At last Monday’s board meeting the Northgate School Board decided not to pursue the idea of realigning the elementary schools, based on community feedback as well as their own concerns. Instead the board will investigate and try to address current safety concerns that were raised while soliciting feedback on the feasibility discussions.
Tag Archives: Avalon Elementary
UPDATE: The meeting scheduled for Monday, January 26th will start at 7:00 PM. I had previously posted an incorrect time.
The Northgate School District is investigating the possibility of reorganizing its two elementary schools, so that one building is used for K-3 students while the other would be used to teach students in grades 4-6. This Monday, January 26th, at 7:00 there will be a meeting at the high school to discuss the feasibility of such an idea. I would like to briefly discuss my thoughts on the matter.
First it seems to me that moving to a K-3, 4-6 model makes a lot of educational sense. Some teachers and administrators have noted that having all teachers of a particular grade teaching together in the same building would enable more collaboration and help with curriculum alignment. Some people have also mentioned that such a move could bring greater unity as a district. Another educational benefit would be the possibility of having smaller class sizes due to being able to evenly distribute students in each grade level. I think this is not only the greatest benefit, but for me, it is the reason why the district needs to continue to pursue this option. For the past two years, elementary class sizes of been considerately higher than many would prefer, and in both years, the district made the decision to hire additional elementary school teachers months into the school year. Several students have had to move back and forth between elementary schools, on occasion more than once, so that class sizes could be made somewhat manageable. I feel that it is imperative that we stop moving children back and forth between elementary schools in such fashion.
Some people have also noted some cons to such a move. The biggest one that comes to mind is that some students that walk to school may now have to walk a greater distance. Families with multiple elementary school aged children could have added complexity in getting there kids to school if they attend two different schools. Safety patrols are comprised of fifth and sixth grade students so they would only exist at one school. Also there would likely be some cost in preparing the buildings for such a transition. I think these issues are significantly outweighed by the education benefits previously discussed. I also think many of them can be solved or worked around.
It is possible that there are other benefits\problems that I did not discuss. If you would like learn more or would like to add to the conversation, please consider attending the meeting this Monday. As I have said, it is my belief that reorganizing the schools would be very beneficial. I would take that a step further and would say the district MUST proceed with such a move unless doing so presents a far greater problem that has not yet been discovered. It is imperative that we stop shuffling students between schools and do what is best for all the elementary school students.
The Northgate School District administration and school board would like your feedback. There is a parent survey posted on the school district website. The link to the survey is about half way down the page. There is as least one question pertaining to the possibility of refactoring the elementary schools so that one building is responsible for the earlier elementary grades and the other building is responsible for the later elementary grades. Please consider taking the survey and giving us your opnions.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and so I thought now was a good time to take a few minutes and give an update on what I think are the important issues facing the school district.
The final budget is due in June. It’s been three years since taxes were increased and it looks like there will be a tax increase this year. While noone wants to increase taxes, it appears to be a necessary evil at this time. If taxes were not increased, then according to the 2014-04-28-General Fund Budget Presentation presented at the budget forum a few weeks ago, the General Fund would be almost wiped out by the end of next school year. That may not be completely accurate as the budget is generally conservative and our expenses will most likely be less than what gets budgeted, but it is still a cause for concern. There are many factors that influence the budget, but the biggest problems continue to be increasing pension costs and insufficient state funding. If the current proposed final budget passes as it stands now, taxes will increase a little over 1 mil. To put it into perspective, if your house is valued at $100,000, your property taxes are likely to increase a little over $100.
I feel that class size is an issue, particularly in the elementary schools. Many of us kindergarten parents successfully lobbied for a fifth kindergarten class last year, citing safety and educational concerns with class sizes in the high 20’s. For the 2014-2015 school year, the school board has made the decision to go back to four kindergarten classes, and keep first grade at four classes. This means that next year first grade will see a dramatic increase in class sizes. As of last week, there are 108 students going into first grade, 55 at Bellevue and 53 at Avalon, meaning one can expect class sizes of 28 and 27 at Bellevue and 27 and 26 at Avalon. As I understand it, first grade typically grows in number from the previous year’s kindergarten, so those numbers may grow slightly. I feel that these class sizes are significantly too high, and that first grade should not have some of the largest class sizes in the district. Unfortunately with the budget looking the way it does, I don’t see the board approving adding an additional teacher (unless the parents voice there concerns stronger and louder than last time…and even so it would be tough).
