Friday, January 29, 2010
The Board's policy 2-24 (Order of Business, Quorum, Rules, Voting) reads in part:
All voting on motions or resolutions shall be by voice vote, except that upon the demand of any member or at the discretion of the Chairman, the Chairman shall direct a roll call vote and the "ayes" and "nayes" shall be recorded.So according to our policy, there is no counting, announcing or recording of individual members' votes by default. Nevertheless the counting of every vote has been the Board's practice since before any of the current members began their service. So I sent everyone a note last weekend saying "hey, I just noticed that this is our policy; unless you object I'll follow it." I got one note of objection, and otherwise concurrence or silence.
So on Tuesday night, we gave it a try, got a couple of objections and a couple of people quietly saying "maybe that's not the way we want to do it after all." That's fine. There are several perfectly good reasons to count and announce the votes, most importantly accountability to the public. As a result, I believe we're on our way to changing the Board's policy to match its practice, which is how it should be.
As I said on Tuesday night, sometimes the best motivation to change our policies is to follow them for a while.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Q: When did the MS Deans first come to LCPS? Please provide a more detailed description of the middle school deans duties.
A: LCPS has had Middle School Deans since the first middle school opened in 1971. In LCPS, our middle schools are highly effective because of the specific organization and operation that match the unique needs of the students in this age range. The LCPS approach to the middle school is research based and excellent. This allows for large middle schools to exist and be high functioning. This organizational structure creates “schools within schools” all within a size that is conducive to meeting the developmental needs of middle school children. In this model, the role of Dean is critical.
The Dean is the grade level house leader and is able to address affective and/or social emotional issues very quickly in the current model. The families develop a strong relationship with the Dean who follows the children for each year of middle school. Our parents expect (and so do we) that all these issues are addressed quickly. This allows us to return to academics with minimal disruption. With no Deans, students will be sitting on benches waiting, instructional time lost, resulting in a negative effect on the academic environment that we are building.
In addition to working directly with students within a house area on these affective/social issues, deans conduct classroom walk-throughs to monitor instruction, facilitate grade level team meetings, provide lunch room and hallway supervision, organize before and after school activities, initiate parent contact and facilitate parent conferences, review student grades, conduct child study meetings, and participate in a variety of school level committees.
The Deans work under an LCPS teacher contract, with extra days at the beginning and end of the school year. This model has been in place since the middle school was created in LCPS in the early 1970’s.
The daily responsibilities of the Middle School Assistant Principals are in two major areas: Special Education and Testing. With all three grades in the middle school participating in SOL testing every year, AP’s are not always readily available for affective concerns especially considering the volume of Special education meetings and testing that occurs within schools.
This model allows the Principal to be the instructional leader in the building at a level that the research demands to achieve excellence, including monitoring instruction and assessment, data analysis, and teacher evaluation.
LCPS currently does this better at the Middle School level than most places in the Nation. The removal of Deans would adversely affect this model.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The bus will be used to transport students to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
The bus runs on a hybrid technology similar to that used in a Ford Escape. An electric motor will run the bus up to a speed of 25 mph with the standard diesel engine kicking in after that.
“We've found on the passenger-car side that the hybrids are lasting a lot longer than a conventionally fueled vehicle because there's not as much wear and tear on the internal combustion engine because the electric motor is helping so much,” said LCPS Fleet Services Manager Josh Lunsford.
“Other than the (hybrid) logo on the bus, the public is not going to know the difference from the bus you currently operate,” said Merryman. (The bus also bears the luckiest number in the LCPS fleet, 777. It was designed to have a distinctive green trim – instead of the usual black – but the Commonwealth of Virginia would not approve the color change.)
And here is the text of an email response sent to a citizen from the LCPS Public Information Office:
[LCPS Press Release]
There are now a dozen of these buses in use nationwide. That's why the price is so high. It's similar to when personal computers came out 15 years ago. What you could buy for $3,000 then costs less than $1,000 now. We anticipate the cost of these buses to drop significantly as they go into mass production.
