From the Superintendent's desk

Little Miami Local Schools

Speech at the Statehouse: What needed to be said

img_4930It has now been almost two weeks since the gathering of hundreds of Ohio educational leaders on the Statehouse steps in Columbus.

News coverage of the event was mixed (see links below), but the fact remains that in my 40 years as an educator, I cannot remember a time when superintendents, board members and citizens from all over Ohio joined together to express their concerns in such a manner.

I was honored to be one of five speakers selected to address the gathering that day. What follows is a copy of the speech I shared that day:

Thanks for coming out this morning to show concern and support for the students of your community. I, like many of you, represent the voices of the children and families of our communities. As educators, we have historically tended to work toward achieving compliance with all the state and federal accountability mandates, however over the last few years as the pace and kind of accountability mandates have accelerated we have all reached our collective breaking point.  Enough is enough!

Many of us have been in the statehouse meeting and communicating our concerns regarding the amount of, and the kind of accountability requirements that have been heaped upon our local schools and our students. We have informed, communicated, and advocated with our elected representatives in regards to these many concerns. In many instances our concerns have been dismissed.

Many of us are here today because in spite of our efforts inside the building that sits on this site, our local communities, our kids, continue to suffer the effects of this over-accountability madness. I believe our local communities deserve to have the kinds of schools they desire. I believe our local communities are the best evaluators of the quality of our schools and I believe it is our local communities and parents who should be making accountability decisions for our schools; not the folks up here at the state level or the federal level.

Many parents feel that they have very little control over what’s happening to their children and that speaking out does nothing as they do not believe that their voices are being heard.

We are here because there is a collective graduation accountability cliff that our kids are being driven over as a result of ill thought out legislation, ill thought out regulation, and ill thought out implementation. 

We are here today to call attention to this because it seems trying to work inside the building on this site hasn’t sufficiently raised our representative’s level of concern. Hopefully our action to bring attention to these accountability concerns along with our continuing to engage our representatives will result in needed change.

We are here today seeking:

  • changes to the graduation point system that was created by the State Board of Education.
  • reductions in state mandated assessments which result in over-emphasis on standardized testing which negatively impacts our students and classroom instruction.
  • more local control and autonomy related to school accountability.

Thank you for attending today. It’s time for all of us to collectively hold our representatives at all levels accountable.

Links to media coverage of the event

Taking our case to the Statehouse

There comes a time when writing is not enough and it is time to take action.

As I have stated on this blog many times, it is imperative that our state lawmakers take a hard look at excessive testing, the current graduation point system, and many other educational issues that challenge public school districts like Little Miami.

On Nov. 15, I will be joining with approximately 200 public school superintendents and other local educational leaders representing over 70 Ohio counties in gathering on the Ohio Capitol Steps as a sign of our commitment to help close the gap between what many of Ohio’s citizens want and the statewide education policies that are currently in place. This event is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. on the West Plaza facing High Street.

In a recent press release, Superintendent of Shadyside Local Schools John Haswell said “the current high school graduation point system that was developed by the Ohio Board of Education is having a negative impact on a large percentage of our high school students.” He said that, “approximately 40 percent of the students that took the state mandated end-of-year exams last year in Shadyside are in jeopardy of not graduating in 2018 and 2019. The emphasis given to these standardized tests will have a negative impact on children throughout Ohio in the near future. A score on a single exam has more weight than 180 days of classroom instruction.”

Another one of my fellow superintendents, Dr. Jim Lloyd of Olmsted Falls City Schools, had this to say: “As public school superintendents, we see every day how our current statewide education policies are impacting our staff, students and communities. With the reality of these policies in clear view, we can serve as a linchpin to bring our staff, our students, the citizens of our communities and our state policymakers together in a positive spirit of mutual trust, respect and cooperation to address everyone’s concerns.”

Two years ago, Ohio’s public school superintendents kicked off a grassroots initiative to return local control to their public schools by providing their citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy. Their voice is the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network. One of the initial actions of this statewide grassroots network was to ask many of Ohio’s citizens how they view education reform and its impact upon their local schools.

