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Sutherland for Schools blog

Long wait lines remain for GSPOC programs

by Ann Sutherland on 10/17/14

In February 2014 we had 2,133 children on our wait lists for our GSPOC programs.  This fall, at the end of the first six weeks, there were still 1725 waiting.  

Dr. Meng says that in many cases we can't expand them because there are no facilities, although we will be opening another Early College High School at TCC South next year.  

Here is the list of programs with over 100 children on wait lists as of the end of the first six weeks of school:

Paschal Engineering 105
Trimble Tech Culinary Arts 107
Trimble Tech Health Sciences 159
J.P.Elder Academy of Science & Art 158
Applied Learning Academy 49
Stripling TABS Prep 144
Alice Carlson 190
Daggett Montessori K-8 158
Dagget Montessori Middle 110
     Total waiting list  1725

Number of out-of-compliance classrooms is growing . . .

by Ann Sutherland on 10/17/14

Adding $21 million to support staff rather than using funds to keep class sizes low is having the expected consequences.  Here is the report for grades K-4.

In 2011-12                 194 classrooms were out of compliance
In 2012-13                 114      "    (though I have a document saying 246)
In 2013-14                 218      "
For 2014-15               302

Staff says a major problem is the absence of available classrooms.  

Staff walks back commitment to maintain sufficient savings

by Ann Sutherland on 10/17/14

Refusing to repeat what she had told a board member twice on different occasions, acting CFO Elsie Schiro on Oct 14 refused to say that the revised budget being presented to the board on November 11 will contain sufficient reserves over three years to avoid audit flags, leading to possible layoffs after the district added 300 new staff and $21 million in new programs in the current year's budget.


State guidelines recommend two to three months' spending reserves, or approximately $16-$25 million.  Based on this years increased spending of $21 million, our previous projections and the losses relating to the overcounting of English language learners the previous three years, our reserves are  projected to drop to dangerously low levels.

What bothers me the most is that she assured me twice that this would not happen.  It only came to light on Tuesday because I asked her to verify it in public.  

Another example of staff not telling the truth.


Testing madness is metastasizing. This is unbelievable

by Ann Sutherland on 10/17/14

I received this post which is too important to append to a previous item.


Thanks Dr. Sutherland for the support that you has always offered to our        
community.
Testing Madness is also affecting our Pre-Kinder Students!
I have taught PK for over six years in the FWISD. Three times a year we have been     
assessing our students in different areas (letter recognition and sounds,       
phonemic awareness, rhyming,onset rhyming, Math, early writing and observables  
that included emotional and social behavior. The assessment is conducted online 
with the child next to us and it normally took 45 minutes. This year the        
assessment has increased drastically. Today I tested one student in two         
sessions as a 4 year old attention spam is so short and each area to be         
assessed had a least 7 to 8 questions each. It took over an hour and thirty     
minutes. This year teachers are required to assess Science, Social Studies and  
other areas that was not part of the assessment before. Unfortunately I need to 
spend 20 days testing my 22 students and that means that my small group         
instruction has to suffer. Immediately after the assessment window ends on Nov  
15 I need to assess letters and sounds to all the students as this assessment   
does not assess all the letters of the alphabet, which I am required to assess  
for the report card due in 5 weeks!.  After 15 minutes my students are rolling  
their eyes and feel overwhelmed. Below you can see the areas that our district  
required teachers to assess and dates. I am truly concerned that this testing   
madness is affecting our youngest ones too.  
FWISD – CIRCLE Assessment Administration Dates

Assessment Dates
1 - BOY	October 15 – November 15
2 - MOY	January 15 – February 15
3 - EOY	April 15 – May 15


Measures	District Required

Direct Measures		
Rapid Letter	X	
Rapid Vocabulary	X	
Phonological Awareness	X	
Mathematics	X	
Science	X	
Social Studies	X	
Story Retell		Optional
Letter Sound Correspondence	X	
Observables		
Social and Emotional	X	
Book and Print	X	
Early Writing	X	
Approaches to Learning		X
Physical Health & Development		Optional

REVISED: Our curriculum department has 558 staff, plus . . .

by Ann Sutherland on 10/13/14

558
Thanks to the member of my kitchen cabinet who counted all the staff in the Leadership, Learning and Student Support department this week:  558, plus another 317 nurses, health assistants and Adult Education teachers who formally report to LL&SS.  There are also 20 vacancies.  This is the list in the official FWISD organizational chart.  

These people have to have something to do, so this is probably one of the reasons we are testing every three weeks and having all those staff development workshops.

We have one person whose job is to solicit and organize contributions to the United Way, and another one in charge of the Reading is Fundamental program, for which federal funding no longer exists.  I'm told that this person is currently trying to get elementary PTA organizations to send in $25 per school.

PS Thanks also to kitchen cabinet member Reed Bilz who analyzed the opinion on the legality of our SCAs.  

Complaint filed with TEA

by Ann Sutherland on 10/12/14

I've filed complaint with TEA over our continuing use of SCAs.  Also possible problem with legal opinion. 


TAMSA member recommends I also talk to the legislator who authored the setion of HB 5 which prohibits multiple tests; I will do this.

