A sample of 17 representatives of the community gathered at Plaza Diane last Thursday to discuss their opinions on Powell’s schools.
Issues ranging from technology in the classroom to student safety to the district’s grading system were brought up during the hour and a half luncheon.
The moderators asked those in attendance about the districts qualities and what concerns Powellites had with the local education system. Mardi Krenek, Marylou Banks and Leanne Barnett of Krenek Consulting moderated the forum.
Guests cited the district’s excellent teachers, infrastructure, community involvement and service to special needs students as some of its best assets, but the majority of time was spent on discussing areas in which the district could improve.
All eyes on iPads
The first point of contention came when the subject of iPads came up. The newly introduced educational tool was initially praised as “a real plus” before a plethora of concerns were raised.
The parents in the crowd wondered aloud how much the iPads are being used for learning and how much they’re just a new way for students to play games and distract themselves.
“They were not prepared (for the iPads),” Charisse White, owner of White Ink Printing & Design, said of the district.
White said parents have to pay $300 cost to replace their child’s iPad if it is broken. She acknowledged that the cases the district got this year seem to be helping keep iPads in good condition.
School District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell said in an interview with the Tribune that the iPads are just like any piece of school equipment, such as textbooks and uniforms, and students are expected to be responsible for them.
Mitchell said that he encourages parents to talk with their children each day about how iPads were used in school that day.
Mitchell said the iPads weren’t bought to be used everyday as the primary educational tool, but as a tool to supplement a teacher’s methods.
“I think if you asked on a daily basis what they’re being used for you might find out they’re being used around the district in a variety of ways,” Mitchell said.
He also said that a monthly presentation called the “iPad minute” is given at the first school board meeting of each month and discusses how the iPads are being utilized.
The freedom of use students have with iPads varies depending on grade level. There are very tight limitations at the elementary school level. Students at the middle school have more freedom but aren’t able to seek out and download new apps to their devices. High school students are trusted with the most freedom.
Powell Police Sgt. Matt McCaslin, the former school resource officer, said iPads could compound the issue of cyber bullying and White added that students say and do things with iPads and cell phones that they wouldn’t say and do in “real life.”
“If we think that we need to restrict it, we have the capability to do that. But this is a fine line of using emerging technology and trusting students,” Mitchell said. “Versus, because we’re afraid they might do something wrong we don’t let 500 kids have it. Because there’s a lot of kids using them for the right reasons.”
‘Alternative’ report cards at elementary schools
Much time was also devoted to the new, “alternative” method of grading at the elementary level.
Mitchell said the system took two to three years to put together before implementation and is to more accurately measures how students are performing in standards.
Parents at the meeting told the consultants that the new system, which deviates from standard letter grades and qualifies student achievement on report cards with words such as “developing,” “emerging” and “expanding” is vague and hard to interpret.
“After all of this measuring, there should be a specific number or percentage,” said Adrienne Harvey, occupational therapist at the Children’s Resource Center.
Mitchell acknowledged that there were bumps in the road when the new grading system was first adopted, and he said it’s not easy to change something that has been a staple in education for years.
Mitchell said it’s very difficult to tell parents “we’re going to show you a different way of (measuring) what your student knows and can do’” because everyone of this culture is so used to the old system.
Parents said attempts by teachers to explain the grading system have not cleared up the confusion.
Mitchell said parent trainings were offered when both the iPads and the standards report cards were first implemented.
Opportunities for improvement
Krenek Consulting met with district administrators Friday afternoon to report its findings of the previous three days.
There are seven areas in which Krenek Consulting measures performance and identifies potential “opportunities for improvement.” These are leadership, strategic planning, curriculum and teaching, stakeholder engagement, stellar people, effective and efficient operations and accountability.
Krenek said the district did well in leadership and was not considered an opportunity for improvement.
The district will work on getting information of its progress and direction to all stakeholders as a way to improve its strategic planning.
The iPads were brought up yet again when Krenek discussed the district’s curriculum and teaching. The district will continue to improve its use of technology. It was also expressed that more Spanish-speaking teachers would be beneficial for English language learners.
Stakeholder engagement reflects on the quality of the district’s communication with the community. Mitchell said the district wants to give everyone a voice and the district will work to improve on education.
Krenek Consulting recommended the district design a succession plan so that it can quickly find a quality replacement should a teacher or staff member leave on short notice. Mitchell said the district will have to conduct some research to create the best plan.
Powell’s school district made effective and efficient operations its primary goal after the 2009 consultation and it may do so again this time, Mitchell said. This goal will ensure administrative operations are done in a quick and productive manner.
Lastly, it was recommended the district improve its accountability by ensuring teachers are using student data based on reading, writing and math to inform their decisions.
Specifics regarding how to improve in these six areas and in what way they will be prioritized will be discussed at the Tuesday, Oct. 23 school board meeting. All school board meetings are open to the public.