From the Superintendent's desk

Little Miami Local Schools

Pennsylvania event again brings security to forefront

We were saddened this week to learn of another incidence of violence inside a school building. Each time an incident of this nature occurs, we try to remember that each event is different and that this is not “just another” school shooting or violent act. To assume that all of these tragedies are the same risks complacency, when instead we should be vigilant. As educators – and as parents ourselves – we look to learn from each incident.

At Little Miami, we continuously assess the safety of our learning environments. We are committed to increasing and updating our security measures across the district in financially responsible ways. In fact, back in January, Little Miami hosted several local and county law enforcement officers and fire and EMS personnel for a tabletop training exercise. The exercise, which happened on a regularly scheduled school holiday, dealt with school violence and was led by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This exercise helped our district staff be further prepared should a violent act occur on our school grounds, and also helped build crucial relationships with our law enforcement and emergency services personnel, whom we would call on for help.

In addition to this training, we were pleased to learn that Little Miami has been awarded $30,000 in School Security Program grant monies from the state of Ohio. We plan to use the funds to further upgrade security measures, including more cameras, intercoms and entry systems, at all district buildings. Because these grant monies are capital bond dollars, they cannot be used to pay for any operating expenses or personnel.

Even with these high-tech measures, our security efforts rely heavily on the eyes and ears of our students, parents and staff. If you should have an immediate concern about security in a particular building, please report it to the building’s principal. We believe in the “see something, say something” motto when working to provide safe learning environments.

In closing, we extend our thoughts and prayers to the families of those affected by the incident in Pennsylvania. We firmly believe that every student should feel safe in his or her school and we would dare to hope this would be the final time such a tragedy would occur.

Finally: An answer about calamity days

After nearly three months of debate on what was supposed to be “fast-tracked” legislation, Ohio lawmakers have finally taken action to provide a few extra calamity days for schools.

And, as has often been the case with directives coming out of Columbus, the solution they have proposed is rather convoluted.

Among the key provisions of the amended version of House Bill 416:

  • Districts may add four calamity days to the current five days that do not need to be made up, but to be used only after districts have used four of their required contingency plan days;
  • Boards of education may add 30-minute increments to existing school days to make up additional days.

From this, it appears that we will be required to make up four of the five extra days we have used thus far. (We have used a total of 10.) Our “contingency plan days,” as the bill language terms it, have always been scheduled for the end of the school year.

When we learned of the bill’s passage, the district’s administration reviewed the options listed above, in particular looking at the possibility of adding 30 extra minutes the school days remaining in the fourth quarter. We believed this would be a “low-impact” way – for both our families and the district – to make up at least some of the four days we are required to. What we found is that there will be significant costs to choose this option:

  • Five bus drivers would need to be added for end-of-day private/parochial routes where districts would be running on their normal schedule;
  • Hourly employees of the district would accrue significant overtime hours for the remaining eight weeks of the year;
  • Due to transportation schedules, A.M. kindergarten students may have fewer hours of instruction than P.M. students, who would get the full benefit of the extra 30 minutes.

After weighing all the options, we believe it is best to continue with our current plan to add these four days at the end of the regular calendar. This would mean that the last day of school for students would be June 5, 2014. It should also be noted that this bill also gives our seniors a break, permitting districts to allow graduating 12th-grade students to miss days they would otherwise be required to attend after the district’s scheduled graduation ceremony. That means the Class of 2014 won’t need to make up snow days since graduation is May 27.

I must take a moment here to thank all of our students and families for bearing with us through this record-breaking winter. We have all been frustrated by the number of days we have been out of the classroom, by the interrupted schedules and by being stuck indoors for nearly three months. We have never been more ready to get down to the business of educating Little Miami students and providing a quality learning environment.

Hopefully, on this first day of spring, we can put the winter of 2014 behind us. Little Miami is certainly ready!

More on the subject of calamity days

I mentioned in my previous blog post that beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, the Ohio Department of Education would be moving from a required number of days of instruction for Ohio’s school districts to a required number of hours. This decision will have an impact on what has been on everyone’s mind lately: Calamity days.