The reason we purchased this bus is two-fold:
We're a green school system. Through a concerted energy conservation program covering more than 15 years, we have saved the taxpayers of Loudoun County more than $30 million. Investing in new technology is no small part of these savings.
As a pilot user of these buses we are able to conduct a long-term study of their effectiveness. This will allow us to decide if it is worthwhile purchasing more of these buses when it is time to turn over parts of our fleet. We want to make a reasoned, scientifically based decision when it comes to future purchases.
We did pay a 37.5 percent premium for this bus. Its fuel efficiency is billed as 27.3 percent higher. Given a 12-year lifespan, this could very well produce a net savings. (The varying price of fuel will greatly affect this calculation.) We won't know what it's capable of until we do a long-term analysis.
Feb 1st Update from the LCPS Public Information Office:
This bus was purchased with credits received and accumulated when LCPS turned in older, no-longer-useful, buses to Sonny Merryman, Inc., our vendor. We used these credits to investigate a new technology.
Loudoun County Public Schools has a history of stewardship in exploring and implementing sustainable environmental initiatives, including the use of alternative-fuel vehicles. During the past 15 years, LCPS has attained $30 million in cost avoidance through a comprehensive energy management program. Purchasing and testing new technology, such as the hybrid bus, is in keeping with this program.
All of the companies involved in the manufacture of this bus have given us diagnostic equipment to measure whether the bus is living up to its advertised potential. LCPS will be an in excellent position to capitalize on this technology should it prove effective and when the price of the buses comes down when they go into mass production. LCPS has gained significant savings through the years by working with vendors in exploring prototypes.
If the bus performs as advertised, it will use 920 gallons less in diesel fuel and emit 9.5 metric tons fewer carbon expenditures per year when compared to a conventional bus. Should the technology be all its cracked up to be, this could be a huge cost savings and have a positive effect on our environment when, or if, the buses become a standard part of our fleet.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I started my day meeting with parents and teachers at the parent’s request to discuss the student’s progress and what could be done to help the student succeed. Then a student came in to see me to thank me for all the time I had spent with her choosing colleges to apply to and to let me know that she had been accepted to her first choice school. This was all before the bell rang to start the day.This is National School Counseling week. On behalf of the Board and many grateful parents and students, many thanks to our school counselors for all that you do.
During the school day, I
- co-led two group counseling sessions,
- met with administrators and several teachers to discuss questions students and parents had brought to my attention,
- met with security to discuss a gang related issue a student told me about,
- talked to three colleges about college applications for my students and arranged for fee waivers for one student who did not have the money to pay for the application,
- met with students to discuss personal problems including one student whose mother had been deported, one who was having boyfriend problems, one who had a recent death in the family and was too distraught to handle things
- met with several students to finish college applications, and others to do scheduling for next year,
- wrote two college recommendation letters,
- sent out 17 transcripts to colleges,
- answered 9 phone calls about students, and 43 emails.
And this was an easy day.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Please feel free to leave your comments on the proposed changes here, but also contact your representatives on the School Board directly if you have input or questions.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
The one amendment that passed was one I proposed, cutting the School Board's Office Operations budget by over 25% from last year. This budget covers such items as travel expenses, conference registrations and food that we sometimes have when working through dinner. This is a small part of the overall budget, but it is our part of the budget, the part we can cut without impacting anyone else. We ask that employees go through their own budgets and look for opportunities to save, we have now down that for ourselves as well.
On Wednesday, February 10th at 6:30pm I will present this budget to the Board of Supervisors. It meets their guidance for a 5% increase in local tax funding for LCPS. The real challenge we face for funding this year isn't the Supervisors, it's the General Assembly. A proposed change in the distribution of state education funds would shortchange Loudoun County by $34 Million, more than the amount of the increase that we are requesting for LCPS. The School Board is working together with the Board of Supervisors to stop that change and get Loudoun's fair share of state funding (see the Roanoke Times editorial link, below).
