In October 2015, our District’s School Board of Directors approved the District’s Comprehensive Plan which will guide our work through the 2021 – 2022 academic year. Through the process of developing the plan, five priority areas were identified; one these areas is “effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders (parents, community members, business owners, tax payers).”
My administration and I understand that effective two-way communication is a necessary trait for success at all levels of education and that the success of our schools and of all the students we serve depends on outstanding communication by everyone. We know that year-round communication and meaningful parental and community involvement builds support for Boyertown Area School District’s schools and the students who fill their classrooms.
In the last 18 months, my team has worked towards achieving effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders in multiple ways, including:
Over the past few months, the importance of communicating accurately and in a timely manner has increased. As a school community we have, and will continue, to discuss important topics. We will also be developing the Boyertown Area School District’s budget which will guide our school community through the 2017 – 2018 academic year.
While I know that we will not always agree with our neighbor’s opinions, I am hopeful that we will respect the viewpoints of our neighbors. The children of this community, the students of the Boyertown Area School District, look to us to model strong civic participation. And it is the students of today who will be taking on leadership roles as contributing adult citizens in the near future.
I ask you to continue to share your viewpoint and your ideas, and to ask your questions, for the Boyertown Area School District only gets stronger with more voices being heard.
Job Embedded Learning Encourages Growth
Musicians and athletes rely on coaches, starting with the first time they pick up a bat, ball, guitar, or microphone. They rely on their coaches to inspire them to be the best they can be, to celebrate successes, and to encourage through the rough times.
For educators, coaching comes in the form of job-embedded professional development. A 2010 Issue Brief, written in collaboration with the Mid-Atlantic Comprehensive Center and the National Staff Development Council, defines job-embedded professional development as teacher learning that is grounded in day-to-day teaching practice and is designed to enhance a teacher's content-specific instructional practices with the intent of improving student learning.
As noted by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, recent research on professional development suggests that it is most effective when it includes components that are based in the school and embedded in the job. Additionally, high-quality job-embedded professional development is aligned with state standards for student achievement, as well the district's goals.
Over the years, educational experts have conducted hours of research and have written volumes describing what professional development for teachers should look like. The Standards for Professional Learning align with this research, calling for professional learning that is ongoing, embedded, connected to practice, aligned to school and district goals, and collaborative.
Here in the Boyertown Area School District, we know providing quality education that increases the achievement of every student starts with having a properly trained and motivated staff. In addition to a New Teacher Academy and an Induction Program, we provide our educators with job-embedded professional development in the form of instructional coaches.
The New Teacher Academy is a weeklong program that introduces newly hired staff to the core values of the district. Participants explore several important topics, including educator effectiveness, technology integration, collaboration, critical thinking, effective communication, and creativity. Experienced staff members support the new teachers through discussions, activities, and a special mentoring program that allows for continued support.
In addition to the New Teacher Academy, the Boyertown School District implements a three-year Induction Program for each newly hired teacher. The state requires school districts to offer one-year programs, so the district is unique in offering teachers a three-year Induction Program.
Beyond the Induction Program, teachers are required to earn 12 administratively directed hours of professional development each year. These curriculum-based sessions focus on refining their classroom practices and embedding technology into their daily teaching.
The district also provides instructional coaches who work one-on-one and in small groups to provide teachers with the guidance, training, and practical strategies for engaging students and improving learning; a job equivalent to Tiger Woods' swing coach. Instructional coaches provide support through an array of activities that are designed to build collective leadership and continuously improve teacher instructional capacity and student learning.
As noted by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, the principles of instructional coaching are grounded in research on effective professional development and professional learning communities. At the Boyertown, we have found our instructional coaches to be vital, not only in providing ongoing assistance to the faculty, but also in providing job embedded support. They work side-by-side with teachers to provide co-planning, co-facilitating of lessons, observing and providing constructive feedback, and providing encouragement teachers need to get supports up and running.
We are committed to fostering an environment that encourages professional growth and development for all employees, whether they are in their first year or their 21st.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has released the 2015-2016 Pennsylvania School Performance Profile, a tool designed to measure the academic progress of all public schools. It offers a web-based resource for school districts and individual schools to communicate performance results to various stakeholders.