Lege looks into SCAS

by Ann Sutherland on 10/10/14

I've asked our staff for a legal opinion on the SCA projects.  I finally got a response on Thursday; she says"benchmark assessment instruments for purposes of Section 39.0263 of the Texas Education Code.  Although the statute is rather ambiguous, until there is a legal challenge where a judicial body makes a definitive ruling, the District must rely on the legal opinion of counsel and the interpretation by the administration."   


BTW,  I received a copy of a letter written by FWISD staff for a board member which incorrectly defined "benchmarks" as long tests (HB 7 defines them as any central-office required test which is designed to evaluate student preparation for the STAAR).

This morning, I spoke with staff to Jimmie Don Aycock, TX House Education Chair.  He assures me that the Lege does not want our schools spending their time giving tests; they want the children to have time to learn.  (Reassuring, isn't it!!). As he said, "They have to follow the law."


Agenda available--class size waiver application incl.

by Ann Sutherland on 10/09/14

The October 14 agenda and backup material are now available on the data tab.


Included on page 74 (or thereabouts) are the class size waivers.  They are listed by teacher.  There are hundreds.
We will be discussing the laws surrounding the bond projects in executive session.

"Load SCA scantrons in smal batches"

by Ann Sutherland on 10/02/14

As teachers are administering SCAs again today, I have advice from our IT department:


Dr. Navarre writes, "[system crashes were due] to the uploading of SCA's in extremely large batches (750 at a time) and the 3rd party vendor that processes the data was being overloaded.  I was told that the solution was to upload smaller batches, hit the upload button, wait about 3 seconds and continue."

From what I heard at the community meeting this week, the problem is much larger than this, as crashes are happening repeatedly.  But maybe this little bit will help.  I hope so.

District will loosen controls over operation of schools--though slowly

by Ann Sutherland on 09/29/14

I am hopeful that our 140 schools will have more freedom to operate in ways they think will work better than some of the strictures imposed by our division of Leadership, Learning and Student Support in the coming months.


Interim Superintendent Linares has agreed that campuses that are operating successfully as measured by the STAAR tests and, presumably, the major provisions of our Baldridge system, should be able to discuss their wishes with  Deputy Superintendent Dr. Sorum and Chief Sherry Breed.  

This is an important first step in our need to return much control to the school site.  

A second step will be review of the Short Cycle Assessments following their next administration October 2 and 3.

$1 million for each high school can be spent for artificial turf--or other athletic purpose

by Ann Sutherland on 09/29/14

At a recent meeting the FWISD board voted to amend the bond plan as it relates to a provision allocating $1 million to each high school for improved field houses.


As approved by the voters, the funds were restricted to improved field houses.  We expanded the possibilities for each high school when we learned that some high schools had field houses that were larger than provided for in the bond; our vote made it possible for each high school to spend its funds more effectively.

Some high schools are considering spending $800,000 of the funds for artificial turf, which will enable them to use the fields more and require less maintenance and "recovery time".

Although the board retains some control via our policy of approving all contracts over $50,000, I do not foresee our turning down requests for artificial turf.

Reply to question about district size

by Ann Sutherland on 09/25/14

We have an enrollment of approximately 86,200 children, an increase over the previous year, according to the latest data.  We are funded for 94.7% of these children which is pretty respectable (that's why teachers get hounded about attendance).  Funding for each of these is about $7800 after all the weights are added for extra needs.  (It was an error in the weightings that caused the need to return the $37 million to TEA).


Here is the latest dropout data for FWISD; it is for 2012-13.
  
Grade spanDropoutsStudentsRate (%)
Grades 7-86212,3860.5
Grades 9-1280420,8733.9
Grades 7-1286633,2592.6
 

Promethean boards and laptop report

by Ann Sutherland on 09/23/14

I received the report on promethean board and laptop refresh  and install yesterday afternoon after my fourth request.


On the refreshing:

87 were done before school started
53 were done the first week of school
33 were done the second week of school
55 done the 3rd week of school
75 done the 4th week of school.

The district has now ensured that every one of our 4300 operating classrooms has an operating laptop and Promethean board.  All teachers have access to FOCUS and know how to take attendance.    None of this was done before school started, though, and it wasn't completed until the end of the third week of school.

Thanks to Kyle Davie and Dr. Becky Navarre for getting this report completed and the job finished.







Opinion requested on legality of short cycle assessments / also expenditures

by Ann Sutherland on 09/22/14

I have asked for an opinion from our attorneys on the legality of these short cycle assessments.  Our attorneys usually support the administration (and the 8-1 board vote . . . ) on these tests but I am hopeful.  


Dr. Sorum himself stated that the purpose of the tests was to prepare students for the STAAR in a memo last summer to me.  He wrote,

“Short cycle assessments are intended to be formative assessments.  Formative assessments “inform” teachers about the effectiveness of the teaching of the TEKS of a particular grade level.”—M. Sorum

Also I have asked for a comparison of the costs of our curriculum department in 2006 compared to today.  

Agenda and board book for 9-23 meeting now online

by Ann Sutherland on 09/19/14

You can find this at the "data" tab on this website.  The agenda is short.