Dr. Daniel Farr led the cross-over event and is working for the Board to help develop a strategic plan.
Farr explained some of the issues public schools are facing nationwide.
In the last century approximately 100 things have been added to the list schools are asked to teach students with dozens of those coming in the 2000s. Recent additions include education on vaping, cyberbullying and human trafficking.
While the list of things schools must teach has grown, the hours of education for students hasn’t increased in the last 80 years. Farr said all of these added things take away from the students’ time to learn core subjects like English, social studies, math and science.
Teacher training has also not kept up with the expectations of the job with just seven professional development days per year. Those days are being taken up by parent teacher conferences, avoiding lawsuits, classroom prep and training on added expectations. Teachers are not able to work on sharpening their skills teaching core subjects.
A person with an eight-grade education in the 1950s could be highly successful. However Farr said that is not the case anymore. Automation in everyday life is pushing the low skill jobs out of the market. Jobs that were once thought to be safe from automation are suddenly disappearing.
Farr explained that strategic planning looks at the school’s strengths and weaknesses and creates an action plan to make the school successful at preparing students for the world today and in the future.
Farr went though some of the issues he sees with SLE looking at it from an outside perspective and shared his thoughts on how SLE could proceed in assessing those issues.
The State did facilities assessments in 2008. The report said SLE had some single pane windows that needed to be upgraded and needed some ceiling tiles replaced. Total building deficiencies were reported to be around $12,000.
Farr said independent parties that assessed public schools across the state identified nearly three times the amount of work that needed to be done. He ventured a guess that SLE had significantly more than $12,000 worth of work being that the original building was constructed in 1957. SLE can only put aside about $25,000 per year with a permissive levy to deal with building upgrades and maintenance.
Farr said the Board and superintendent could work on compiling a list of things to work on but to really get in depth it could cost the school $20-40,000 for an independent audit of the facilities. The life expectancy of things like the roof should be looked at so money can be saved up for it instead of trying to come up with all the money when it actually needs to be replaced.
SLE’s budget has been relatively flat in the last several years while expenses kept climbing. The technology levy at $20,000 per year is not even paying for tech support let alone any upgrades.
Schools haven’t been given the authority to significantly increase general fund tax levies even as the taxable value of the area has been growing.
Another issue Farr discussed was the loss of students enrolled at SLE. This year the school is going to lose about $50,000 in budget authority because eight students that are home schooled were erroneously reported as enrolled.
SLE students are currently performing below the state averages in proficiency in English Language and Mathematics. Farr cautioned that with small schools, statistics can quickly become skewed by things like a high number of students with learning disabilities or students who come from homes who’s primary language is not English.
Farr recommended a program audit to see where there may be areas to improve to get students to become proficient in those areas where the school is lagging.
Farr felt that SLE’s current Mission Statement and Vision Statement were in good order.
The importance of having a strategic plan became clear to Farr during the last legislative session. Farr said a lot of the competitive funds available from the state now require a written strategic plan of some kind to even apply for the money. These funds can be used for specific things, some of which are currently being paid for through the school’s general funds.
The cross-over activity involved five groups of six people with one school board member in each group. The people in the groups were chosen by the board members to try and get a wide cross section of the community including parents, students, teachers, working people, retired people, business owners and others.
The groups worked independently to come up with strengths, areas needing improvement and then goals. Then they shared as a whole what each group came up with.
Identified strengths included: good student to teacher ratio/small class sizes; community involvement; outdoor education; preschool and good teachers and staff.
Identified areas needing work included: communication between SLE, high school, parents and community; continuity from grade to grade; continuity when students go to high school including testing and curriculum; updating curriculum; addressing needs of the whole student; better communicating expectations to students; maintaining the facilities and better teacher training opportunities.
After the groups wrote down their goals, Farr worked to combine all the groups’ various goals into a list of nine common goals. Everyone in attendance was then given dots to place by their top three goals based on personal opinion.
Goals that rose to the top were: Curriculum update and coordination between grades and schools; maintaining clear lines of communication; creating school-wide expectations for both students and staff and developing a culture of professional unity and school pride.
Farr will refine and organize the information collected from the cross-over event and then present the board with recommendations on how to move forward.