The School Performance Profiles is designed to:
Looking at the results, Boyertown Area Senior High is ranked third in Berks County, Junior High West is first in the County, Junior High East is in the top five in the County, and three of the District’s elementary schools are in the top five in the County.
“We are extremely proud that while we have been able to keep our per pupil spending low, our district’s performance based on the School Performance Profile score is among the highest,” Dr. Greg M. Miller, chief student achievement officer, stated. “In fact, we have the highest-performing elementary school and the third-highest-performing high school in Berks County.”
Here in the Boyertown Area School District, we have a strong commitment to the continuous improvement and see the release of the newest information as an additional opportunity to reflect on the performance of each of our schools. Please be assured that we will be integrating this new information into our existing data analysis process to ensure we continue to improve.
As a school district, we are working to do everything we can to fulfill our mission ”to enable all students to succeed in a changing world.” We believe that we can best help students by being a high-performing school system. One of the key elements of a high-performing school system is the selection and development of teachers and leaders.
One of the most important jobs that we can perform is to fill each vacancy with people who are committed to providing excellence for the students of the Boyertown Area School District. We have developed a selection process that not only ensures that all candidates meet the District’s standards and policies for teaching, but that they fit in with the District’s culture.
When hiring new teachers, our Chief Human Resource Officer Mr. Steve Katch and building principals review credentials and develop the candidate pool. Interviews are conducted by panels, with the first round including Mr. Katch; Dr. Melissa Woodard, Chief Academic Officer; Dr. Greg Miller, Chief Student Achievement Officer; and building principals. For the second round of interviews, lead teachers and department leaders join the panel.
When hiring a new administrator, the district begins the process by scheduling focus groups with staff and parents to develop a profile of their desired candidate. Focus-group participants are also invited to propose interview questions.
Once members of the Humans Resource Department have narrowed the candidate field down to approximately 10 to 20 candidates, central administrators, along with representatives from the elementary and secondary levels, assist in ranking the candidates to develop a pool to be interviewed.
Administrator candidates, like teacher candidates are interviewed by a panel. In the first round of interviews, the panel includes teachers from the appropriate building, Board members, PTA members, and administrators. For the second round of interviews, panelists include central administrators, a director of special education, and principal(s) from the appropriate level (elementary or secondary). Finally, the selected candidate participates in a meet and greet with the Board of School Directors prior to Board approval.
I think you will agree that, while exhaustive, our process demonstrates the District’s commitment to finding the best people to work with our students—because every employee, regardless of role, serves as a role model for our students and has an impact on their lives.
It seems like just last week that we waved good-bye to students and prepared ourselves for a summer of professional development, summer cleaning, and curriculum work. In addition to these annual summertime activities, contractors continued to move the Boyertown Area Senior High construction project forward, while contractors worked on GESA (Guaranteed Energy Saving Act) projects at other buildings in the District.
Yes, it was a busy summer in the Boyertown Area School District. As September drew closer, the sounds of marching band and color guard rehearsal and fall sports practices filled the air at Boyertown Area Senior High. Our students prepared for their upcoming competitions and we were reminded that the first day of school was not too far away.
As I do every year, I rode a school bus on the first day of school with students. This year I boarded a bus with students headed to Junior High West and Boyertown Area Senior High. Although not demonstrating their excitement about the first day of school as explicitly as the elementary-aged students on other busses, there were smiles as they climbed on the bus for the first time this year.
I am proud to report that as we welcomed approximately 7,000 students, their teachers, and staff to the 2016-2017 academic year the Boyertown Area Senior High construction project, the cornerstone building of our district is on-budget and on-schedule. I am also happy to report that Phase II of the construction project was completed and ready for students on the first day of school. Phase II included transforming the 1920 high school building into the 9th Grade Academy; renovating the band, choral, orchestra, and music practice classrooms and the instrument storage rooms; renovating the locker and wrestling rooms; renovating the Bear Gym Lobby; and miscellaneous classroom renovations.
