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Springville-Griffith Institute board hears update on comprehensive district education plan

SPRINGVILLE — Springville-Griffith Institute High School Principal Vince Vanderlip presented the S-GI Board of Education with a report on the comprehensive district education plan initiative, focusing on an examination of the school dropout rate.

On Jan. 29, Vanderlip outlined a study the sub-committee has done, about the issue, and listed recommendations, steps already taken and needs the committee sees as being important.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Connelly noted that the study did not focus solely on high school students. “This is a systemic problem,” he said. “It does end up getting exasperating in high school, but there are early signs and lots of factors.”

Vanderlip said that an attempt was made to dial in on the demographic of students who were dropping out. A cohort of students’ entering high school in 2008 was studied, when calculating this research. Out of the 163 members of that class, 144 graduated, within the normal four years. Three additional students graduated this past August and another two completed high school, last week.

According to Vanderlip, 14 of the 2008 cohort are considered non-completers.

“We are still taking active steps to recover those students and help them,” he said. Three of those 14 students are still enrolled at the high school, three have completed their GEDs and eight total have ceased to pursue their high school degrees. Of those eight, four are male and four are female, according to Vanderlip. “The sole common thread in these students is divorce or single-parent households,” he said. “I’m not pointing to that as a reason, but I have to note the common thread.”

Per Vanderlip, these students’ completed credits range from 3.5 – 20. A student must earn 22 credits, to graduate.

“What we need to remember is that, if someone enrolls here for a single day, they are a member of that cohort, unless they transfer out,” Vanderlip said.

Another factor noted, when the Springville student numbers were compared to numbers in the East Aurora school district, was the idea of family assets.

Vanderlip recommended using data systems that support a realistic diagnosis of the number of dropouts and that help to identify students who are at a high risk of dropping out.

He also discussed assigning adult advocates to students who are considered at risk for dropping out, especially those at the freshman, sophomore and junior levels. “We need to talk to homeroom teachers about the different types of things we are looking for,” he said.

Vanderlip stressed going back to what is commonly called the “freshman academy model,” in which students are kept on teams, until at least the ninth grade. Those teams include teachers, principals, counselors, social workers, the school nurse and school psychiatrists, in addition to the young people. Students retain the same guidance counselor, throughout their high school careers.

“We want to make sure they get off to a good start,” Vanderlip said, about students’ entering high school. “Ninth grade is commonly referred to as the linchpin year. We can put the right kids in the right place, with this model.”

Another recommendation included the provision of academic support and enrichment, to improve academic performance. That suggestion referenced the same freshman academy model, which would allow students to team with their peers and others from school, through ninth grade.

Vanderlip also recommended implementing programs to improve students’ classroom behaviors and social skills. He also pointed out the need for a summer transition camp, which would focus on time management and coping skills, as ways to reduce students’ frustration. “All of us in education know that, when they’re overwhelmed, negative behavior manifests itself,” Vanderlip said. “But we still need to find a way to improve attendance.”

The personalization of learning environments and instructional processes was also recommended. Vanderlip said that students should be given the opportunity to complete internships, earlier than they currently are. “This is a vehicle for selling the importance of education; students can see the fruit of their labor,” he said. “I’d like to get them out there sooner and exposed to the types of careers they’re looking at.”

He added that the committee discussed the idea of reaching out the Springville Area Chamber of Commerce, to “drum up interest in businesses that would host students” and find out where in the community these young people could work.

The last recommendation was to increase rigorous and relative instruction, to “better engage students in learning and provide the skills needed to graduate and serve them, after they leave school.”

Board President Mel Williams asked Vanderlip why other local school districts can report 100 percent graduation success rates. “I find it hard to believe that East Aurora has 168 kids walk in September and walk across the stage in June,” Vanderlip said. “There are students in that eight [non-completer number] who have never walked into this building and who I have never even met.”