From January 2014 through April 2016, four in‐depth public opinion surveys were conducted in 18 Ohio counties which have a combined population of 3,052,416 (U.S. Census, 2013). The results from these surveys indicate that a majority of citizens believe their public schools are doing a good job of preparing children for their future and they want their boards of education to be in control of their local schools.

Through a recently conducted statewide survey of Ohio’s public school superintendents, the top rated concerns were:

  • The current graduation point system created by the Ohio Department of Education will arbitrarily lower the graduation rates of the Class of 2018 and any class after them.
  • The continual expansion of Ohio’s educational assessment system has led to an over‐emphasis on standardized testing for our students which negatively impacts the focus of classroom instruction.
  • The inconsistent and unreliable fluctuations on achievement and value‐added/student growth measures included in Ohio’s Report Card reporting system needs to be addressed.

The group of district leaders indicated, “We want to roll our collective sleeves up and work with our stakeholders, constituent groups and Ohio’s elected officials to fix a graduation and State reporting system that is currently in great need of repair. Our students and our citizens deserve a reporting system they can trust.”

That’s why I’ll be on the steps of the Statehouse on Nov. 15.

GCSAN members send letter to DeMaria

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Little Miami is joining with dozens of other districts in the state of Ohio in sending a message to our state legislators regarding the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

A local coalition of superintendents, called the Greater Cincinnati School Advocacy Network (of which I am a member), recently sent a letter to Ohio’s Superintendent of Instruction Paolo DeMaria making some very specific requests regarding assessments, the state’s teacher evaluation system and the local report card.

The letter was written to make certain that Mr. DeMaria knew that feedback gathered during the local ESSA public hearings was clear. The letter is below, and I welcome your comments.

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A chance to make a change: ESSA and local control

 

It is no secret that I am a proponent of local control for Ohio’s school districts. I have been quoted in stories on our website and in the media on numerous local control issues including our state’s burdensome amount of required tests. At the heart of my views on local control is the simple fact that communities themselves should decide what they want their schools to be, not the kind of schools the State and the Feds want.

That’s why Little Miami is joining with several other districts in the state of Ohio in sending a message to our state legislators regarding the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 10, 2015 and replaced the No Child Left Behind Act.

ESSA has shifted broad authority from the federal government to state and local agencies, providing them with greater flexibility and decision-making power. A key component of the new law emphasizes the return of more local control to our school districts.

Ohio must submit its plan to comply with ESSA to the federal government. It appears that Ohio will be submitting its plan in January or February of 2017, with a minimum of input from school districts themselves. I’d like to change that.

Locally, the Ohio Dept. of Education will be gathering public input on Sept. 29 at a public hearing on Ohio’s ESSA Plan.  The hearing will be held at the Hamilton County Action Agency. Event info here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cincinnati-essa-stakeholder-meeting-registration-26762080102

I encourage everyone to take the time to contact our legislative representatives regarding our desire for more local control, less testing, less unfunded state mandates. Below is a copy of a letter I recently sent to our State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria regarding Ohio’s ESSA Plan.

