One of the stated goals in Support Our Schools’ mission statement is to encourage cost-saving initiatives while maintaining a high standard of educational excellence in our schools.
In the past few years, one half of that equation — educational excellence — has taken a back seat to the other concern — cost savings — particularly in public and political discussions during budget season.

Support Our Schools would like to right that balance by urging the community to “Remember the Quality” — both as we begin deliberations on the FY2013 budget, and in going forward with long-term planning.

At a recent SOS meeting, discussion came back time and again to topics concerning quality and leadership.  The list below reflects our shared concerns and priorities.

Curriculum:

Curriculum at All Levels

  1. Members are concerned about the strength of our STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programming, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
  2. Members are concerned that we are not adequately meeting the needs of students interested in drafting, mechanical design, and other “hands-on” disciplines, particularly at the middle and high schools.
  3. We wonder if we are adequately meeting the needs of gifted/accelerated students, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels,
  4. Members would like to see the adoption of a 21st century skills curriculum (collaboration, learning by design, critical thinking), particularly in the middle and elementary schools.
  5. Members question whether it’s acceptable that the district offers only one foreign language.
  6. We are concerned that the HWRSD offerings in the visual arts and graphic design are insufficient to nurture students talented in these areas.

Curriculum at the High School Level

  1. We are concerned that our graduated students have, in recent years, expressed the view that our science programs, particularly laboratory sciences, have not provided sufficient support for a strong start in college in the STEM disciplines.
  2. We are concerned that HWRHS does not offer a comparable range of electives as other schools of our size, makeup and achievement.  We are concerned that we do not offer an adequate number of AP opportunities, especially to juniors.

Curriculum at the Middle School Level

  1. Members support a return to academic teaching teams to the middle school
  2. Members support the restoration of a mechanical/engineering/building/shop type class to the 8th grade curriculum.

Curriculum at the Elementary School Level

  1. We are concerned about the lack of Language Arts writing curriculum in the elementary schools.
  2. Members are concerned that class sizes in the elementary school may be up against or exceeding district recommendations
  3. We are concerned that students in the same grade across elementary schools are not receiving a comparable educational experience.
  4. Members would like to understand the status of the math curriculum in the elementary schools and the benefits achieved by standardizing the curriculum in the past few years.

Delivery of Educational Services

  1. Members would like to hear from the current administration – interim superintendent, assistant superintendent of learning and student services director — a shared educational vision for our district.  This vision should be articulated to teachers, students and staff, and any gaps in resources and authority needed to ensure that vision is executed should be identified and addressed.
  2. We would like to understand whether department heads can ensure their teachers are functioning as a cohesive educational team with shared visions, goals and expectations from 6-12, and whether heads are encouraging and enabling opportunities for cross-departmental learning.
  3. We would like to understand whether Wednesday planning time for teachers and staff is being used as effectively as possible.
  4. We would like to understand whether HWRSD does an adequate job of identifying and supporting excellent teachers and effectively sharing their talents with their peers.
  5. We would like to understand whether expectations of teacher excellence are effectively communicated throughout the organization, and whether there is an adequate process in place for ongoing evaluation of tenured teachers.

Technology:

  1. We would like to understand whether our district-wide technology infrastructure is adequate to meet the needs of the administration, students, teachers and parents.
  2. We would like to understand whether technological expectations are effectively communicated to teachers.
  3. We would like to understand whether teachers who are in need of instruction and support around new technologies are offered adequate opportunities to improve their skills.
  4. With the rollout of Edline to the middle and high schools, we would like to understand what the next steps in our district technology plan are.

Organizational structure/operations:

  1. We would like to understand whether the current organizational structure – with a superintendent focused on business/finance and responsibility for curriculum placed elsewhere – is working for our district currently and whether this structure is the best way going forward to meet the educational expectations of the community.
  2. We would like to understand the articulated requirements for our vacant high school and middle school principal positions, and a timetable for filling these positions.
  3. We would like to understand whether there are plans to address our current structure of 100% user fees for sports, arts and educational extracurriculars.

One Response to “Refocusing on Quality in HWRSD”

  1. Barbara Lawrence says:

    Special Education law originally included programs for academically gifted students, but few districts offer enriched curricula or appropriate training for teachers so they can support academically accelerated students. This is a terrible oversight that penalizes children who are academically gifted because schools do not meet their special needs. People who disagree may suggest it is elitist to single out children who are already so fortunate, but that ignores the sensitivities of such children, and their very real needs for emotional and intellectual support. It also seems a terrible waste of talent and ability.

    Most districts face budget restraints now, but many poor urban and rural districts have been dealing them for a long time. There are important lessons we can learn from strategies they invented and put in place years ago. One is that schools must work in partnership with their communities in specific and meaningful ways. There are many ways to accomplish this – I will only cite one. When I visited InterDistrict Downtown School in Minneapolis in 2004, there were fewer than 500 students in the PreK – 12th grade school and over 500 volunteers who came to the school on a regular basis to tutor, mentor, and teach special classes.

    I’ve seen similar programs in many other states, and I’m convinced we could establish one here. A well organized and publicized program that screened and placed volunteers could have several benefits. Adding an adult to the classroom lowers the student/teacher ratio, increases special help for students in all ranges of ability and accomplishment, and could allow the district to offer classes it otherwise can not. In addition, welcoming members of the community into the schools, with appropriate safeguards, would help invest taxpayers in our schools. Similar programs in other districts have led to all these outcomes and saved taxpayers money while increasing the quality of education offered in the district.

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