School board talks Sussex Tech, Common Core

Date Published: 
March 28, 2014

It’s almost a joke to see some of the misconceptions about Common Core educational standards, said Donald Hattier at the March Indian River School Board meeting.

“I ask that we get as a board as basic rundown of how we are approaching it, as opposed to other districts,” Hattier said.

While he has concerns about anything mandated by the federal government, “I do have faith in Dr. LouAnn Hudson and Dr. [Susan] Bunting … they’re the ones to make it work,” he said of the IRSD director of curriculum and instruction and IRSD superintendent. “I do believe Common Core was something that was forced on us rather than something that we came to on our own.”

Because standards are clearly spelled out, all teachers can see what should be covered at any grade level.

Although IR classrooms are already teaching toward Common Core, “we are approaching in a cautious manner,” Hudson said, “still using our curriculum, and our teachers are planning day-to day.”

Taking a “balanced approach” to researching new books and teaching aids, the district must still approve new textbooks with teachers, administrators and the board.

“A good system of checks and balances ensures the final product put in front of students … is something our board can be a part of,” Hudson said.

Handwriting and second-grade cursive are also making an important return, Hattier was glad to hear.

“This is back … basics, and it’s adding a lot of rigor,” said Nina Lou Bunting, who feels the community needs better information.

“As a former teacher, I find myself having to defend Common Core quite often,” she said. “I’d like to remind people who [incorrectly] say ‘2 plus 2 equals 5, if you can explain it’ … that’s the way it was. Common Core is taking us back to memorizing our facts and making sure we have a solid basis … not the spiraling basis of ‘If you don’t learn it this year, you’ll learn it next.’”

She remembers the challenge long division for students who hadn’t learned multiplication tables.

Hattier was amazed it’s taken so long to get back to this point.

“The pendulum swingeth,” Bunting said.

Shaun Fink was concerned about the phrase “concepts that are prioritized in standards.”

“Who is prioritizing the standards?” he asked.

“It’s a combination. Some of the things are laid out in the standards [like when to teach multiplication] but the way to teach the curriculum lies with us,” Hudson said, “our teachers, our curriculum specialists.”

“So we’re told what to teach?” Fink clarified.

“We’re told the standards,” Hudson said.

Instead of trying to learn a little bit about everything, Common Core picks the most important aspects to study deeply, Bunting said.

James Fritz wanted to ensure that educators feel some flexibility with Common Core.

“I think following the standards are going to … get our students to a higher level,” Hudson said.

An eye on Sussex Tech

The school board also wanted to discuss neighboring Sussex Technical School District, which seeks an increase in the existing 23.5 cents per $100 tax rate.

In requesting a tax increase, Sussex Tech does not go through public referendum, as IRSD recently did. Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller said Tech must submit paperwork, and a State committee would decide by April 15 if the need is warranted or not. Then the General Assembly can act.

“Our understanding is that they have put together a proposal for a tax increase and also notified some employees that they may be reduced [if the tax fails],” Miller said, despite last year’s plan for a new Tech building.

“As a taxpayer, do I have input” on these funds, Rodney Layfield asked.

No, Miller said. The school board is appointed by the governor, although Sen. Brian Pettyjohn and Rep. Ruth Briggs King will be sponsoring legislation to make all vo-tech school boards electable. The number of board members would match the number of county council numbers (five in Sussex).

School districts can only collect taxes in their geographic area, but Sussex Tech’s students come from across the whole county, a larger range.

Plus, “Any coursework at Sussex Tech is a vo-tech education course and is entitled to additional [vo-tech funds],” Miller said.

All schools receive certain funds per class. But Tech also receives special federal vo-tech funding for every single class, including math and English.

Indian River and other regular school districts only get vo-tech funds for classes like nursing, accounting, graphic design or agriculture.

When it comes to funding, dollars follow the student. But the official count is Sept. 30 each year.

“They keep the dollars if they send child back to the home school after Sept. 30,” Miller said.

Principals Bennett Murray and Jay Owens estimated six to ten students return to the high schools each year after Sept. 30, so that funding remains at Tech. After beginning school, Murray said students rarely leave IRHS for Tech.

In other news:

• The board unanimously passed Policy IKE – Promotion & Retention, which requires high school students to earn an additional half-credit each year, and two additional full credits for graduation, beginning with the Class of 2018.

• The Buildings & Grounds Committee is considering the high schools’ request for Bermuda grass on athletic fields, which costs about $200,000 and requires special mowers. But it could be longer-lasting and lower maintenance, and this is the last district in the Henlopen Conference without turf or Bermuda Grass, Layfield said.

• B&G is still considering a series of cellular communications towers and is making a final push for construction approvals for 38 new classrooms at six school buildings.

• Despite a few concerns, the extra 30 minutes daily for weather make-up days got “overwhelming support” from teachers, said J.R. Emanuele, president of IR Education Association. He thanked administrators for working on individual scheduling conflicts.

• Schools statewide are warily anticipating a new framework for judging school progress, Susan Bunting reported. Schools will likely ask for a year to pilot the new method, which examines student growth and proficiency, originally used by charter schools and now replacing the “Adequate Yearly Progress” system.

• Students and staff were recognized, including Brett Buchler, Delaware’s VFW Middle School Teacher of the Year; Heather McCabe, helping teachers with Common Core through Delaware Dream Team; and student winners for other statewide competitions.

• During public comments, Mike Murray spoke about Traumatic Brain Injury Support Group for those who have suffered a brain injury or concussion. Such injuries are common, yet unique and extremely harmful, but he said Sussex is behind on support, so he hopes to create a bond with the schools.

• Former paraprofessional and mentor, Maria Johnson wanted to encourage the board “to maintain religious freedom in the schools.”

The next School Board meeting is Monday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at Indian River High School.

Committee meetings are at IR Education Center in Selbyville on Monday, April 14: Curriculum at 3:15 p.m.; Policy at 4:30 p.m.; Buildings & Grounds at 6 p.m.; and Finance at 7 p.m.