I wish you and your family a successful 2016-2017 school year, and I look forward to seeing you at any number of the wonderful school events throughout the year.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is credited with saying, “I maintained my edge by always being a student; you will always have something new to learn.” At the Boyertown Area School District, we believe that professional development—continual learning—is essential for supporting great teachers and paraprofessionals.
There are three ways teachers engage in professional development: the district’s Induction Program, administratively directed hours, and job-embedded learning.
Our school district offers a three-year Induction Program; the state requires districts to offer a one-year program. During the first year, teachers new to the Boyertown Area School District attend monthly meetings where they learn about the district and how to become an active member of the community, and spend time with a mentor. During the second year, elementary-level teachers participate in a writing academy while secondary-level teachers learn methods for integrating reading and writing into the content area. In the third year, the teachers choose a content area to explore in depth.
Beyond the Induction Program, teachers are required to earn 12 administratively directed hours. These curriculum-based sessions focus on refining their classroom practices and embedding technology into their daily teaching. Many of these sessions are offered during the summer months.
At the Boyertown Area School District, we believe that professional learning should be embedded in the job and ongoing. It is with this in mind that teachers are required to attend nine one-hour sessions throughout the school year. These sessions could include networking at the building level and analyzing student test data.
Professional development doesn’t just apply to the district’s teachers. Paraprofessionals in the district work with students who are struggling or students who have a disability. Like teachers, paraprofessionals are required to engage in and earn 20 hours of training related to their jobs. These hours can be earned through the Berks County Intermediate Unit or the PA Technology and Training Network, or by attending trainings offered by the district.
Joyner-Kersee was right that “you will always have something to learn,” and with ever-evolving technologies and practices, the Boyertown Area School District is committed to supporting the teachers and paraprofessionals who work with our students daily.
Boyertown Area School District to Transition to Middle School Model
Starting in September 2015, a group of administrators and teachers began meeting to discuss what transitioning the junior high school model to a middle school program would entail. During this time many questions concerning the schedule, programmatic offerings, staffing, and the physical buildings were considered. To help answer the multitude of questions, the team reviewed various pieces of information including input from teachers and parents of fourth and fifth grade students, the District’s priorities, and research from Hanover Research on best practices in middle school design that was prepared specifically for the Boyertown Area School District. And finally, in order to provide a transition of the sixth grade out of the elementary school and into the middle school, the committee also had to understand the current sixth grade time allocation.
This work resulted in the development of a middle school program that includes:
As we move forward to our goal of opening the doors to our two middle schools in the 2017-18 academic year there is still much work to be done. Teachers were surveyed to gauge their interest in teaching at the middle school or moving to the high school with the ninth grade students. Additional work will also be done around curriculum and professional development, as well as transition activity plans for incoming students.
We look forward to providing a middle school program that will enable our students to succeed in a changing world.
Understanding the Budgeting Process
As we work to develop the District’s 2016-2017 budget, I thought it would be helpful to provide an overview of the budgeting process. For more information on this process click on following link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72hP9HUQQ6w
When looking at the budgeting process it helps to start by first looking at the revenue side. Funding for public education comes from local, state, and federal sources. Traditionally, federal funding sources represent a relatively small portion of total education funding. For the Boyertown Area School District federal funding represents a little over 2% of the annual budget. Approximately 30% of the Boyertown Area School District’s revenue comes from the Commonwealth. This compares to an average of about 43% in other states. The balance of the Boyertown Area School District’s revenue, approximately 68%, comes from taxpayers in the form of various taxes including property tax, earned income tax, and local services tax.
For the Boyertown Area School District the four largest expenses are salaries, benefits, debt service, and transportation. It is important to note that these expenses are either contractually negotiated, such as teacher salaries and benefits, or are mandated by the State, including the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). For the 2016-17 fiscal year, the employer contribution rate will be 30.03%, up from 25.84% in 2015-16. The good news is that the state does provide a 50% subsidy to the Boyertown Area School District to offset the expense of the employer contribution. The net expense to the District next year is $1.3 million.
Another costly benefit for the Boyertown Area School District is health insurance. In 2010 the District made the decision to become self-insured. In becoming self-insured, the District collects its own premiums and is financially responsible for paying claims for medical and prescription expenses. Since becoming self-insured the District has been able to keep premium increases to the single digits. We anticipate a 5% or approximately $565,000, increase in the cost of health insurance for the 2016-2017 school year.