The Board of Supervisors faces a very difficult task, this year as in years past. The whole county is growing, not just LCPS. The needs of that County are growing as well, as our population becomes more diverse and our community matures. Many families are struggling with unemployment and frozen wages. The people at LCPS know, because the kids from those families are looking to us for more help than ever before. I hope that the Supervisors will look around and see that it is in times like these that we all need to pull together to make the most of what we have. It is not the time to squabble over the scraps. As I said from the dais, LCPS works in close partnership every day with the very county agencies that some believe we are competing with for funds... the Sherrif's office, Parks & Rec, Family Services. LCPS needs them, they need LCPS, and the people of this community need them all.
Roanoke Times: Honor the School Funding Formula
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
- The Supervisors asked the School Board to send them a budget reflecting not more than a 5% increase in local funding
- Dr. Hatrick proposed a budget to the School Board with the following broad outlines:
- 5% increase in local tax funding, 4.4% increase in overall budget
- 1% Cost of Living increase for all LCPS employees (except himself and the Board; salary changes for the Superintendent are considered by the Board each July, and the School Board can only change the next Board's salary within limits set by the state).
- No new fees or initiatives
- Cuts in central office positions
The School Board has held one public hearing and one work session on the budget. During the work session, Board members asked questions of staff, most of which will be answered in writing at a later time.
Tonight there is another public hearing and worksession, and on Thursday a final work session. The School Board will, by next Tuesday, finalize its version of the budget and send it forward to the Board of Supervisors as a request.
On February 10th I will make a presentation to the Board of Supervisors about our Board's budget request. The Board of Supervisors holds its public hearings on the budget on February 24, 25 & 27. There will be a joint work session between the two Boards on March 2nd. I anticipate the the Board of Supervisors will pass its final budget by April 6th, settling on the LCPS budget in mid-to-late March.
If the Board of Supervisors decrease the LCPS funding request, the School Board will make cuts to the LCPS budget to match the amount of funding. This will happen in April and will come after we have taken more input from the public and a recommendation by the Superintendent.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
The matter of who is chairman is of little interest to all but a relatively few people have direct contact with the Board. I intended to blog about the role of chairman in December as we approached the election, but when I sat down to write it just didn't seem that it would matter to many of our readers.
The Board selects its Chairman, and Vice Chair, every year at its first meeting. The last few Chairmen have held the post for a few years, despite regular challengers, until they were ready to give it up. In case you were wondering, I'm only concerned about this year. Next year will take care of itself in time.
The Chairman's most visible role is conducting the Board's business meetings and public hearings. The Chairman also signs contracts and other documents on behalf of the Board, sets the agendas for the meetings (though individual members can place items on the agenda as well) and makes committee and dais seating assignments.
The most significant role is representing the rest of the Board, to the community and to other entities such as the Board of Supervisors. This means that I have to redefine my voice on this blog again, and that will slow me down as much as demands on my time.
And finally, the Chairman is still a member of the School Board representing the people of his district. So that's one thing that hasn't changed.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Most of the Board meeting last night was devoted to a review of the Capital Improvement Plan, our plans for buying land and building schools. Lord, what a fix we are in. Two years ago I told the Board of Supervisors that the problem of class size soon wouldn't be a matter of the operating budget, but of the lack of new schools. We're already there in some spots, we'll be there in a year or two in many more parts of the county, and it will be several years beyond that before we get out of it. So crowded classrooms are coming, there is no avoiding it. In a few years the people will ask "when did we get into this mess?" The answer is that we've been getting into it for the past few years, we're getting much deeper into it now. It's going to take some innovation to get through it, ways to increase the number of classrooms without building new schools or buying new land. Charter schools. Classrooms in innovative places. Maybe online learning. We can do it if we want to. Do you want to?