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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Comments From August Rock Hill Schools Business Meeting

The August Rock Hill School Board meeting was unusually long, with a lot of discussion and items to vote on.

The School Board gave approval to a board initiated community communication outreach.  This is something the board has been discussing for years. With 13 states moving to voucher systems, and will all but one of York County's house members voting to support vouchers, the board felt it was time to start something. Watch the video below:

Click here for a link to the video (youtube). 
Click here for a link to the web site and here to take the on line survey.

The board approved a revised insurance policy for students (Policy JLA) which was driven by the reduction in insurance previously paid for out of the budget. You can see what was approved by the board by clicking here.

The board approved a letter to be sent to the State School Board Association and a resolution against the issue of conducting partisan school board elections. Both  can be seen by clicking here .  For some time, the board has felt frustrated over the location of state school board meetings (most are on the coast) and the degree of information concerning legislative issues.  We don't feel it is appropriate to attend meetings at the same time budget cut backs are affecting classrooms. If the meetings were held in Columbia, it would be possible to drive and save expenses. Our board has stopped attending the meetings. Ann Reid, who is a member of the board, does go but pays her own expenses. I'll have more comments about the partisan elections later, but I'll leave it to say those pushing the hardest for partisan elections are the same ones we can't get to meetings to discuss school issues.

The board approved a School Choice recommendation. Click here to see what the administration's recommendation was. There was a good bit of discussion about the changes to Saluda Trail Middle School. We (the board) just designated it a school of choice for this year and the proposal is to change it again for next year (new program and magnet instead of choice). One board member expressed concern this would be confusing and unfair to parents who are sending their children this year. I agreed, but ultimately supported the recommendation when the administration said they would involve parents and would not make the change if the parents were not on board. The school would change from an IB middle years program to a STEM school. The administration believes they will be able to secure a large grant to make this conversion. This will be the first of many discussions about school choice this year. Points to remember; Choice is a school open to out of zone students who must provide their own transportatin; Magnet is a school where there is an objective to change the composition of the schools population and transportation will be provided.

The board approved a $5 million dollar, 4 year bond to pay for technology and capital projects without having to raise the tax milage. The board also approved the use of $1.4 million dollars to make improvements to Lesslie Elementary school and Sunset Park Elementary School. Click here to see the list of projects. I'll comment on the areas which I've had the most discussion:
  • Why spend $288,000 on football stadium lights? How many computers would that buy? A good question. My answer: If we are going to field football teams, we must maintain facilities comparable to the schools we play against. District Three hosts two of our schools and like a lot of facilities, the lights don't last forever. The lighting level currently is about half the standard for high school football fields. However, another board member questioned going to a higher standard at a cost of $50,000 additional dollars. I agreed, but for different reasons. My lighting consultant recommended a lighting level of 70 as his recommended minimum (which is what the administration was recommending) - my question really applied to their standards and justification due to the fact they were not interested in going to the new recommended standards for the other sports (baseball, soccer, softball, tennis, track). Don't get me wrong, we will be at the standards for high school when those sports start up, just not at the lighting levels comparable to what we will be installing on District Three Stadium or the level most small colleges currently require.
  • Why spend money at Lesslie and Sunset Park Elementary's? Improved traffic flow will improve safety and make pick-up and drop-offs go smoother. Building usability and security will be improved while being more public friendly. You have to upgrade to keep the investment in you facilities.
  • Why aren't we buying more computers and going to one-to-one computing? Why are we spending money on toys such as IPads? The simple answers are; one-to-one computing is not a priority of the district and we believe IPads will help with student engagement (one of the administration's focus areas).  A board member asked during the work session discussion of this topic, "are we behind other schools in technology?" and was given the answer "Yes". The follow-up question was, "Are we falling behind educationally because of this?" My answer was no, not yet. Those of you who have followed my post's know about my disappointment with technology. However, since that post, I've learned a lot about technology implementation. I've talked with Superintendents (or CEO's) of schools with one-to-one computers (one to one means every student has a laptop and all materials and assessments are online) and/or project based schooling and realize if their gains can be duplicated, we will be far behind. I've also learned that 99% of school's across the country have implemented technology without an effective plan (see Project Red) and we need to have a new plan (we have one but several elements are missing) soon. We also need to update our policies for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) classes. And as for the IPads? Well, this has been the summer of IPad conferences. The devices are catching on and in many cases, early years and special needs classes, are superior. However, they are still limited compared with functions a laptop provides and would not be adequate for preparing students for life after high school (at least not yet). An interesting note, board member Mildred Douglas teaches in a school with one-to-one computing.

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