The Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board had their regular meeting on May 10th, the video is available online and the agenda and documentation are available in board docs on the school district’s website. It was a long meeting with three focus topics running over 3 hours long.
Student representative report
- There was a recap of SRS cares activities.
- There was information about SRS spirit wear.
- NPE staff thanked the community for teacher appreciation week.
- WES had a number of positive reinforcement activities for being safe, respectful and responsible.
- Students are completing their second week of PSSA testing
- Students in the high school will soon be running for student council.
- Plans for the end of year events for seniors are being finalized.
- The school’s production of the Secret Garden is online (but I heard later that it has been cancelled).
- On May 1st the school held a vaccination clinic for students 16+ years old. 70% of eligible students were vaccinated, with the follow-up shot on May 22nd.
- A survey of parents of 12-15 years old indicates 65% are interested in vaccination once Pfizer receives approval for that age range.
- The school district is meeting with the Chester County health department to discuss relaxing mitigation rules. State rules will be relaxed on May 31st.
- There was a court hearing regarding noise from King Field in the case brought by one of the school’s neighbors.
Focus topic 1: WSSD virtual school
The school district has developed a plan for offering an online school option without organizing it internally like they did with this year’s on-line academy. The plan presented by district staff was to partner with Edmentum. Edmentum gave a presentation regarding their offerings. District students would be able to sign up for Edmentum and go to school online. This would be the same as going to a school out of the district, if students wish to move back to the district’s schools they would be evaluated as if moving into WSSD from outside the district. The teachers and curriculum would be completely separate from WSSD’s. Students in Edmentum schools would be able to attend extracurricular events and activities in the district though.
There will be a June information session for families interested in this online option. Edmentum would offer live, online classes, much like the online academy as well as multiple options for students to reach out to teachers. Class sizes would be much larger than WSSD’s online academy with elementary teachers handling up to 50 children and high school up to 200 students. The teachers would not be union teachers, and due to the need to scale up in the past year most of Edmentum’s teachers are part-time. One particularly strange question from the board was whether Edmentum’s teachers were mandated reporters and the presenters from Edmentum didn’t know what that meant, which was alarming.
The cost to the district is $95,000, which seems to include fees of $2500-3000 per student. In the later discussion approving the contract, Kelly Wachtman, who cast the only no vote, sought to include performance mandates in the contract with Edmentum, but was unsuccessful. The board went ahead and voted to approve the contract with Edmentum 5-1 in the meeting they introduced it.
Focus Topic 2: K-2 English and language arts proposal
The district’s current K-2 literacy program is over 10 years old and now out of print. This year a team of teachers and administrators has pieced together options from multiple systems to present a new and unique K-2 literacy program. The presentation discussed the fundamentals of reading education for young children and they presented their choices for the new curriculum, primarily from Fountas and Pinnell, though also including material from Heggerty and Geodes. Some of this material is already used in WSSD in more limited places. The material has a greater focus on diversity, with material coming from a variety of perspectives. The presentation also highlighted the importance of understanding context to reading and the new material teaches student facts in addition to teaching them to read.
The board later voted to approve this program, which will cost about $100k to implement in K/1 in the coming school year and $80k to implement for 2nd grade the following year. Again, this was approved in the meeting it was introduced.
Focus Topic 3: Proposed budget
Ms. Kew presented the proposed budget again. The numbers are now firming up. The finances for the current year are all over the map due to Covid, but large grants from the federal government has avoided the worst. The districts fund balance is expected to decline from $8.5 million to $6.3 million, indicating the district spent $2.2 million more than it took in this past year. Next year the budget indicates that a further $900,000 will be spent from the fund balance, indicating the district will continue to operate with a structural deficit. The budget calls for a 4.3% tax increase, or 1.116 mills in the new assessment. The budget will continue to be revised with a final vote due on June 28th.
Policy and regular business
There were two public comments, the minutes were approved and routine personnel items were approved. Ms. Kew is retiring, which is regrettable as I have found her one of the most accessible and helpful members of the school administration.
There were 32 items in policy, 16 from last time and an additional 16 new policy changes. Here are the 16 new policies (listed in more detail in Board Docs).
- 113.1 regards discipline of special education students and 113.4 deals with confidentiality of special education students. The reasoning given had something to do with state monitoring programs.
- 218.3 Action and placement regarding students convicted of sexual assault. This was presented as a required policy due to act 110
- 311 Reduction in staff, these changes were presented as bringing policy in line with state law.
- 314 Physical examination and 334 Sick leave – language introduced relating to communicable diseases (i.e. Covid).
- 317.1 Educator misconduct – changes related to Title 9.
- 318 Attendance and tardiness – Language changes due to Covid.
- 323 Tobacco and Vaping products and 904 – language added regarding selling these products on school property and at school events
- 328 Compensation plans and salary schedules. This is a new policy that has been recommended to the district for a long time.
- 332 Working periods. Changes made to account for school calendar changes (more Covid-related changes)
- 819 Suicide awareness, prevention and response. New policy due to act 71
- 906 Public complaints, changes required due to federal grants
- 907 Policy on school visitors – More covid changes to allow restrictions to visitors due to health issues.
- 913 Non-school organizations and groups – not sure the purpose of these changes.
The second reading of the policies presented last week were also passed. Changes were made to policy 808 regarding the school meals program which is much better, so thank you to everyone that wrote in concerning that and Kelly Wachtman for her response to my concerns.
Except the Edmentum contract discussed previously, the items in curriculum and finance passed without discussion.
School board vacancy
The school board heard from four candidates for the vacancy. At the last meeting the board said details would be forthcoming about how to apply for the vacancy. Apparently those details were posted somewhere on the school’s website instead of being announced at a board meeting.
The board heard from Mark Carroll, Rachel Holbert, Robert Kelly and Mary Jo Witkowski-Smith. Both Ms. Holbert and Mr. Kelly are candidates for another seat on the school board this fall. Ms. Witkowski-Smith is a former assistant principal of Strath Haven Middle and High school who is soon retiring from a long career in education. The board voted 6-0 to appoint Ms. Witkowski-Smith until December of this year. There will be a special election in November to fill the remaining 2 years of the term for this region 2 seat.