Elementary School Musical Chairs
At the beginning of last year, there were several kindergarten students who lived in Bellevue but were told they needed to attend Avalon (due to class size). Weeks into the school year, those same students where moved back to Bellevue when a kindergarten class was added. Recently, some of the same students were notified that they must attend Avalon next year. Shuffling students back and forth between elementary schools isn’t good for anyone and I feel horrible when I hear parents talk about how this affects their kids. One solution to this problem is to adequately staff the schools so that class sizes aren’t maxed out, but that is not going to be the case for next year’s first grade class. I feel that if we are going to continue to face these challenges for the foreseeable future, then we need to start looking at moving away from two separate elementary schools, and splitting our two elementary buildings where one is for K-2 students and the other is 3-6. This isn’t something that is possible for the 2014-2015 school year, but I think we need to look at getting the ball rolling to make it happen for 2015-2016. There will be challenges with regards to implementation, but I feel the benefits far outweigh costs. I’m not going into details at the moment because there aren’t any. This is an idea that has been tossed around from time to time, and I think it is something we need to move on.
May 2014 Primary Election
The biggest issues we face (in my opinion) all stem from our budget. Pension costs and lack of state funding are hurting Northgate just as they are hurting every other district in Pennsylvania. At the Stand Up For Education event that I attended, the state legislators (that showed up) acknowledged these issues but all agreed that nothing would happen in the near future to help remedy them. We need people in office that care about education and have a good understanding of the issues. Being an election year, we have an opportunity to put someone in office that will fight to solve issues that are threatening to destroy our schools. To put it bluntly, if you care about education then VOTE FOR TOM MICHALOW for state representative. Not only is he a teacher in the district but he has actively served his community and he has a deep understanding of the issues affecting our schools.
The last few days I was hoping to post an update to my previous blog post. I wanted to write about how I brought up my concerns regarding the teachers not being prepared for the school year due to the shuffling of positions and poor timing. I wanted to say that I appreciated that superintendent Dr. Pasquerilla at least addressed my concerns at the school board meeting on 8/19/2013, stating that the teacher shuffling was due to the checkboard furloughs per an agreement with the teachers’ union*, and that the district could not take action on final teacher furloughs/recalls/assignments before August 1, also per an agreement with the union*. I wanted to say that while I was concerned with class size, my daughter is very bright and will do just fine attending Bellevue Elementary.
Then I received word that as of today, 8/23/2013, the projected kindergarten class sizes are 29-30 students per classroom at Bellevue and 27-28 students per classroom at Avalon. I called Dr. Pasquerilla and spoke with him regarding these numbers. He said that while they are planning as if they are going to have that many kindergarten students, some of the applications were incomplete and it is likely that those numbers are actually lower come Monday (when classes start). He said that he has a plan although would not go into specific details regarding his plan. He said that he wanted to monitor class size the first week of school and then make a decision on how to proceed.
While I understand that months in advance you cannot predict how many kids are going to enroll in kindergarten, I feel like Dr. Pasquerilla and the school board could have planned better. Perhaps they shouldn’t have furloughed elementary school teachers when we’ve seen an increase in elementary enrollment in recent years. Instead of planning for maxed out classrooms, perhaps they should have initially planned for more manageable classroom sizes, and then an increase in kindergarten enrollment would have been, well…more manageable. Assistant to the Superintendent Ms. Lattari estimated that we can expect 8-10 students enroll in kindergarten after the start of the school year based on previous years, which means kindergarten class sizes could start rising into the low 30s. Now we are being reactive instead of proactive, and it is going to add another layer of difficulty on our teachers, parents, and…oh yeah, students.
* The agreement is between the school district and the teachers’ union. Let’s not place all the blame on the teachers’ union, because the district accepted that agreement.
Before I get into why I am considering sending my daughter to Avalon for kindergaten, I would like to share some concerns. As of the 8/12 school board meeting there were still teaching positions that hadn’t been settled and the first day of class is on 8/26. ONLY TWO WEEKS until school starts and there are teachers that are still unsure whether or not they will be called back, and if so, for which positions! And I don’t think everything will be finalized until next Monday 8/19. Regardless of when everything is finalized, it means that there will be some teachers that will have LESS THAN TWO WEEKS to prepare their curriculum for the year. If that doesn’t seem ridiculous, there are likely to be some scenarios where there are teachers that must learn / follow a new curriculum (due to the adoption of the common core), to teach unfamiliar classes that they are being forced to teach (even if they haven’t taught in years) and now they have LESS THAN TWO WEEKS to figure everything out. More on this in a moment.
