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MCCSC Board of Trustees open meeting to discuss local ‘F’ grade schools

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Members of the public will get to hear and comment on proposals to address the “F” grades given by the state to Fairview and Highland Park schools.

The opportunity will come this evening, when the Board of Trustees of the Monroe County Community School Corporation opens its regular meeting.

The principals of the two elementary schools will present their proposals for improvement, and then the public will be able to respond and offer suggestions to the Board.

Fairview School has been in the news over the last couple months, following initial changes proposed by interim principal Tammy Miller that resulted in an uproar from some pupils and their parents.

Parental pressure and the accompanying publicity prompted the board and the principal to hold several Focus Group meetings with parents, teachers, and administrators.

Amanda Nickey is a parent of a Fairview student, was involved in the initial protests, and attended one of these focus group meetings.

“The meetings are structured and led by a staff member,” Nickey says, “They led us through big picture questions with Fairview and the community and then getting more specific about programs important to us parents. We were able to share our perspectives and opinions.”

There were two other focus group sessions, and no more of these or other parent-staff meetings have been scheduled by the school or the board. Nickey says she is taking a wait-and-see position on Fairview’s response to the public’s concern.

“It’s not over yet, and I don’t know if I’m satisfied,” Nickey says.

She says she is waiting to see if parental input gathered at the focus groups sessions will be incorporated in any plans addressing Fairview’s academic performance problems. Nickey also says there was another private meeting, called by the school board, in which a State Department of Education official was in attendance.

However, she has not seen nor heard what was addressed or proposed. Some leaders of the Fairview Parent-Teacher Organization also organized a more open meeting at Crestmont. One of the main topics was the lack of official communication with parents. This shortcoming, and a perceived lack of consultation with parents, provided the initial impetus for the protests back in January.

Nevertheless, Nickey doesn’t think that school and board communication with parents has significantly improved.

“I just got an email and phone call today about the meeting today,” Nickey says, “For a lot of parents, that’s just not enough time to know about something like that.”

The open portion of tonight’s board meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Aside from academic performance issues at Fairview and Highland Park elementary schools, the agenda also includes proposals for next year’s class pupil-to-teacher ratios, and a board resolution opposing the Indiana government’s proposal to eliminate Indiana Business Personal Property Tax. The class ratio proposal will offer a range of sizes from kindergarten through to grade 12 for the various schools.

The resolution on the business tax arises from the potential negative impact on the MCCSC budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, if the tax is eliminated.

Critical discussion on ISTEP and standardized testing this Sunday at YMCA

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The Indiana Coalition for Public Education is holding a discussion about ISTEP and other standardized testing this Sunday at the YMCA.

Parents, teachers, and members of the community are invited to attend the discussion. The event is free for everyone. Phil and Joan Harris, authors of The Myths of Standardized Tests: Why They Don’t Tell You What You Think They Do, will lead the discussion.

Phil Harris was once a member of the faculty at Indiana University. The two do not agree with how standardized testing is used in Indiana, and believe it distorts education systems. Jennifer Livesay, a board member for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, talks about the event.

“We want to look at the role ISTEP is playing on the eve of ISTEP testing at local schools,” Livesay says, “The writers of the book are very critical of the role of standardized testing, so they’ll share their perspective.”

This discussion will be held the day before ISTEP testing starts in Indiana, on March 2nd, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the new YMCA on the northwest side of town. Livesay says she hopes the event will serve as a platform for future discussions on the topic.

 

Fairview Elementary Labeled ‘Priority School’ By State, Students Not Reading at Grade Level

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The principal at Fairview Elementary says most of its students are not reading at grade level. That literacy issue was the centerpiece of a presentation about Fairview issues that Principal Tammy Miller gave to the Monroe County Community School Corporation’s Board of Trustees on February 11.

The presentation came about a month after parents protested sudden changes at the school, including classroom reassignments based on standardized test scores. Miller said those changes were triggered partly by test scores received in December that showed only about a third of the students in grades 2 through 6 were reading at grade level.

About that same time, she said the state also made an announcement about the school saying that in December, Fairview had been designated as a “priority school.”

Miller said there are only 24 schools with that designation in the state of Indiana. She said priority schools get increased monitoring by the State Department of Education.

“If in the monitoring process the plan does not meet the criteria of improving the student achievement, the next steps might include shifting resources, changing personnel, or have an outside team develop a new plan for the school.” Miller says.

Miller went on to say that only about 40 percent of students who attend Fairview for sixth grade go on to graduate high school in four years. She said the school is working on what she called a Turn Around plan, which is required by the state.

But Board member Sue Wanzer said the problem extends beyond Fairview. She said there are things outside their control, and that they need help from other people outside the school.

Miller said parents would be involved as changes are made to Fairview.

