also to develop additional enrichment and/or academic support opportunities for kids that would run simultaneously. The research proven idea of increasing the frequency of staff development activities is a goal of most school districts as they too try to find ways to continually develop educational practices that support the increasing demands of what it means for our youth to be successful in the 21st century.
A few words of thanks…
The types of ventures mentioned above are not possible without a supportive and trusting school board. I would like to thank them for their confidence in our work and the time they spend on the District’s behalf. I would also like to acknowledge our custodians and cleaning crew for their efforts this summer to prepare for the opening of school. Additionally, the office staff in the elementary, high school, and district office do so much during the summer that it would be impossible to launch a school year successfully without the kind of care they take in their work. All of these folks work tremendously hard and take pride in what they do. Thank you.
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.