The March School UDSD School Board Committee Meetings: Where to begin?

The agendas for the March 29th UDSD School Board Committee Meetings were packed; the board room at the high school was packed, as well. Leading up to the meeting, the new Special Education Plan and poor communication regarding Gifted Education, two components of the District Comprehensive Plan currently being updated, had generated a lot of conversation in the community. During the Meetings, which lasted nearly three hours, increasing student achievement by maximizing existing resources was a constant speaking point, and the following buzz words were front and center: “existing resources” vs. “trade offs,” and “equity,” although the definition and impact of that word was not made clear.

In trying to distill the most important discussions from the Education and Pupil Services Committee Meeting, three areas seem to warrant close attention as the District moves through its work with District Management Council via the Guiding Coalition and its own Comprehensive Plan: delivery of all push-in and pull-out services, specials and co-curricular programs across all grade levels, K-12; the Elementary Schedule; and the entirety of the High School program. Although the Finance and Operations Committee Meeting agenda featured the Education and Specifications update, that update showed its impact across all areas, since Education Specifications goals include two big goals: providing full-day Kindergarten and building a new school in the Bywood/Stonehurst areas.

Guiding Coalition: Focusing their work

It was noted that the work of the Comprehensive Planning Committee informs the work of the District’s Guiding Coalition, which is working to review the analysis of allocation of resources by the consulting group District Management Council. The Guiding Coalition, a group of UDSD central administrators, principals, coaches (Math and RTII specialists) and teachers, will be working in four sub-groups focusing on the following areas: delivery of the elementary school literacy block, professional development, special education, and the high school schedule. It was shared that the following issues were discussed by the Guiding Coalition at a recent meeting and will be presented during the 4/25 School Board Education and Pupil Services Committee Meeting, as noted on a slide:
– “Discussed Special Education and Gifted education”
– “Discussed how the one real area for a cost savings and a potential reallocation of resources is the Upper Darby High School.”
There was discussion about pushing down resources from the high school level to the Kindergarten/elementary level. There was also discussion that Special Education teachers may provide the coverage for the fifth elementary teacher prep that will be required starting in the 2016-2017 school year.

Big idea: Intentional delivery vs. natural fading by attrition

As work on drafting a new Elementary Schedule moves forward, questions from the public about elementary instrumental programs led to a large discussion about the Elementary Schedule District Management Council was contracted to create, with input from the Guiding Coalition, and the place in the elementary schedules for instrumental/band/chorus programs, previously presented to the public as co-curricular programs. For example, will the new schedule reflect an intentional effort to maintain those programs and adequate staffing to deliver the programs, or will the new schedule allow these programs to fade through schedule changes and attrition? Also, there was question and a difference of opinion about what the Board already approved regarding schedule changes vs. what would require Board approval. Schedules will be presented at the 4/25 Committee Meetings.

Bottom line:
There are two very important upcoming public meetings

April 21st (6:30 PM to 8 PM) : The public will be provided an update about the Education Specifications process and planning. To provide full-day kindergarten, some “tradeoffs” were presented — flexible assignment of students to elementary schools; class size targets; and relying on natural attrition to reduce staffing.

April 25th (6:30 PM): The public will be provided with a look at the District Management Council’s Elementary Schedule. At this time, it is unclear what the process will be for adopting a new schedule, specifically whether it will require board approval, and whether the impact to curriculum and instruction will be explicitly discussed, or if the Board and public would be expected to be able to figure out what is not being said outright. Also at this meeting, the Special Education Plan will be presented for a vote, and the public will have a final opportunity to comment.

Also, visit the District Management Council webpage: According to the District, more than 100 questions were submitted to UDSD following the Guiding Coalition’s January 26, 2016 presentation to the School Board. The questions that were still unanswered after the February 9th FAQ update are being bundled into a document of 11 answers, a link to which will be posted on the DMC webpage.

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