For next school year, public school districts like Little Miami, joint vocational school districts and chartered nonpublic schools will be required to be open for instruction for a minimum of:

  • 455 hours for students in half-day kindergarten;
  • 910 hours for students in full-day kindergarten through Grade 6; and
  • 1,001 hours for students in Grades 7-12.

According to the ODE directive, districts that change to an hour-based schedule will no longer have calamity days. Instead, schools may schedule “excess” hours above the minimum number. Hours missed above the minimum do not have to be made up. However, if a school closes enough that it will fall below the minimum number of hours, the school must extend its scheduled year.

For once, it seems, a state directive has not negatively impacted our district. Little Miami significantly exceeds the state minimum hours of instruction by about 17 days, giving us some flexibility in the schedule should we have a repeat of this year’s record-breaking winter weather. As we move close to the start of the 2014-15 school year, we are sure there will be further regulatory guidance from ODE. As we have experienced with the many recent changes coming out of Columbus, there always seems to be more to the story.

More information on this subject can be found at the Ohio Dept. of Education website.

Update: Additional Calamity Days for 2013-2014

In light of this year’s severe winter weather, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in January that he would support permitting an additional four calamity days for Ohio’s school districts this year.

Legislation was quickly written and fast-tracked through committees for a vote in both the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate. Action on the measure was stalled for some time, but now it appears the bill is back on track.

The House approved the bill with an 80-16 vote on Wednesday and it will now go to the Senate for a vote. Stay tuned for updates!

There was additional positive news out of Columbus related to the winter weather last week. The Ohio Dept. of Education announced that it would extend the window to complete the Ohio Achievement Assessment by one week. These statewide assessments will be now given from Apr. 21-May 16. This expanded testing window does not extend to the Ohio Graduation Test, which will be given Mar. 10-23.

The Little Miami Board of Education and I will continue to monitor the situation in Columbus and will communicate any new information and/or schedule changes to you as we learn them.

Until then, here’s wishing for an early spring!

Too many snow days. Now what?

Snow. Freezing temperatures. School delays. Snow days. Around Little Miami, these subjects are on everyone’s mind.

When we made the decision to close our doors on Tuesday, Jan. 21 due to snowfall, we used our sixth calamity day, one more than the state allotment for the school year. Going forward, any future school closings will add to this total, meaning our students will be in class fewer than the 180 days required by the Ohio Dept. of Education and we will be required to make those days up.

Since it appears that Old Man Winter has lots more in store for us, we are reviewing our options for making up excess calamity days. As has been our policy in the past, Little Miami will be adding days to the end of the school year. For example, since we are over the five-day limit, we will be adding an additional school day on Monday, June 2.

Should we accumulate a significant number of calamity days, the district will consider adding time (minutes or hours) to some of our remaining scheduled days in order to make up the required time in class. If Little Miami chooses this option, we will communicate this decision early and often to ensure the least amount of impact to our students and families.

‘Blizzard Bags’

On the same subject, a few surrounding districts have chosen to use the “blizzard bag” option to make up excess calamity days. According to the Ohio Dept. of Education, a school district has the option to make up three calamity days via online instruction or “blizzard bags” which make lessons and homework available at home.  Locally, the Milford Exempted Village School District recently chose this option and posted some assignments online for students to complete at home.

In reviewing the “blizzard bag” option for Little Miami, there is more planning that would go into this than one realizes at first glance.

  • Our Board of Education must pass a resolution approving this as an option for calamity days 6,7, and 8. This resolution must be filed with ODE prior to Aug. 1 of each year. (Since the recent spate of inclement weather, ODE has temporarily reopened the filing window for school districts.)
  • Online lessons would need to be developed, posted, collected and graded for each one of these days by our staff. We would want each of these lessons to be high-quality, meaningful and in line with what the student is currently studying in class.
  • Hard copies of these lessons must be provided to students who do not have online access at home upon return from the calamity day. These students would have up to two weeks to complete the assignment.
  • A certain percentage of the students must complete the work in order for this option to count as a makeup day with the state of Ohio. It is conceivable that a district could make “blizzard bags” available but, because of lack of participation, would still need to add days to the school calendar to meet state requirements.

