By JEROD CLAPP
JEFFERSONVILLE — This is the second in a series of Q&As with local school superintendents.
In his second year as superintendent at Greater Clark County Schools, Andrew Melin has implemented a number of initiatives across the district, and some of them are already getting results.
In the biggest rollout in Clark and Floyd counties of a 1:1 initiative — putting computers in the hands of every student — the district has a number of challenges and advantages at its hands. Melin talked to the News and Tribune about how he hopes to see his district transform this year.
You’ve put computers in the hands of every student in grades three through eight this year. Why now?
I think the biggest driving force was just that I believe that’s where education is going today. We may as well be at the forefront of it rather than falling behind others.
To me, our kids love technology, it’s second nature to them. When they’re not in school, they’re connected almost constantly. Why should we then, have them come to the schoolhouse and not be able to be around something that they’re very comfortable with? Let’s put kids in a position to learn using the tools they’re most comfortable using.
Your district had a couple of pilot 1:1 programs in Charlestown. What did you learn from those that you’ll apply to this more far-reaching initiative?
There were positives and negatives learned from that. When the technology was being actively utilized by teachers, the kids and the parents just loved it. But when the technology was not being used by teachers and stored in lockers as opposed to being used in every class, there was a breakdown. I think there was an accountability piece that was missing where there were consistent expectations across both Charlestown Middle School and Charlestown High School. We have to make sure there are common expectations across the school system that these will be utilized pretty much on a daily basis by all teachers to some level and extent while we continue to train them, making them more comfortable and confident in the technology.
What kind of use are you seeing of the Chromebooks in classrooms now?
What we see happening is pretty much the technology is being used every day by every teacher in every subject. At an elementary level, the teachers are breaking those things out consistently throughout the day, maybe as they’re transitioning from one subject matter to another. They’re using them several times a day and what’s helping us is My Big Campus. Teachers can assign homework from there, students can access it and submit their homework, they can find resources there. I believe My Big Campus has helped facilitate, for all teachers, the ability to utilize the technology at least to that extent.
What kind of progression do you expect to see in Chromebook use from the beginning to the end of the school year?
I think the utilization of the Chromebook will continue to increase on a weekly basis. Teachers, as they become more comfortable with it, will be using them more and more throughout the year. If we were to track, which we will, utilization of My Big Campus and Google, we’re going to try to put some metrics together for utilization. I would hope that our teachers will use more creative types of assignments, putting kids in collaborative environments with project-based learning. I think those are all things that as we’re trying to move forward, are all important aspects. By the end of the year, my hope is that the Chromebooks will be on and used every minute of every day. We also want less and less paper being utilized. Within three years, I hope there’s no paper exchanging hands between teachers and students.
Schools still don’t have their ISTEP+ scores. What have you done to make sure kids are progressing or getting the interventions they need?
It gives a you a sense of where kids are at a given point in time. We’ve got so many other assessments that we’ve built into our district that gives us a more frequent idea of how our students are doing.
That’s why ISTEP, although it’s important, it’s not vital to what we do as a school system because it’s just a snapshot in a given timeframe in terms of how students are performing in certain content areas. We have this IMPACT program where 2,700 students in our district last Spring benefited from it. That was based upon looking at skill deficiencies in reading or content knowledge where they’re struggling.
Already, we’ve used that data we learned from last spring and have kids placed in our IMPACT program already. We also showed out of 2,700 students, 34 percent of those students improved out of their tier where they didn’t need to get the same level of intervention, which demonstrated that it works.
We’d like to exceed those results and we hope they’re positive, but we think we have a pretty good indication of our how our students are doing based upon these assessments and the IMPACT program.
With the statewide push on getting students ready for jobs right out of high school, how is Greater Clark fostering that?
I believe it’s even bigger than what you’ve just stated. To me, it’s our job to make sure every student is college and career ready. If a student is striving to become a surgeon, it’s our job to give them that foundation so they can qualify to go to their school of choice. It’s also important that they are at a level of skill where they can work to become a surgeon. If we have students that want to become plumbers, welders or HVAC experts, then we also need to make sure that those kids have the opportunity to develop those skills.
This year, we really started to kick this in, but our goal is for every student to identify, as early as sixth grade, what possible career path they’re interested in. That can change every week, but the goal is that every student has a path that they’re on so that their academic progress and electives that they’re in, connecting to businesses or having speakers come in or do job shadowing.
Eventually, we want our students to have internships in those professions of choice before they graduate. It’s our job to make sure all of our students are accepted into a post-secondary opportunity. Last year, 87 percent of our students were accepted. Our goal is 100 percent, but last year was the first year we put that goal on our schools. To me, this is real data. It’s not what you’re interested in doing, it’s what you’ve been accepted to do.
How do you feel about your budget in the next school year?
It’s important to note that our cost-cutting measures aren’t all on our teachers’ backs. We know how important they are and how valuable they are, but the fact remains that in terms of all of our job classifications, our teachers is the group that takes up a lot of our budget. What we’ve done with our expenditure reductions as well as some revenue that came in, we think our general fund may end the year in the black.
When I came in, it was anticipated we’d be $2.5 million in the hole. That federal impact aid is good, but that’s one-time money. We still have to have these other expenditure reductions that will fully kick in during ’14. By the end of ’14, we should be well into the black. Tom Dykiel needs to be given a lot of credit for the work he’s done to look across the whole corporation. Sometimes, it’s a matter of saving $5,000, sometimes it’s saving $700,000. Because of his experience and his knowledge, he’s been able to maneuver us and put us in a far better financial position.
Ultimately, our people have not had any kind of raises for many years. One of my goals is that when it comes time to negotiate new contracts in July 2015, it’d be nice to have some money so we can give our employees some kind of increase. I don’t know what that would look like, but giving them anything would be better than what they’ve received in the last several years.
What about your K-12 literacy framework? What’s going on there?
We want to make sure there’s a systematic approach to reading and writing in our district. Students need to be reading in every subject every day and they need to be writing regularly, too. At least every week.
We have certain expectations we’ve laid out to our teachers to make sure our students’ literacy scores become more highly competent. Our whole second semester last year, we worked on this and we’re implementing it this year.
How do you feel about the rest of the school year now that you’re a month in?
To me, it’s really exciting that we’re trying to be progressive and trying to put a lot of great programs in place for kids, But now the challenge is making sure we’re doing a good job of implementing all of those initiatives. We’re monitoring them and holding everyone accountable to make sure that we’re doing a good job.