Monday, November 7, 2011

School Board Elections

We are down to the wire before tomorrow's elections and both of my e-mail accounts are full of pleas to support particular candidates. Here's my take after 13 years as a parent of LCPS students living first in Ashburn Farm, and now in Lansdowne. I was one a very small group of voters who attended the public forum at Belmont Ridge MS.

The issues:
Dr Hatrick - If our superintendent should continue to be our superintendent is an ongoing debate that, it seems to me, is fueled by the loud voices of those who want him replaced for every possible reason. Is the silent majority in the middle? Most of us moved here because of the good schools; we visited Fairfax schools and Loudoun schools before we bought our house here in Loudoun. If the schools were awful, the superintendent would have been replaced long ago. But since the schools are very good can we not give Dr. Hatrick some credit? I think so. What would I like to see improved? There are too many layers of communication between the parents and Dr. Hatrick. This was most obvious to me at the recent Special Ed Advisory Comm. (SEAC) meeting where Dr. Hatrick spoke to the membership: no one asked him a single question during the Q&A time. We know that we have to start with our case manager and assistant principal, working our way up to Mary Kearney, and through Dr. Kealy to get to Dr. Hatrick.

HS-8 - If we need HS-8 is not really an issue, but where it goes and when it opens is a big enough issue to deserve it's own post. The boundary will eventually be an issue also.

Technology Plan - Millions of dollars to put tablets in the hands of every student from the 4th through 12th grade requires more consideration. What happens to that 12th grader when they go to college and have to downgrade to a laptop? There are two computers in the classrooms at Belmont Ridge MS and one of them is used to run the whiteboard, leaving ONE computer for classroom use. Is there a middle step here that should be considered?

Currently, both Bob Ohneiser and Tom Reed represent me. I have spoken before the school board on boundary and special education issues. Bob Ohneiser knows who I am, but Tom Reed doesn't. Both of them want to see a larger commercial tax base, which is needed, but I don't see how the school board can accomplish this goal. I would like to see the winner of this seat improve communication with the parents/voters of the county.

Jay Bose - I was happy to hear him in person, but don't agree that LCPS and/or it's students are mediocre. Diversity is good, but not the first reason to ask for my vote.
Tom Reed - I watch most of the school board meetings and it concerns me to have someone represent me who seems to treat the other members as less than his equal. He promptly answers e-mails with self centered answers instead of parent/voter centered answers. If he wins he needs to communicate through his blog regularly not once or twice a year.
Bob Ohneiser - I like the questions that he asks and his persistence in seeking answers. Regarding the technology plan, he wants to know what problem we are solving; is this a solution to an undefined problem? He has searched out answers to specific questions that I have had regarding the budget and special education. He has sought out my input on special education ideas. Bob has my vote. I hope he starts a newsletter or some other regular means of communicating with the parents/voters of the county.

Ashburn District
Two of the candidates live in Lansdowne, one in Belmont CC and two in Ashburn Farm. Until this weekend, when my husband and I were out of town, no one has come to my door and asked for my support. I have met some of the candidates at various meetings and have not been shy about calling those that I wanted more information from.

Debbie Piland - I think Debbie has been running the longest, and I have watched her grow as a candidate. She has an interesting background and I like her. She doesn't have the first qualification for my vote though - a personal knowledge of the classrooms in the district.
John Ryan - My first opportunity to hear John Ryan was at the candidate forum. I'm glad I got to hear him and he seems to be a pleasant man with a sense of humor. But like Debbie, he has no first hand knowledge on the current state of the classrooms in the district.
Chris Souther - He wants the superintendent replaced and fully supports the implementation of the technology plan. And in an earlier post on one of the newspapers didn't seem to know that elementary "resource teachers" means special education. Sorry.
John Andrews - John Andrews' previous school board experience began shortly after we moved to the county. I like him and was part of a group several years ago that asked for his input on boundary issues. But he has school-aged children that attend private school.
Eric Hornberger - As a member of Ashburn Farm Parents United, Eric and I have been on opposite sides of boundary issues. So, if he didn't know who I was, I knew what position he represented! But the Stone Bridge issue, as presented by the planning dept., was moving Lansdowne students out TEMPORARILY, and then moving them back to SBHS. When our family moved to Lansdowne, in the fall of 2004, we had a kindergarten student at Seldens Landing, and a freshman and senior at Stone Bridge. Our older son was part of the Harper Park Annex at Stone Bridge for 8th grade, the year Stone Bridge opened. In six years, our older kids went to 5 different middle schools, including our daughter moving to Belmont Ridge the year it opened as an 8th grader. I am relieved that the three school solution was developed for the Ashburn area. With all of the growth that we have seen, sending our youngest to Stone Bridge was not a priority, but having a school for him to attend still is imperative. Eric is a parent and has knowledge of the Ashburn schools at all three levels. Eric has my vote.

Algonkian District
John Stevens has been an active supporter of special education students and their parents. He has worked directly with the Special Education Advisory Comm. board and has encouraged the membership to be active and involved. I can't vote for John, but have supported him financially and encourage the voters in his district to return him to board.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Part 2

Have you kept up with the article and comments in LTM on the former LCPS Deaf and Hard of Hearing teacher? I mentioned this topic in a blog after I attended the last Special Ed Town Hall Mtg in May of 2009.

I find the whole story disturbing, but many of the comments really made me wonder about language and communication. Are deaf/hoh students eligible to receive services through the preschool program to learn ASL/ESL? How do hearing parents communicate with non-hearing children if they don't all learn to sign? Who helps parents decide if their child's first language is ASL or not? With all of the charts that are available for middle and high school students and their families to choose a diploma track, is there a similar chart available for deaf and hard of hearing students and their families to help them choose an academic future?

