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Sutherland for Schools blog

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.

Availability of desks and other classroom furniture

by Ann Sutherland on 09/17/14

Here is the update on student desks.  Principals should request the number they need pursuant to a secondary principal's memo.  If elementary schools also need desks please let me know.  Thanks again to Mr. Cavazos for the prompt response.


We do have pending requests for desks from South Hills HS…  Over the summer we did place over 800 desks and 1000 chairs at many of our elementary schools.  I will follow up with Dr. Sorum and Ms. Breed and a secondary principal’s memo to reinforce that broken desk replacements are available and can be requested.  We will receive 1/3 of the order next week; about 400 desks and 550 chairs.  Thank you for all you do for our FWISD students.

Readers comment on the first SCA

by Ann Sutherland on 09/16/14

I received a copy of the testing schedule today--fifth grade has 48 tests in English and 38 in Spanish--and on some days the teachers have to do BOTH tests.   (I didn't count the other grades.)


Here is the first comment.  Please feel free to add yours.

Reflections on the first SCA:
           What was supposed to be a 30 minute test ended up taking an hour and 
a half.  (This was for the 3rd  grade math test.)

           Because of the reordering of the curriculum, we taught Origo Module  
7 which covers graphing first, our students had not been exposed to many of the 
topics embedded in the test yet this year.  For example,  all ten questions     
required the students to add and subtract two digit numbers.  Although this was 
taught in 2nd grade, there has been no refresher on this in 3rd, because we     
taught the Origo Modules out of order.            

6 out of the 10 questions were “How many more questions.”  This made it a test  
less of graphing and more about subtraction comparison questions which has not  
been reviewed this year and is one of the most difficult concepts for students  
to understand.

About the bond vote on high school athletic facilities

by Ann Sutherland on 09/12/14

There has been some community concern about the FWISD board's vote to change the plans for the high school field house money contained in the bond.  As approved by the voters, the nearly $500 million proposal contained $1 million for each campus to construct a field house of some 5,000 square feet, a total of $14 million.


Most of the rest of the $500 million was based on a needs assessment designed to bring each campus up to a set of designated standards.

However thorougly the needs assessment was conducted, after the community approved the bond, it became clear that requiring every campus to spend the money on a 5,000 square foot field house just didn't make sense.  Northside High School, for example, already has a field house of 9,200 square feet.  In other cases, campuses already had 5,000 square ft. field houses. 

Clearly, we could be better stewards of the public money than to go ahead with the plans as they were approved.

Ultimately it's the board's responsibility to spend money wisely.  We had a choice between leaving the requirement in place and wasting a lot of the $14 million,or removing the requirement, allowing the individual high schools to change the plans to fit their particular needs.  

Voters can justly criticize the board for failing to exercise sufficient oversight over this portion of the bond (although I can tell you that it's pretty hard to avoid any errors of this type in a big project), but once the bond was voted on, I think we did the right thing in ensuring that the money is spent for the most needy purposes.

I hope most readers agree.


District's best kept secret: Exec sessions aren't confidential

by Ann Sutherland on 09/12/14

We all have our suspicions that the district doesn't always tell us all the facts on a given issue.  But even board members who had been in office decades seemingly have been kept in the dark about this one:  generally, our deliberations in executive session are available for public knowledge.


Thanks to a heads-up from a member of the local press, I checked with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (www.FOIFT.org) this week.  There is no legal prohibition against divulging what goes on behind those pesky closed doors, from what we had for dinner (not worth discussing, by the way), to what property we are considering purchasing.  There is one major exception:  in those cases when an issue is protected legally, as in lawyer/client advising, telling is off limits.

So the next time a reader wants to know about a topic, ask away.

But doesn't it make you wonder why we are paying those lawyers the big bucks to advise us, when they managed to "forget" this little bit of information for decades?

Agenda for special board meeting Monday September 15

by Ann Sutherland on 09/10/14

This meeting is to confer with our superintendent search firm, Ray & Associates, and to make decisions regarding the process of selecting a new superintendent.  Public comment will be available.


Note that the meeting begins at 5 p.m.  The agenda is on the "data" tab.

Answer to question on selling pizza

by Ann Sutherland on 09/09/14

A  reader asked, "How is it that high schools like Paschal, can sell pizza from Mama's pizza at lunch when the federal standards do not allow it? Kids will choose this instead of the cafeteria lunch. Can you please research this and get back to us before we come before the entire board. Thank you."


Mr. Cavazos replied as follows:

Dr. Sutherland thank you for alerting us to this concern – the issue is complex and is changing as we speak – In this particular case the campus did reach out to our food service department prior to the sale of the items to ensure that the items were in compliance.  The nutritional data provided by the campus at the time, was incomplete, but it seems the booster club started the sales prior to final review.  Mr. Glenn Headlee, CNS (child nutrition services) director has already visited with this campus principal and will work with them to correct the problems. 

 

Changes are coming:

We are reviewing new rules just published on the August 29, 2014 Texas Register (pg 63), effective September 1, 2014 so we can determine how they impact our current operation, particularly at high schools.  The new rules create a “time and place” restriction for high schools– (unless the local policy overrides the state standard).  Prior to this, high schools had to comply with a “place” rule only; middle schools and elementary schools had “time and place” requirements.  The old rules allowed high schools to sell these items as long as it did not occur at the same “place” as the cafeteria meals – primarily the cafeteria.  Below is a brief summary of the issue – please advise if you have questions or concerns.

 

1.       Texas Department of Agriculture rules and board policy FFA spell out what is acceptable at our schools

2.       CNS in collaboration with school administration monitor campus sales of competitive foods (pizza and others in question)

3.       The CNS department was alerted to the desire to sell this pizza and other items by this campus

4.       Using a calculator (available to the public at www.squaremeals.org) and other tools CNS determined that the information provided on the items was incomplete

5.       The campus believing since the pizza is “whole wheat” meant it met standards began selling the pizza

6.       You notified us of this concern

7.       Mr. Headlee has visiting with the campus administration and together they will be addressing the issue

8.       Due to changes in the rules – the district is in the process of either implementing the new state standards or bring forth board policy recommendations (TASB has notified our offices)

 

I hope this helps… 

Thanks

Art Cavazos

 

Agenda and backup material now available

by Ann Sutherland on 09/04/14

The agenda and backup material is now available at the SutherlandforSchools.org "data" tab.

FWISD to suspend $5.4 million contract with TNTP

by Ann Sutherland on 08/28/14

Some months ago, trustees approved a controversial contract with TNTP to help us locate and train teachers, especially bilingual teachers, and to reorganize our Human Capital Management program.  This contract will now be suspended pending the wishes of our new superintendent.   This change will save $1 million per year.

Here is the rollout for the High School students' laptops

by Ann Sutherland on 08/27/14

The first five pilot schools, (South Hills, Northside, Eastern Hills, Dunbar and Western Hills) will get them 2nd semester, followed by the next five the following semester and the balance 2nd semester next year. 


Thanks to Kyle Davie for this information.