One of the main complaints from parents who protested the changes last month was that they were not consulted.

Fairvew Elementary School To Reorganize Classes Due To Parents’ Protests

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The proposed restructuring of classes at Fairview School that brought angry parents to school board offices has been stopped, according to Beverly Smith, Director of School and Community Services at the Monroe County Community School Corporation.

“Our Director of Elementary Education Tammy Miller is serving as the interim principal at Fairview School through the end of this year,” Smith said, “She, in her wisdom as the director and a former principal, projected, suggested, and put in place some changes that would have taken place on Monday. Through some further input from staff and parents, Mrs. Miller made the suggestion to the superintendent that we not go forward with those changes. She is going to work with parents in the future to craft plans that will allow folks to work together and come up with what is best for Fairview.”

Smith confirmed reports that the proposed changes were to create smaller classes of students with below standard literacy skills.

This determination was based on a variety of performance evaluations of students including, in particular, those from the Northwest Literacy Evaluation reports.

Beyond the now suspended restructuring of classes, there was also concern expressed by parents that these changes might impact Fairview’s adoption and development of the Artful Learning program, and associated changes in teaching, curriculum and enrollment.

“At this point what we are most focused on is that, as of today, students will be returning to their original classroom assignments that they enjoyed during the first semester. School will go on as normal and Mrs. Miller will work with teachers and parents to return students to the classrooms and work together for the advancement of Fairview.”

The original and strongest complaint voiced by Fairview parents was the lack of consultation with parents by the school or district administration, or even of direct notice beforehand of the proposals prior to their adoption.

However, the parental protests brought about an immediate meeting with school board officials, including District Superintendent Judith Demuth, yesterday morning.

This was followed up with the announcement of the scheduling of Fairview Family Meetings Monday, January 13, and next Monday, January 21 at 6:30 p.m, at Fairview School.

Smith acknowledged that the parents’ protests, as well as comments from teaching staff, helped prompt the reversal of the class restructuring plans.

“It’s always wise to have as much input from all of your stakeholders as possible,” Smith said, “I believe that this situation just underscored that this practice is something we enjoy and continue.”

Smith says that consultation with Fairview parents and teachers will continue, to decide how best to address the immediate issue of students literacy, the evaluation of students’ performance, and the best means to address any perceived deficiencies.

Health and Education With Glenda Ritz

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 On Saturday November 23rd The Brown County Democratic Party invited the public to join a brown bag lunch session with Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the Director and Founder of Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan Rob Stone, M.D. The event was free to the public, and included a question and answer period. Part 1 focuses on Education and Part 2 on Health here in the Hoosier State. This event was recorded on location at The Seasons Lodge Conference Center in Brown County by Community Access Television services for Standing Room Only, on WFHB.

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennet Under Scrutiny For Questionable Tactics While In Office

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State Democrats are keeping the pressure on Indiana’s Inspector General as an investigation continues into former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s actions while in office.

Yesterday, Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press reported that Bennett’s office had kept Republican party campaign contributor databases on Education Department computer servers.

The AP report also alleged that Bennett directed Education Department staffers to parse a campaign speech by Glenda Ritz, his opponent in last November’s election. If true, the actions would violate state election and ethics laws.

Indiana Democratic Party Chair John Zody wants answers.

“I think it’s important that Hoosiers have trust in their government and their elected officials,” Zody says, “There are all kinds of things going on in state government that raises questions. There have been a number of articles about Mr Bennet and how he operated in office. There was a definite lack of transparency when he was in office and now we’re seeing these details come out.”

Zody calls for a quicker and more thorough investigation into the charges against Bennett. He also asks that Indiana Inspector General David Thomas reveal more details about the investigation.

Bennett told the Associated Press that the databases were for his personal use, and that he hadn’t directed his staff to do political work while on the job.

Cindy Carrasco of the Inspector General’s office confirmed that Thomas is looking into Bennett’s actions, but added that the investigation is confidential.

These latest charges follow questions about Bennett’s actions in grading a charter school run by a prominent Republican campaign contributor.

In July, the Associated Press reported that Bennett allegedly alerted his staff that the performance grade of the Christel House Academy in Indianapolis was unacceptable. Christel House, owned by Republican donor Christel DeHaan, had earned a “C” grade for its performance during the 2011 – 2012 school year. After a series of e-mails had been sent by Bennett to various staffers referring to the problem of Christel House’s rating, its grade was raised to an “A”.

DeHaan had contributed $2.8 million to Republican campaigns from 1998 through last year’s elections, including $130,000 for Bennett’s campaigns.

Bennett left Indiana after he lost to Glenda Ritz in November.

He served as the Florida education commissioner after leaving office in January, but resigned last month after the emails were published.

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