Today marked the last day of Kindergarten screenings and I was told that there were a total of 101 kids screened. At the last school board meeting I asked how many kids could be expected to register after the first day of school and I was told maybe 8-10 based on previous years. So that means we can reasonably expect about 110 kids to be in the kindergarten class next year. Given an even distribution of students between the two schools, that would mean two classes would have 27 students and two classes would have 28 students. That is certainly higher than I would like, is almost double the PSEA recommendations, and is higher than the recommendations of another nearby school district. I failed to ask a very important question at the school board meeting. What is the break down of kindergarten students be between the two schools? I was told Monday that they were working hard to get a good distribution of students, and I was told today that they don’t have those final numbers because the class lists are not yet finalized. However, my gut feeling is that it is not going to be perfectly even and I expect Bellevue elementary to have somewhat larger kindergarten class sizes than Avalon (this is not fact…yet, it is just a feeling).
That brings me back to my original concerns. Not only have teachers not had much time to prepare, many are taking positions that are very unfamiliar to them. I would feel a lot better about that if they were making career choices on their own, but in this case they are forced between taking a new position offered to them, or unemployment. I will give two examples to highlight my point, but I want to be clear that in no way am I judging any teachers’ performance or potential, just highlighting the craziness of the situation our school district has found itself in. I have heard that it is likely that the librarian will be teaching kindergarten and the Dean of Students will be teaching second grade. These are two examples of people who are well into their careers, who haven’t taught full time in a classroom in many years (or ever for all I know), and are being forced into making significant career moves that they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for themselves. Now take someone who hasn’t taught in a very long time (or ever for all I know) and assign them a classroom two weeks before school starts and throw in a new curriculum and some shaky morale for good measure. And in the case of the kindergarten teacher-to-be, assign her a classroom with a *minimum* of 27 students (probably more). Again I have nothing against these teachers, rather I am saying that our school district has continued to put our teachers in very difficult positions. And there are other examples of similar stories, but let’s move on.
Why are my wife and I considering sending our daughter to Avalon? Well first, I feel that Avalon will have smaller class sizes. And second, we feel more comfortable with the Avalon kindergarten teachers (again, these are our personal preferences due to our own experience and research and how we think the teachers are going to be placed). I think the district will welcome our daughter to Avalon because it will help with the distribution of students between schools, especially if the alternative is a school outside the Northgate School District. I will know more about this Monday if/when everything is finalized.
One last brief thought. According to superintendent Dr. Joseph Pasquerilla’s contract, he should have had his review and possible salary increase by now (depending on the results of his review). However I have not heard anything about such matters in the past few school board meetings. I would be interested to know the status of any such proceedings, especially in light of our current situation which began with the illegal furlough of teachers due to budget concerns.
Here are a few notes I took down from the last school board meeting. There were a lot of things covered at the meeting, the few points I have below are just some things that stuck out to me personally.
- A few Bellevue parents gave concerns regarding their children having to go to Avalon. They said they knew children from North Ave, Orchard Ave and Shave Ave that had to switch schools but weren’t sure about Means Ave (Means Ave is parallel to all of those streets and is between Orchard Ave and North Ave). I hadn’t planned on speaking but to settle my own curiosity I asked if in fact any children from Means had to go to Avalon. Dr. Pasquerilla said at this time no children from Means Ave have to go to Avalon.
- Another parent stated that Dr. Pasquerilla said to her a while ago that no honors classes would be cut. She then asked Dr. Pasquerilla if middle school honors classes would now be cut. He said not yet but wouldn’t rule it out. School board member Dr. Smithey asked if Dr. Pasquerilla meant that there would be scheduling conflicts which may mean some students won’t be able to take honors classes if they conflicted with other classes offerings. He said yes, although personally, I feel that is a bit different than what Dr. Pasquerilla’s had just previously stated about the possibility of cutting honors classes.
- The proposed budget amount is $20,516,496 and the millage rate is set at 22.9206 mils (tentatively). As of this Friday, May 17, 2013, the budget will be available in each of the school buildings for those that want to review it. The finalized budget is due by June 17, 2013.
- Near the end of the meeting, school board member Gary Paladin remarked that thinking that taxes aren’t going to increase is an unrealistic thought.