At this time, we do not believe that “blizzard bags” are a suitable replacement for teacher-led instruction at school.

Ironically, even as we have this discussion about calamity days, the state is changing the rules for school districts. As of the 2014-2015 school year, ODE will eliminate all calamity days and will require a minimum number of hours of instruction rather than days. But that’s for another post . . .

Student safety utmost

When frigid temperatures and snowfall hit Little Miami as they have recently, other district administrators and I take very seriously the decision to open or close school. We must take a number of different factors into account, the most important of which is student safety. Each day presents its own set of circumstances and we attempt to make the best decision possible each time.

Here’s wishing for warmer days ahead!

Welcome to a new school year!

Welcome back, Little Miami students, families and staff!

Thank you to everyone for a great opening to the 2013-2014 school year. We are excited to welcome back many familiar faces and to greet many new ones.

Early enrollment numbers show that we have grown by more than 200 students, beginning the year with more than 4,200 students overall. This increase in enrollment continues to reverse a trend that saw almost 500 students depart from Little Miami in the past four years. We’re growing again and we’re pleased to welcome these new additions to our Little Miami family.

I want to take this opportunity to extend my deepest gratitude to the Little Miami staff for getting our district ready for that first day. Students were registered, buildings were cleaned, meals were cooked, buses were driven, students were greeted and classes were taught, all thanks to their efforts. I’m proud of their hard work!

This year marks a fresh start for Little Miami. After nearly three years under state oversight, local control has returned to our Board of Education. Our district has a renewed sense of purpose and excitement as we chart our course for the future.

As we move forward, I encourage our families and our community to take an active role in the Little Miami school district: Join a PTO, attend a Board of Education listening session, buy a ticket to a sporting event. Our schools are the connective tissue that binds together our beloved small towns, farming communities and neighborhoods. Whether it is at a Friday night football game, a school carnival or the district’s Fine Arts Festival, Little Miami is where people connect and renew relationships. 

I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone the best for the 2013-2014 school year!

Getting into the Core

The recent Update newsletter that was sent to homes in the district contained some great information about how Little Miami will be implementing the Common Core State Standards in our buildings over the next two years.

Not too long after that mailer landed in local mailboxes, a number of our staff members began receiving calls and emails from parents and residents who have questions about the Common Core and the new PARCC assessment, both of which will be fully in place in the 2014-2015 school year.

I certainly understand why people have those questions: There is so much information to take in when it comes to these and other educational changes throughout the state, even those of us who work in education can find it confusing.

I’m always glad to have these discussions about the business of teaching our students, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share more information about the Common Core and the PARCC test.

Q. When did Ohio adopt the Common Core State Standards?

A. The state of Ohio adopted the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics in June 2010. At that time, the state board of education also adopted more rigorous academic standards in science and social studies. All four sets of new standards must be implemented in 2014-2015. (See the Ohio Dept. of Education website for more.)

Q. Was the federal government involved in developing the Standards?

A. No. The development of the Common Core standards was a state-led effort to establish a single set of clear educational standards for English language arts and math that states can share and voluntarily adopt. (See the Common Core website for more.)

Q. Will the Common Core standards dictate what a teacher can and cannot teach?

A. The Common Core standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms. These standards also help students and parents by setting clear and realistic goals for success.

Q. What is the PARCC assessment?

A. With the development of new Common Core standards, it became necessary to have a new testing tool that would accurately measure students’ progress. The Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) that our students have been taking would no longer fit the bill. PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) is a group of 22 states voluntarily working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English language arts and mathematics. Public school districts in Ohio must administer the PARCC (pronounced “park”) assessment in the 2014-2015 school year.

Q. Is the Common Core a “one size fits all” education for our students?

A. Absolutely not. The introduction of these new – and rigorous – standards is an exciting thing for Little Miami. These standards renew the emphasis on critical thinking: Students will need to know why they are answering a certain way, and teachers will ask for evidence that supports their answers. These standards are designed to prepare our students to be college- and career-ready, which is exactly in line with our goals here at Little Miami.