Dear Dr. DeMaria:
As Superintendent of the Little Miami Local School District, I am writing to express my recommendations regarding Ohio’s plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Along with hundreds of other public school superintendents around the state, I am committed to the following beliefs:
  • Public education is a critical component of an informed democracy.
  • Public education serves each and every one of our students who represent the diversity of our communities.
  • Locally controlled public education with governmental support is valued over public education dominated by government regulations.
  • The principle architects of the locally controlled education system in Ohio should be community members – including parents, principals, teachers, students, school board members and superintendents.
Regarding the assessment framework under the new ESSA regulations, states have to test students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school in math and reading, plus science in certain grade spans. I advise that Ohio’s new ESSA implementation plan reflect meeting the Federal minimum. In fact, I am supportive of an assessment framework which gives local control of the assessment process back to each district. Working collaboratively with each school district, the state should create an assessment framework which permits districts to create their own assessment process which meets the Federal minimums.
In reference to the State Report Card, the A-F format is not required under the new ESSA regulations. I believe that this is a great opportunity for the state to again work in a collaborative manner with its local stakeholders to create a “Quality Profile” framework that is reflective of the local control mandates of Federal ESSA law and regulations. Again, I emphasize support for meeting the minimum requirements of this Federal regulation. In addition, flexibility around additional qualities which are of value to the local community should be incorporated in this profile. This profile should be concise and simple for parents and stakeholders to comprehend. In the context of our current State Report Card, there are so many “moving parts” which parents and constituents cannot easily understand. Additionally, the current framework does not lend itself to proper focus on improved student learning. I further submit that the current framework focuses on improved student test-taking not real student learning. Continued high stakes assessment focus will only increase the weight of an assessment bureaucracy on our already economically burdened public school systems. I believe if this focus continues that this will become the next big equity issue that the state and federal governments face.
There are also opportunities to make appropriate changes to the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) and the Ohio Principal Evaluation System (OPES) under new ESSA regulations. The OTES and OPES rubric framework should remain in place as a local district option and the State should permit more alternative evaluation frameworks which meet the same requirements as this rubric. The value added student growth data should be removed as a component tied to individual evaluations with each district having the option to create a student performance framework reflective of the whole student. I am firmly convinced that our students can demonstrate evidence of deeper learning outside of and beyond the current high stakes assessment framework. It is my belief this inequitable over testing emphasis unduly impacts the learning opportunities of all of our students. Local districts in collaboration with the State should work to create this more holistic picture of student learning.
I am representing the voice of my community, parents and teachers by recommending that Ohio should not enact any legislation or regulations in addition to the federal minimum requirements of ESSA.  We must use this opportunity presented by the change in federal legislation to restore local control to our schools and communities.  I will be advocating and working diligently to help the citizens of my community make their voices heard on this important issue.
Sincerely,
Greg Power, Superintendent
Little Miami Local Schools

Welcome back!

This is the first full week of school for 4,700 Little Miami Local School District students, including the first day of school for our preschoolers. During the first three days last week most things went very well — and a few things did not go perfectly. Some students were guided to the incorrect classes, many buses ran behind, and no doubt almost every student, parent and teacher had something not go right.

In regards to transportation, our performance was unsatisfactory. It is important that our families understand that our transportation department is working diligently to correct any problems, and by the end of this first week, we believe you will see a marked improvement.

But what about the other side of the story? What went right?

  • About 3/4ths of our 4,700 students ride a Little Miami bus. All of them had a safe bus ride to and from school. Our 60 buses cover an average of 5,000 miles each day (our district is a big one – 98 sq. miles).
  • Hundreds of students ate breakfast, lunch, or both at school. There were healthy choices available (although more than a few French fries were eaten, too). For some students these were the best meals of their day. For some students these were the only meals of the day. Our cooks are amazing!
  • Our more than 300 teachers, principals and other professional staff greeted students, helped them find their classes, began the teaching process and in general did an exceptional job. This did not happen by accident. Most teachers spend much of their summer preparing for the next school year so that things get off to a great start.
  • Schools were clean and grounds were manicured. Little Miami’s maintenance and custodians spent the summer making sure all of our schools were school-ready: walls were painted, bathrooms were cleaned, floors were waxed, and more.
  • Secretaries and other office staff greeted students, and we all know that as the year goes along, these people will handle thousands of jobs and virtually every one of those jobs will in some way impact students. Little Miami is proud of its hardworking employees!
  • District administrators, principals and school board members spent much of their time making sure the district is focused on doing what is right for students. The coordination of 4,700 plus students, 300 plus staff and six school buildings does not happen by accident, and it won’t happen at all if someone is not paying attention to detail.

Please feel free to share “what went right” with our communication office from time to time. When teachers do a great job — tell them (this goes for all of us: parents, colleagues, bosses, etc.). When your kids experience success — celebrate! When you see something that needs to be improved – tell those involved, and be part of the solution.

