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The Sentinel-News: How will the school district change in 2010?
Superintendent James Neihof: 1. There will be big changes related to the opening of the new high school. From new bus routes to new daily routines for staff and students, much will be different.
2. There will also be changes related to Senate Bill 1, the Education Reform Bill approved and enacted early this year. Senate Bill 1 brings about new core standards for all content areas and new assessment of student progress. We look forward to the changes coming with SB1. For example, high school students will have end-of-course or end-of-year assessments that count both as the course final exam grade and as their state accountability score. We believe this will make the accountability system more personal and meaningful to students as opposed to current state accountability system. During the upcoming year our district will invest a great deal of time on planning for this change coming in 2011.
S-N: What challenges will the district face in 2010?
Neihof: The biggest challenges are closing the Achievement Gaps, balancing the budget, opening a new high school.
1. The academic challenge to Close the Achievement Gap is explained more fully in some of the answers below.
2. The district will be faced with financial challenges in two ways:
a. The state budget forecast indicates that there may be no additional funds for education and in fact more reductions could come
b. The opening of a new school always increases expenses for the district
3. The challenge of opening our second high school will be at the top of our list. Parents, students and staff will all have their worries and concerns. The district staff will devote a great deal of time to preparing for this transition.
S-N: How does the budget look for the coming year?
Neihof: We will be faced with balancing budget in a very lean year. The budget planning process is under way. We are following closely the news out of Frankfort as it unfolds. We are in hope that the SEEK formula will be fully funded and the funds that were reduced or removed from areas such as textbooks, preschool and extended-school services in fiscal year 2010 will be restored.
S-N: Are there any new projects that could be announced in 2010?
Neihof: During the spring of 2010, the Local Planning Committee will convene. This group will review the current Facility Plan and make any needed revisions based on our current growth trends. Although I cannot speak for the committee, I expect that they will uphold the current plan that calls for the next new facility to be an elementary school. The LPC will prioritize our needs and make recommendations to the board as to the timeline for any major projects.
S-N: What are some of the most commonly heard concerns you hear from citizens?
Neihof: Most of the questions I hear these days have to do with the opening of Martha Layne Collins High School. The topics range from:
· Concern about what courses will be offered to
· What teachers will go to the new school to
· What co-curricular activities will be at MLCHS and how will SCHS be impacted to
· What sports will be offered and who will coach to
· The transfer policy for a student who lives in one area and wants to attend the other school.
S-N: And what is your answer to them?
Neihof: In general the answer is that we thank them for their questions and for their interest. We are always readily admitting that we may not have every answer at the time of the question because, try as we might, we will not anticipate every possible question a citizen might raise and some of the questions might require time to work through and answer.
With regard to the examples above:
· We intend to offer the same academic courses at both schools. There may be cases, such as in Agriculture, where one school specializes in some of the 8 Agriculture Career Pathways listed in the Program of Studies while the other school specializes in others.
· The teacher transfer process is under way. Teachers have submitted their requests and the principals are sorting through them making every effort to place staff in the situations they prefer. We are grateful for the many who simply asked to be placed where they are most needed and can be of greatest benefit to our students. It is wonderful to work with such committed and dedicated teachers.
· Both schools will have similar co-curricular opportunities. We have spent time planning how we will develop the music feeder programs for band, choral and orchestra and believe we have a good plan in place. We also have plans underway to have an ROTC program at both schools.
· Both schools will offer the same sports. We will hire teachers first and fill coaching positions secondly. We want to have top-notch academic programs and be known nationally and across the state as a school district where all kids graduate from high school prepared for success in college or a career training opportunity. This means that we must not only look at high school graduation rates but also at the number of our graduates who stay in college and complete. We believe that successful sports programs are a vital part of a successful school but maintain that our foremost responsibility is to prepare students academically to be citizens who contribute positively to society. While we appreciate and respect those who want to know who the coaches are going to be, we will insist on providing the best possible teacher in every classroom and will consider the coaching skills of internal transfer applicants and applicants from outside the district along with their teaching credentials and not as a separate entity. In other words, we won’t go out and find a coach and then try to find a teaching job where we can fit him or her in.
· The transfer policy is under review by the Board. I expect there to be a transfer mechanism that allows a student with good grades, excellent attendance records and exemplary behavior to request a transfer to attend high school in an attendance area where he or she does not live.
· Current juniors may stay at SCHS and most have already notified us as to which high school they plan to attend so that we can schedule classes and staff accordingly.
S-N: What are some areas you’d like to see the district improve in?
Neihof: We have 5 Main Things that are the framework for what we do as a district. One of those is Instructional Norms. Our instructional norms are our teaching practices. During the next year I would like to see us improve our questioning strategies to ensure that we are teaching our students not only how to memorize and recite facts but how better to reason and apply their learning. We refer to this as the depth of knowledge or DOK. In short, we need to get better at asking questions in such a way that our kids are using higher order thinking skills to demonstrate what they know and to solve real world problems.
Our district improvement plan calls for us to increase the number of students who score proficient and distinguished on the KCCT test in April of 2010. I believe the threshold for us to become a highly successful district is for 80% of our students to be proficient and distinguished or distinguished learners as measured by the state accountability system. We intend to increase the percentage of students who are proficient or distinguished learners.
Intervention is another of our 5 Main Things. Our success with intervention hinges on identifying every child who is below proficiency, determining what skills he or she is missing and focusing our resources to develop those specific skills. I would like to see measurable learning increases such that the number of students needing intervention in reading and math decrease.
Our principals intend to increase the level of rigor and challenge our high achievers to new heights. This is the 5th of our 5 Main Things – Enrichment. We have plans to provide growth opportunities for teachers as they develop new skills to take our high achievers to new levels. I would like to train a cohort of Model Teachers who teach their students how to learn and measure their own effectiveness based on student learning.
S-N: Do you have any message for citizens entering the new year?
Neihof: My driving passion going into 2010 is twofold:
1. To ensure that all students perform at or above the norms as compared to their peers internationally. Our kids live in a global world and will compete globally for jobs. If we allow ourselves to settle for “good enough for here” we will be doing them a tragic disservice.
2. To ensure that we have highly skilled teachers who can prepare our students to apply knowledge and compete for jobs in the global marketplace as adults. If our students are ever going to perform above their peers based on internationally normed benchmarks, then they must have teachers who perform above the norm as well.