As we move through the shift to Common Core standards, we might find that materials are too challenging for some students. In those cases, we will do what we always have done: Intervene. Our intervention teachers and aides have always been a resource for students who need more time or more help to master a concept. New standards or new assessments do not change our commitment to student success.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has been running a series of articles about elements of the Common Core. Take a look at the April 15 and April 16 articles for a broader perspective on the subject.

And as always, if you have a question about the Common Core, the PARCC assessment, or anything about the curriculum here at Little Miami, please don’t hesitate to call or drop me a line.

Greg Power, Superintendent

New year, new outlook

The coming of a new year gives one the opportunity to reflect on the past year’s events, and to look ahead to what the next year may have in store.

As the superintendent of Little Miami Local Schools, I am greatly encouraged by what our staff and students accomplished in 2012, and I expect even more great things in the coming year.

Some of the highlights of 2012:

  • Our enrollment rose more than 120 students this year, reversing a recent trend that saw almost 500 students depart Little Miami in the last four years. We are encouraged that more and more parents are entrusting their children’s education to Little Miami.
  • Harlan-Butlerville Primary and Hamilton-Maineville Primary Schools re-opened their doors for the 2012-2013 school year. This began a new chapter in the history of these two buildings, where so many pleasant memories live and many more are waiting to be made.
  • Little Miami High School was designated as a High Schools that Work Platinum High Achievement School by the Southern Regional Education Board, and Little Miami Junior High was named a Pacesetter school by the same organization, which recognizes high achievement and high expectations in the nation’s schools.
  • Our buildings once again became hubs of activity for the community, as groups and organizations used the facilities for meetings, programs, practices and games. We’re proud that families and the community can reconnect with their schools. More opportunities to do just that are coming, with the return of Pantherfest on Feb. 9 and the district-wide fine arts festival on May 4.
  • The number of athletes wearing a Little Miami uniform increased, as our sports teams saw participation numbers rise, reversing the trend from the last two years.
  • Sweet strains of holiday music rang through our buildings as we ended the year with a number of band, music and choral concerts. This was the result of efforts to revitalize our fine arts program, which had suffered greatly during our recent financial difficulties.

Looking ahead to 2013, a number of exciting events await us, along with a number of challenges.

For example, Little Miami is projected to be released from fiscal emergency on May 22, 2013. After 34 months of financial oversight, we look forward to the day when our own Board of Education will have the final say in decisions about our schools.

In addition to this, we will implement a new mathematics curriculum in 2013-2014 for grades K-4 designed to meet the new Common Core State Standards, along with providing an increased number of resources for our teachers.

These local changes will be happening against the backdrop of sweeping educational change for districts across the state of Ohio. From the third grade reading guarantee, to the new state report card for school districts, to new teacher evaluation requirements and merit pay considerations, all public school districts like Little Miami will be facing a great many changes for which the state has offered little associated funding necessary to efficiently and effectively deploy these reforms.

I am confident that Little Miami is up to the challenge, and in 2013, will do as it always has: create a safe learning environment that supports a quality education for every child. We look forward to great things in the coming year.

LM’s new report card: We need to make up some ground

Since my last post, Little Miami received word that our district’s rating had dropped from “Excellent” to “Effective” on the Ohio Dept. of Education’s school report card.

As I said in media accounts at the time, this was bad news, but it was not entirely unexpected. The financial challenges we have faced over the last three years have profoundly affected what goes on in our classrooms. When state minimum operating standards have been imposed upon by us a state oversight commission, it can’t help but show up in the academic performance of our students.

At Little Miami, we reject the state’s idea that test data captured on a single day gives an accurate portrayal of the quality of a Little Miami education, but our new rating does remind us that we have a lot of ground to make up with our students. For example:

Our kindergarten, first, second and third grade students were given a new Fountas & Pinnell literacy assessment in September to get a better picture of their reading levels as part of theThird Grade Reading Guarantee. We chose this assessment because it more closely aligns with the new, more rigorous national Common Core Language Arts standards.

What we found was concerning: More than 500 students in grades K-3 are not reading at grade level. These numbers are a bit higher than expected, but we anticipated a high number because the Fountas & Pinnell test is more rigorous than current state tests. We anticipate that many students will very quickly reach grade level expectations with this extra attention and support.