Here’s to a great 2016-2017 school year!

Elementary grade changes coming for the 2016-2017 school year

As we come to the end of another wintry day of learning, I think it important to share some information with you regarding our planning for next school year and beyond.

Little Miami’s student enrollment has never been larger than it is today. Our current enrollment is 4,482 students. Just a few years ago, in 2012, our enrollment was 3,823 students. Enrollment trends show that we are growing by about 200 students per year, and with new homes once again being built in the district, we do not expect that trend to change in the near future.

Where are our new students coming from? Below is a breakdown of the 442 new students enrolled for this school year, from June 9, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016 (grades 1-12):

  • Private school: 65
  • Warren County schools: 88
  • Other Ohio Counties: 149
  • Out of State: 83
  • Homeschool: 17
  • Online school: 29
  • Out of Country: 11

Along with booming enrollment comes a concerning reality: In our current district facilities, we have a capacity of 4,950 seats.

With enrollment around 4,500, a capacity of 4,950 and growth of at least 200 students per year, one can see that within a very short time, our district will face the challenge of needing additional space.

Recently we completed an analysis as to how we can most efficiently utilize our existing class space. Growth has been occurring across all of our grade levels and this past year, we saw unprecedented growth at our high school where we welcomed more than 70 new students.

Where we currently have capacity is unfortunately not where we have the greatest need. We have space in our newer buildings where grades 5-12 are housed, but we have the greatest space challenges beginning to occur at our PreK-4 levels.

With this in mind, our administrators have assessed how possible reconfiguration at the PreK-2 levels might better support learning for our students while also gaining the most efficient use of our existing space. A recommendation was made to our Board of Education that we reconfigure our PreK-2 grade levels in the following manner:

  • Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, all PreK-K grade levels will be centralized at Salem Township Elementary.
  • Harlan-Butlerville and Hamilton-Maineville will house all of the district’s first and second grade students.
  • All other grades will remain as they currently are.

This recommendation received approval at the Jan. 19  Board of Education meeting.

This reconfiguration will result in several changes that will affect our students, but we are working very hard to minimize these effects. We are currently re-assessing attendance zones for our Butlerville and Maineville sites and will be communicating with our families who will be affected by this change.

We are also refining our bus transportation tiers for next year. High school students will be transported on one tier, grades 5-8 on another tier and PreK-4 on a third tier. This new transportation framework will result in slight modifications of school starting and ending times. This change will be communicated through our website by the end of this school year.

In addition to these changes in the short term, the district is currently working to create a communication process to include our community in a dialogue about our long-term classroom space needs. Look for more information on public engagement sessions in the coming weeks.

A sincere thank you to our community

It has been nearly two weeks since the Little Miami community voted to renew our district’s operating levy. As the dust has settled from campaign work, canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts, I have had some time to reflect on what has been accomplished.

There are many who dedicated their time, talent and treasure to this campaign and for their dedication, I would like to extend my sincere thanks.

To Little Miami parent David Griggs and his team of volunteers, who worked tirelessly to get the word out to our voters about the need for this renewal, I think I can speak on behalf of our board and staff when I say we cannot say thank you enough for the hundreds of hours you dedicated to our schools.

To the Fosters Pointe and Heritage at Miami Bluffs communities, for hosting candidates nights and inviting Treasurer Terry Gonda and myself to speak about the renewal request, I thank you for asking us in.

And to the residents of our community who voted to approve our request by a significant margin, I am humbled by your support. I take from this a message of hope: Our community has seen the effects of fiscal crisis and is ready to put those days behind us. It is truly a new day at Little Miami.

Now, the hard work begins. Our staff is currently engaged in strategic planning meetings that will set the course for our district for next year and beyond. This is a slow and methodical process of prioritizing what we are able to do both short and long term.

Even though the levy strengthens Little Miami’s financial position there are still economic uncertainties that require us to take a disciplined approach towards programs and services. As we do this, we will be looking for input from our stakeholders. Our Business Advisory Council is already engaged in taking a renewed look at our financial health, and will serve as a sounding board for our Board of Education as we look at staffing, services and expenditures. We will be communicating with our community as we move forward to keep you informed of our progress.

