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December 6, 2012

MELIN: Work being done at Greater Clark

JEFFERSONVILLE — It is hard to believe December is here and that so much has happened in Greater Clark so far this school year. I thought it would be a good time to make our staff and parents aware of key priorities we have been addressing.

First of all, we have begun an extensive strategic planning process that involves more than 90 Greater Clark County constituents working to develop an action plan that will drive our school system academically and operationally over the next several years. The committee, which consists of students, teachers, staff members, administrators, parents, post-secondary administrators, governmental leaders and business leaders, has completed a SWOT analysis which has identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

The committee has begun developing an action plan to address those areas in terms of student achievement and instruction, finance, facilities and technology, and public relations/marketing. It is our hope the committee will finish developing the action plan by the end of March and present it to our school board for its review. The strategic plan will provide a blue print for our school system focusing on continuous improvement and accountability.

Another major focus area has been to address our budget. Due to severe reductions in state revenue over the past several years, expenditures are still exceeding revenues in our general fund by almost $2 million. As a result, our central office team has begun the process of identifying ways to reduce expenditures and, in fact, has already made some expenditure reductions. Because 92 percent of our general fund budget pays for salaries and benefits, our central office team has begun a staffing analysis to determine how we can reduce staffing costs with minimal impact on quality. Like most families, organizations, and businesses in America today, we must find a way to balance our budget. Because of contractual obligations to our administrators and teachers that carry well into 2013, our plan is to balance our general fund budget by the end of 2014.

In terms of academics, our state letter grades were recently released. It is important for our staff, parents, and community members to understand the letter grades are a reflection of student performance on state assessments and the amount of growth by our students on state assessments from spring of 2011 to spring of 2012. We are very proud of our school system’s improvement in state assessment passage from 2009 to 2012, almost doubling the state average increase in passage on the language arts and math assessments over that time span. Unfortunately, that significant improvement in academic achievement is not fully reflected in the state’s new letter grade system. In analyzing how we can improve our state letter grade, we have found that improving the performance/growth of less than 2 percent of our students can move Greater Clark from its current “C” grade to an “A.”

To become an “A” school system, we are doing the following:

1. We are continuing to enhance our curriculum, instruction, and assessment system that identifies the most important standards students must learn and assesses students on a regular basis to assure they have learned those standards. This system, called Goal Clarity, has been integral in our school system’s tremendous improvement in academic achievement over the past three years.

2. Throughout the fall, a group of teachers and administrators have been developing a program that is designed to address individual student needs in reading and behavior. This program, called IMPACT, has been approved by our school board and will be implemented second semester. In terms of reading, all students K-12 will be assessed in terms of their reading skill and plans will be developed for students to enrich their reading skills whether they are low, middle, or high level readers. Plans for some students will be customized to better meet their needs. In those cases, individualized plans will be put in writing, monitored every two weeks, and reviewed every eight weeks. A similar process will be followed for those students who struggle in terms of their behavior in school. Specific qualifying criteria has been established and students who qualify for assistance will receive intervention that may be placed in writing and will be regularly monitored and reviewed. Our school system has made great strides in improving academic achievement over the past three years; however, to go to the next level, we must make every effort to individualize instruction for as many students as possible and the IMPACT program is designed to accomplish that goal.

3. A goal that we have established this year is for every graduate to be accepted to a post-secondary program, e.g., four-year college, two-year college, apprenticeship program, military, etc. To help make that goal a reality, we have begun looking at a College and Career Readiness initiative to help make education more relevant for all students. We are proud of the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses, and we have also been working with Ivy Tech to greatly increase the number of dual credit opportunities for our students. Dual credit allows our students to take designated courses with their teachers at their schools, while also receiving college credit that is transferable to any Indiana college or university. We have also been working on requiring all 9th graders next year to take a careers’ class that will teach students a goal-setting process and introduce them to potential career paths that will help guide their post-secondary decisions. We want every graduate to be prepared for life after high school and become successful, contributing citizens.

To help us track our progress in meeting our goals, by Christmas, we plan to introduce a “Data Dashboard” at both the school and corporation levels. The dashboards will be posted in buildings and available to the public through our website.

We are fortunate to have a highly talented and dedicated staff that cares deeply about the success of our students. We also have parents who want the very best for their children, and a community that highly values education. A key to the success of our community, our state, and our nation is a quality education for all students. I am confident, working together, we can accomplish that goal.

— Dr. Andrew Melin is superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools. Reach him by email at amelin@gcs.k12.in.us

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