Superintendent Russ Pickell gave an extensive update to the Board of Education and an unusually full audience of parents and Flat Rock teachers.
Flat Rock School Transportation
Transportation for the first week of school went fairly smooth. Some of the transportation highlights:
- Transportation was timely (big improvement over last year)
- Bobcean Elementary was a bit congested due to the Evergreen Rd construction
- Barnes Elementary and Simpson Middle School tried a couple of drop-off/pick-up configurations
- Pre-school is a significant problem, but should be addressed in two weeks
Increasing Class Sizes in Flat Rock Schools
Superintendent Pickell pro-actively addressed the question of increasing class sizes with these averages:
- Kindergarten – 16-17/23-24
- 1 – 26
- 2 – 26
- 3 – 30
- 4 – 27-28
- 5 – 33
- 6 – 33 (with occasional 37-38 and elective may be higher)
- 7 – 30
- High School – 35 (with max of 40)
One of the explanations offered for the rise in class sizes was the difference between the student count projected in the January budgeting process, of 1809 and the actual first day count of 1926. The first opportunity to adjust this number is September 23, 2009–initial count day for 2009-2010 school year.
Most of the remaining discussion around class size from Superintendent Pickell and during the public question period continued to return to Proposal A and the Michigan methodology for funding public education. Superintendent Pickell urged the public to petition their State Representatives and Senators.
Flat Rock Community School Drop-out Rate
Despite a dramatic plunge in the graduation rate at Flat Rock High School, from 92% to 75% there was little discussion of this problem.
Superintendent Pickell discarded the measurement as immaterial based on three arguments:
- Our population is transient (lots of children moving in and out of the district)
- The CEPI measurement does not accurately account for students moving or being home schooled
- It is a measure of the parents and the community, not the schools
I wasn’t satisfied with brushing off a State measurement so I did a little investigating. One brief phone call to CEPI revealed that most of the accountability for accurately reporting “Transfers Out & Exempt” falls to the District. If you are unhappy with the numbers, or a student doesn’t request records, or you think a student is being home schooled the documentation to appeal that number is pretty liberal.
Some examples (from a long list) of acceptable documentation:
- Letter signed by the parent noting the transfer or home schooling
- Letter signed by a neighbor with knowledge of a move or transfer
- Student is reported by another district
That puts the first excuse on the District to report or at least properly appeal. I agree with Superintendent Pickell that there were a lot of auto workers losing jobs this last year, forcing them to move for work. Many of them were my neighbors. The fix is simple–create a process to document those transfers on exit.
As for number two. the definition of “Transfers Out & Exempt” is pretty clear that it does account for these scenarios:
“Total number of students who transferred out of the district, building, or public school system cohort (out of state, to non-public school, or home-school) at any time during the five-year period and did not return. Deceased students are also exempt.”
Finally, for number three I think this is why this vote for the Board of Education is so important. It is time to vote for more transparency and parent involvement in the schools. Hopefully, by putting more information in the hands of the parents we can resolve any “community issues” preventing our high school students from graduating.
Successful Programs Underway to Combat Drop-outs
Superintendent Pickell did offer several programs that are helping to target and save true “at-risk” students. Here are the highlights he presented:
- Switch to trimester schedule, which accommodates technical skills courses
- Credit recovery system, which recovered 42 out of 43 students this summer
- Switch to formative assessment to remove parent accountability for homework
- Switch to formative assessment creates better differentiated learning environment
- Revamping of Downriver alternative high school
Future Bond Initiative Foreshadowed
The most concerning future issue of the night was Superintendent Pickell’s foreshadowing of the potential need for a “sinking fund” bond initiative. This would be a budgetary need to go to the community for more tax dollars. The projected budgetary short fall would be in the maintenance of the new technology put in place by the recent bond and to purchase new busses.
This “sinking fund” need is based on a pretty sure bet that the State reduces the current per student funding over the next several years.
Sorry it took me so long to write up these notes, but it was an information packed meeting with lots of public discussion. Hopefully this is a good demonstration of why this Board of Education election is going to be critical to our students, parents, teachers, and community.