In another matter, Kevin and Connie Ploetz of Springville approached the board about an appeal they had made to the Transportation Appeals Committee, regarding the school’s decision to not allow the couple’s children to cross Route 39, when being dropped off at home. The bus currently passes the couple’s road, delivers other students to their homes, then circles back, to drop the Ploetz children off, on the same side of the road as their street.

Kevin Ploetz said that he sent a permission letter to the school, allowing the children to cross over Route 39 and be dropped off on the bus’s first pass, near his home. While this was done for a few days, the family was later informed that the request had been denied, due to “safety issues.”

Ploetz said that the additional 20 – 25 minutes of ride time incurred by the current route is not only inconvenient for his children, it causes headaches to his daughter. An appeal was made to the transportation committee, about this issue.

Board Member Jon Einarsson said that the committee had chosen to deny the Ploetz’ appeal. Per Transportation Supervisor Rose Heckathorn, the children would cross Route 39 in a 55-mph zone, on a grade, before crossing into their street. “The driver came to me and said he was not comfortable with this,” she said. “These kids are crossing a highway.”

Board Member Joan Kelly said that she supported the committee’s decision. “Kids’ crossing in front of a bus on Route 39 scares me,” she said. “I don’t care how old they are. Not everyone goes 55, there. I understand the extra time, but 20 minutes is worth a life.”

Einarsson said that a lot of discussion took place, about this issue, because the committee was attempting to find a compromise. “To change the route and drop the kids off at their door would affect about a dozen families,” he said. “I’m sorry, but would you want to affect a dozen families, to help one?” He added that it was “not out of the question to change the route, in the future.”

The board voted in favor of denying the Ploetz’ request. Board Member Delia Bonenberger abstained.

In other board news:
– A request for eighth grade students to travel to Washington, D.C. June 5 – 7, pending the status of the Homeland Security Alert, was approved.

– Fundraising requests from the Springville Elementary School staff, middle school Kids Can Make a Difference group, high school class of 2014, Springville Students for Human Rights, varsity club/lacrosse, eighth grade students, high school student council and varsity club and high school girls basketball team were approved.

– Policy 6216, “Probation and Tenure,” was approved, for a first reading.

– The first reading of Policy 7222, “Credential Options for Students with Disabilities” was approved.

– Policy 5750, “Transportation Committee Appeals Process” was approved, for a first reading.

– An item extending the district’s resignation incentive from last year, through this school year, was tabled. While Connelly said that the initiative would have included employees of 10 years or more, Board Member Janine Caimano said she would like to see the incentive be offered to everyone.

“I don’t want to limit anyone,” she said. Board Member Stephen Schunk clarified that this incentive is meant as an encouragement “to higher-earning, tenured people to move on.”

Connelly will check to see if the school is allowed to offer the incentive to any staff member. The matter will be revisited, at a later date.

– Student Representative Dave DeLuca reported that he and Vanderlip recently delivered donuts to four winning homerooms, as part of the school’s can drive. “The drive has been declining and we’ve tried to bring participation up, as much as possible,” he said.

– Kelly cited a recent USA Today editorial, “Losing the will to live,” as proof that students need more personal interactions. The article reported that antidepressants are now the most commonly-prescribed drugs in America. The biggest jump is among preschoolers and adolescents. According to that column, “An estimated 1 million people in the U.S. report attempting to commit suicide each year – and that one succeeds, every 14 minutes.

“Thriving, happy, connected human beings don’t use guns to harm others, no matter how plentiful,” the column continued. Kelly said, “We need to have some serious discussion in regard to what’s going on with our kids. We are in the people business. We need to do more for them, not less.”

– The eight-week (or as determined by a physician) leave of absence by SES first grade teacher Heather Hohman was approved.

– Debra Pritchard, Christine Roskow, Jennifer Shearer and Laurie Dalton Brown were appointed as supervisors for the SMS after-school academic intervention study hall, for 2012-13. They will be paid at a rate of $32, per hour.

– Ryan Work, who holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in childhood education, was appointed as a substitute teacher.

– The board entered into executive session, to discuss litigation and a collective bargaining agreement.

The next S-GI Board of Education meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.

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