As I knocked on doors during our campaign’s canvassing efforts, I spoke with many residents. Many were overwhelmingly supportive of our schools; some were not. From these exchanges, I was reminded once again how integral schools are to the fabric of a community. I am proud to be the superintendent of Little Miami Local Schools and I am excited to be part of this district’s next chapter.

An open letter to the Little Miami community

In November of 2011, the Little Miami Community came together to pass a five-year emergency operating levy. The passage of this levy was the first step in the process of our community regaining local control of our school district from the state of Ohio.

During the two years prior to this, the district made massive cuts in staffing and programming in an attempt to stave off fiscal emergency and state control. But we were unsuccessful. The state placed Little Miami in fiscal emergency in July 2010, and we would remain there for 34 months.

During this time, because the district lacked necessary fiscal and staffing resources, minimal expenditures were approved by the State Fiscal Oversight Commission. This impacted classroom resources, facility up-keep and capital assets. As anyone who owns a house or a car knows, if a regular schedule of preventive maintenance isn’t followed, the costs of repairs often becomes more expensive. We have reached that point with many of our buildings.

Little Miami was officially released from fiscal emergency in May 2013. One may ask what has Little Miami done to recover from the impact of fiscal emergency? What has Little Miami done to negate the impact of two years of cuts and almost three years of state control?

I am pleased to report that we have made great strides. With our community’s support, we have reopened shuttered buildings, restored full busing, and have returned art, music and physical education classes to our elementary schools. Pay-to-participate fees for athletics have been reduced from $651 per sport to $275 per sport. As we have lowered the fee, we are pleased to see that our participation numbers have increased.

Also with the community’s support, Little Miami paid back the $11 million in state loans that the district was required to take out in order to continue operations during fiscal emergency. Curriculum has been updated in preschool through fifth grade and now, we have begun the process of focusing resources on the infrastructure that supports student learning by installing a robust wireless network and attaining some updated computer technology. There also have been safety upgrades to all the entrances of our buildings and our aging fleet of 57 buses has begun to be updated with the purchase of eight new buses over the last three years.

While much has been accomplished, much remains to be done. Little Miami is once again growing. Since the date of fiscal emergency release, our enrollment has grown by an additional 540 students. Just this past year, enrollment has grown by almost 200 students to 4,484. Today we serve more students than at any time in our history.

Along with the challenge of more enrollment growth in the future, we are facing many more urgent needs:

  • At grades 6-12, our curriculum resources are in dire need of replacement and updating. At the high school, most of the texts are so old that they can no longer be rebound, repaired, or located for purchase. The district needs to make immediate and significant investments in digital resources and technology that supports our maturing learners in attaining an education that enables them to succeed.
  • Delayed infrastructure investments need to occur across all of our buildings. Parking lot maintenance, building exteriors, roofs, paint, high school track replacement, HVAC and power upgrades, continuing building security enhancements, auditorium renovations, bus maintenance facility upgrades/additions are all a part of our five-year capital upkeep plan.
  • A new bus costs $80,000 and lasts 200,000 miles. In Little Miami, where our buses travel more than 5,000 miles per day, this translates to a 5-6 year life span. The last major purchase of buses was 2006. The district needs to replace about 20% of the fleet each year at a projected cost of $2.8 million. As our enrollment continues to increase, additional buses will be needed as the number of routes increases to support added students.

Little Miami has made significant progress in our journey to recover from fiscal emergency. Our kids, parents, staff, and our Board of Education have worked very hard to support a fiscally-responsible recovery process. Our students achieve in the top 20% of the districts in the state while Little Miami spends in the bottom third of the districts in the state. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

As one can see, recovering from fiscal emergency is not a five-year process. On Nov. 3, 2015, there is an emergency levy renewal request (Issue 7) before the community to continue support of our recovery effort at zero increase in taxes. Your continued support is greatly needed and appreciated.

Greg Power

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!