In October, the Boyertown Area School District’s Board of School Directors passed a resolution to not exceed the State’s Act 1 Index of 2.9%. If the District does raise taxes to this index, the total amount of revenue is estimated at $1.6 million. By doing this, the Board and Administration not only promised taxpayers that they would keep any tax increase to under 2.9%, they established a realistic timeline for developing the District’s 2016-17 operating budget considering the 2015-16 budget difficulties in Harrisburg. The preliminary budget is scheduled to be adopted by the Board by May 2016 with a 30-day community review period to follow. The final operating budget will adopted at the June 14 board meeting.
To help residents further understand the budgeting process, we will be creating a series of YouTube videos called Budget Basics. Links to these videos will be posted on the District’s website and Facebook page.
The Role of the Enrollment Committee
Chaired by the President of the District Board of School Directors, Mrs. Jill Dennin, the Enrollment Review Committee was established to study enrollment and the long-term needs at the elementary level of the Boyertown Area School District. The process that has been established will ensure that appropriate resources and information are provided, that community members are provided with the opportunity to provide input, and that options are presented to the board of school directors for careful consideration.
With the Boyertown Area Senior High School project nearing completion and the project at Junior High West moving forward, we saw this as a good time to examine the elementary level to ensure that we have all of the resources in place to provide a first-class elementary educational experience.
The committee began meeting in the fall of 2015, and meetings to date have included gathering information and reviewing key capital projects for each of the elementary school buildings. Information reviewed has included two research reports prepared by Hanover Research, attendance area information provided through the Transfinder system, the Feasibility Study, and the Demographic Report prepared by the Pennsylvania Economy League.
The committee’s next steps include visiting PTA/HSA meetings at each elementary school to provide a summary of findings to date and to solicit parent input. The committee’s goal is to present their findings and recommendation to the Board in the Fall of 2016.
The Enrollment Committee’s next meeting is Monday, March 7 at 7pm in the Board Room of the Educational Center. All meetings are open to the public.
If you are unable to attend the meetings in person, you can follow the progress of the committee by visiting the District’s website. There you will find meeting agendas, meeting minutes, handouts, and links to help you follow the work this committee is completing.
Understanding the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards
There is much confusion surrounding the implementation of the Common Core in Pennsylvania. In an effort to address the confusion, I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief overview of the Common Core Standards in Pennsylvania.
Originally called Academic Standards, Pennsylvania has had core standards for learning since the 1990s. After analyzing the national standards, a group of educators crafted the Pennsylvania Common Core State Standards, which were put into effect by the Legislature on March 1, 2014. The PA Core State Standards align to the National Common Core (about 85%). Adjustments were made to the National Common Core Standards by Pennsylvania to better fit the needs of Pennsylvania students.
The Pennsylvania Common Core standards are a set of rigorous, high-quality academic expectations for math and English that all students must have mastered by the end of each grade level. The standards are robust and relevant to the real world. The standards are not a curriculum nor do they dictate how teachers must teach in the classroom. Our teachers still have the ability to choose strategies that work with their specific students and the choice of curriculum materials used is still given to each local school district. Differentiating instruction remains a vital part of the progressive education program in Pennsylvania.
What the Pennsylvania Common Core provides is more emphasis on the focus of mathematical processes, coherence of topics within the grade level and rigor. Focus in the classroom is demonstrated by a student being able to think about explanations given for answers and deciding to agree or disagree with a logical argument. Coherence addresses the need for skills to be mastered before moving on to the next skill, and rigor is the hard work and practice required to make the concept fluent.
In Language Arts, a strong emphasis has been placed on more exposure and learning of non-fiction text. This does not mean the elimination of fiction, nor does it mean the scaling-back of fiction. It does mean that non-fiction text is more prevalent in math, science and social studies curriculum. Another instructional goal of the PA Core is to use evidence from literary and non-fiction text to answer questions.
In the Boyertown Area School District, we believe we are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet, and we believe that by utilizing the expertise of our professional educators to increase the level of rigor our students will be better prepared to compete in a global society.