Ohio school districts were given the option of choosing their own assessment tool this year. Little Miami could have selected a less rigorous test, but we felt this would be a disservice to our students, especially with the new Common Core State Standards coming in 2014.

We instead chose the rigorous F&P test, and will now institute an intensive intervention plan for these students, which will be 30 minutes per day, four days per week for a five-week period, and will then re-assess students’ progress. Our plan is to aggressively intervene with kindergarten students, eliminating as many future deficits as possible as these students move through higher grade levels.

As we get back on track with our student academics, we also plan to provide more support and training for our teachers, something we have not been able to do for a few years now. In fact, our teachers will spend their in-service day on Nov. 6 in professional development sessions, digging deeper into Common Core standards. It’s the first November Election Day in four years a Little Miami levy has not been on the ballot, and the symbolism is not lost on us.

Third grade reading guarantee troubling

This month, the Little Miami Local Schools board of education adopted the necessary policies that make our district compliant with Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

In the spring of 2012, the Ohio legislature, prompted by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, decided that no child would be promoted to fourth grade unless he or she could read on grade level by third grade. This new law required that at each grade level, kindergarten through third grade, students would be tested using state approved assessments to see if they are on-track to read on grade level. If not, an individualized program was to be designed and carried out for each student until they could move ahead.

On the surface, this law appears to be a no-brainer. Surely by third grade all students can read, right?

As the teachers and staff in the Little Miami district know, not all students learn the same way or at the same pace, and setting an arbitrary third grade deadline is not good educational practice. While some students may become proficient readers in kindergarten or first grade, others may take until age 10 or later to gain the fluency and comprehension skills needed to read at their grade level. And according to this new law, this 10-year old – who may already be struggling — should be retained in third grade? Studies have shown that when a school retains a student from his or her grade-level peers, it has a profound effect on that student and may put him or her at even higher risk for academic difficulties, increasing the student’s possibility of dropping out before high school graduation.

Much of the individualized reading recovery program called for in the new law mirrors what already exists at Little Miami. Our teachers and staff already create robust reading intervention plans for our students who need that extra time and help. Students, parents and teachers also collaborate in Response to Intervention (RtI) meetings to measure a student’s progress and make any needed changes in the plan.

It should be noted that the State Board of Education has tabled any discussion about possible new funding associated the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Also, the law was passed in May with the requirement that school boards adopt supporting policy by the end of September, even though we are still waiting for Columbus to let us know about several other policies associated with this law. For example, as we understand the law, students must be retained in third grade reading if they do not pass their tests, but must move on to fourth grade science, math or social studies, if they show they are ready. But since fourth grade classes would require a fourth-grade reading ability, the law seems to contradict itself.

The board took this action last week to comply with state law, but as you can see, we, as educators, have some misgivings about what the law entails.

We will appeal the Miami Bluffs decision

As many of you are aware, at this past Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, our Board voted to authorize its legal counsel to proceed into the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to stay and overturn the State Board of Education decision which directs us to transfer property in the Miami Bluffs/Adena area of our district to the Kings Local School District. The property owners in this area have exercised their rights as citizens to pursue this and we are respectful of their right to do this.

As the formal part of this process began to unfold last October, as the district that would lose property, Little Miami has been little more than a conduit for facilitating the process to the State Board of Education. We were summoned to Columbus for a formal hearing and we did submit and testify in a formal court-type proceeding where there was testimony and cross-examination. Let me be very clear that, as the district that stands to lose property, we had no formal options open to us to cause this process to cease. With the State Board of Education’s ruling of last week, we do — for the first time — have a formal option to take action to keep this property transfer from occurring. Our school board authorized this action this past Tuesday evening. As is our right under the law, our Board of Education is taking action to try to protect the fiscal integrity of our district.

As we have lived through this over the past year, we have seen a great deal of emotion and passion being expressed around this issue. I want to encourage everyone to be respectful of all of our citizens, parents, and students around this issue and we should all be sensitive about our remarks on this topic, especially around our students.

As is the case with all legal proceedings, I anticipate that this process will take significant time to unfold and play out. We will keep you informed as this process moves forward.

Greg Power, Superintendent

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