And aren't all students required to take the writing SOL? With all of the technology we use, the poor written communication skills of some of the posters was very surprising to me.

Do the music, art & PE teachers at this elementary school include these students? What is the least restrictive environment if none of the general education students in the school can communicate the most basic information to their peers?

It will be interesting to see if there are more comments at the next Special Ed Town Hall Mtg this coming April.

Know Your Audience

I got testy at the Special Ed Advisory Committee meeting last night.

First of all, the topic changed at the last minute from Before and After School Activities to Adequate Yearly Progress. I've been all over AYP, including watching the school board meeting where the results were discussed and noting the comment that Students with Disabilities "only" need to improve from a 76% to a 79% pass rate in reading next year to achieve safe harbor and make AYP for the district. The reading target last year for all students was 81%, and the reading target next year for all students is 89%.

Now I really like attending the SEAC meetings; I've learned an awful lot on a variety of topics including Precision Teaching, Differentiation of Instruction and Behavior Intervention Plans. It makes me a better parent and a better IEP team member. It also helped me to be a more effective SEAC PTA representative last year. But did someone expect me to forgot all of that and sit there and play nice?

Last night's presenter was Dr. Stephan Knobloch, Director of Research. I have no doubt that he knows these numbers inside and out. But when you are making a presentation to the parents of the lowest achieving subgroup in the district, you need to modify your remarks from what you would say to the school board. No child left behind is specifically our child - our son or daughter.

To me, when you have a 76% pass rate in reading, that means that almost 25% of students with disabilities are unable to demonstrate that they can read on grade level. Every other subgroup, including those with limited English and the disadvantaged, hit the target of a 81% pass rate. What is going on? And how, specifically, are you going to improve the performance of these students? I've learned how you can do this, but when are you actually going to do it? Or does it not matter unless and until we don't hit our mile marker? We have about 6,000 students with disabilities and a little over half of them took a reading SOL last year - that means that there are about 800 disabled students who failed the reading SOL. Most of these 800 students live with a parent who can read and with at least one sibling who can read.

Teach all of our children to read! You know, use precision teaching, differentiation, Stetson and a well formulated and implemented IEP. You have the tools, and you have gone to pains to let us know that you have the tools - use them!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Belmont What?

As if we don't have enough confusion in the county right now with the proposed conversion of Belmont Ridge middle school to a possible high school, The Washington Post added an new dimension with the front page article on The Loudoun Extra about a teacher from ... Belmont Ridge Elementary school.

They have changed the online article to read Belmont Station elementary, but here's a link to the picture that still says Belmont ridge.

Congratulations to Sean Griffin!

Read a local article here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Before We Move On...AYP Results

The Loudoun County School Board has a very full plate this school year, but I don't want to forget what the Commonwealth of Virginia expects of LCPS this year. Here are the Annual Yearly Progress charts that were recently presented to the board:

AYP Progress Safe Harbor

The reading scores are for all students in grades 3 - 8 and grade 11.
The math scores are for all students in grades 3 - 11 or until they have taken 3 high school level math courses (they could be in 9th or 10th grade - tests end with Algebra II).

The students who were in 3rd grade in 2004/05, were in 8th grade in 2009/10.

The reading scores are pretty easy to understand, but without more information it is difficult to interpret the math scores. Clearly math scores went down in all groups in 2005/06 and did not completely rebound until 2007/08.

On the reading chart:
  • Black and Hispanic students started out at the same level (71%) in 2004/05, took different paths, but ended up at the same level (85%) five years later.
  • Black students have demonstrated no improvement for three years.
  • Limited English students and Students with Disabilities started very close together, but Students with Disabilities are now lagging behind all other groups and are still scoring in the 70's. This is disheartening as disabled students who cannot perform at the grade level of their peers have had alternative tests available to indicate their improvement.

To put it another way, 24% of disabled students who are expected to read at grade level are unable to indicate that they can do so.

There is a whole lot of information not available from these charts. There are two questions that are uppermost in my mind:
  • How many children fall into more than one of the non-white subgroups; specifically how many disabled students are in each of the other groups?
  • How are disabled students performing by disability group; is there a particular disability that is either over or under-performing?

The gaps between non-white sub-groups have narrowed, as have the gaps between white students and all of the other sub-groups.

I'm wondering if this chart makes the case for the legitimacy of No Child Left Behind. Would school districts have made a concerted effort to raise the reading scores of poor, minority and disabled students by 15 to 20 percentage points if it hadn't been mandated by law?

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Get an Answer Tonight!

From the Agenda under Information Items:

The School Board and the Board of Supervisors agreed to fund engineering and design studies to explore locations for an elementary school (ES-22), a middle school (MS-6), and a high school (HS-8). Staff was tasked with the following assignments:

1. Locate an elementary school on the County-owned Farmwell property;
2. Construct a middle school on the Newton-Lee Elementary School site (with and without the additional five acres of land from Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, NVRPA);
3. Convert Belmont Ridge Middle School to a high school.

Professional architectural and engineering consultants have prepared a comprehensive report on the aforementioned tasks that will be shared with the public at the meeting.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Put a High School Here!

Remember the boundary war over Stone Bridge High School that ended with Freshman in Lansdowne going to Tuscarora until a new high school could be located and built? Remember how the Board of Supervisors is funding studies to see where schools in the north Ashburn area might go. Remember how these studies require outside consultants to tell us what, in some cases, is obvious - like the feasibility of turning Belmont Ridge Middle School into a high school is nil?

Put a high school here: One Loudoun!
The following articles each report that the One Loudoun property is in foreclosure and going to auction.

Maybe we (the taxpayers) could get a deal!