School Board debates goals

Published 8:59 pm Thursday, November 13, 2014

Differing opinions emerged in a School Board work session Thursday on whether specific targets should be included in the board’s goals and objectives for the next school year.

Some members favored the board setting percentage targets, while others favored leaving it up to principals.

As they currently stand, the 2014-2015 Suffolk City School Board Goals and Objectives contain zero targets expressed as a percentage, which is three fewer than this year’s.

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During a work session Thursday, board members looked at five draft goals that are unchanged from the current year.

But district Superintendent Deran Whitney explained some proposed changes to the objectives, including those accompanying the first goal: To Improve Student Achievement and Close the Academic Achievement Gaps.

Objective 1 changes to “increase the number of schools fully accredited,” from ensuring “… all schools meet the requirement to be fully accredited.”

The rest of the four objectives — one more than currently — seek to sharpen the focus on academic standards by specifying more students meeting the Standards of Learning benchmarks for English and math.

Meanwhile, Goal 5 — Strengthen Collaboration with Stakeholders and Increase Parent and Community Satisfaction — would involve two rather than three objectives. The specific target of a 5-percent increase in opportunities for parental involvement, education, volunteering and input is removed.

The next two objectives — which both also specified 5-percent increases — are replaced by the more general “develop a consistent systematic approach to surveying various stakeholders to measure satisfaction.”

“What do we measure it with?” board member Lorraine Skeeter asked, regarding lifting student achievement and closing the achievement gaps.

“The goal is for it to be higher than it was before,” Whitney replied, while adding in response to a question from the board’s James Perkinson that schools have their own targets.

Goal 2 — Provide a Safe and Nurturing Environment — includes objectives on increasing “positive behavior modification activities” while decreasing out-of-school suspensions and lowering the dropout rate.

“Wouldn’t it be good to have a minimum percentage, so we kind of know where we are headed?” asked Linda Bouchard.

Whitney agreed, saying it’s something for the board to discuss. Some schools include targets in their improvement plan, he added.

“I suggest we decide what would be a minimum percentage that would be reasonable,” Bouchard said. From serving on the Pupil-Personnel Committee, she added, “I do know … we would like to see a decrease in suspensions, because that represents an increase in continued learning.”

Chairman Michael Debranski disagreed. “I think we need to make it up to the principal to make that decision,” he said.

“We could look at the trending … and see what would be reasonable,” Whitney said.

For Perkinson, percentage targets set from a central authority are not advisable, “because each school has different demographics.”

In the end, the board agreed to — in Whitney’s words — “work with principals and have them set goals.”

Providing teachers with professional development and evaluating the instruction they provide were also discussed. Whitney said the district is beginning to focus this year on “providing quality feedback to teachers.”

“The bottom line is we are having to teach differently than what we have done before,” he said.

“Those who are doing the most talking are doing the most learning; we have to make sure students are actively engaged.”

The board also discussed how to increase volunteers in schools. “We need to open our arms to them, because they are going to be our next-best resource,” Debranski said.