District keeping Inside Track afloatPublished 8:46am Tuesday, August 18, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Dowagiac Board of Education decided Monday night that the district will maintain its $175,000 Inside Track preschool program, lacking any official word about funding from the state.
The program for 4-year-olds at Justus Gage Elementary School includes three half-day classrooms.
Cutting this program this close to the Sept. 8 start of school “would create hardships,” Superintendent Peg Stowers advised the school board meeting in the middle school cafeteria, such as laying off at least one teacher immediately, shifting a half-time teacher to another program and axing 1.5 paraprofessionals.
“It is my hope for all of our community’s 4-year-old students that the funding issue will be resolved by October and reinstated to its original amount,” Stowers said.
Revenue to continue Inside Track would come from a combination of potential grant funds and the general fund, though she indicated that with carryover, the budget would not have to absorb the entire amount.
“It would be very difficult to not provide our quality kindergarten readiness program for our 4-year-old students who do not qualify for Head Start, leaving them with potentially no readiness program unless parents could afford to pay and perhaps drive to other preschool programs that charge and are out of the district,” Stowers said.
“If we eliminate the program based on the funding turbulence in Lansing at this date and lay off staff, shift staff and notify parents of no program and then funding is restored in October, a tremendous amount of change occurs for current classrooms, students and staff. We may also lose 4-year-old students to other programs in the meantime that we cannot regain, thus reducing our overall grant.”
Kindergarten is a foundation year. Children who come to kindergarten without preschool end up spending a growth year in kindergarten catching up to those students who benefit from preschool.
Verbal and social skills advantaged by preschool are more highly developed. Their fine motor skills are better, as well as gross motor skills, which are key to reading readiness. They listen better, they are better prepared to begin writing and they better understand words and language, according to the superintendent.
“It may sound silly,” Stowers said, “but kindergarten is not the same curriculum that we had. It’s rigorous. We expect kindergarten children to be reading or darn near by the time they’re done. We’re going to see the benefit of that very much in our fulltime kindergarten program. Preschool’s important.”
As the other half of a “two-phase recommendation,” Stowers stated, “Should funding not be granted by the State of Michigan for the 2009-2010 school year, I recommend that the Dowagiac Union School District prepare appropriately for the 2010-2011 school year to eliminate the program until the state reinstates future funding. While I would just hate to lose a quality program for children, the district would not be able to endure the added costs and deficit budgeting without proper future state funding.”
“I think it’s shocking that the state would throw these kinds of things around this close to the start of the school year,” commented board member Larry Seurynck. “The state’s being fickle. We all have our responsibilities and the state certainly isn’t living up to theirs.”
In other business, Stowers reported on the district’s new Synervoice communication and notification system.
Assistant Superintendent Patti Brallier and Union High School Principal Paul Hartsig made a presentation on personal curriculum, which the board will be asked to approve next month after digesting a seven-page parent handbook the administration created.
Synervoice, made in Canada, “will call all of our homes on a regular basis and make announcements,” Stowers said. “All of the other districts in the county already have some type of system. We are entering into that new age Wednesday” with an all-day training session.
“When we have snow days, every home within our district will be notified. We will be able to call and remind parents about programs, teacher conferences, games delayed, bus routes canceled. The list is limitless of what we can do with this.”
She said the system costs $1.75 per student. She also wrote a grant that would enable the district to tie in “our police department for all of our announcements, so they’re aware. Next, our hospital in the event of an emergency. We feel it is an excellent tool for our crisis management plan and an excellent tool to bring all of our families on board” with instantaneous information access.
The board supported a family leave request until Sept. 28 for Justus Gage kindergarten teacher Amanda Merriman.
On personal curriculum, the state created the rigorous Michigan Merit Curriculum for high schools. PC is a method for students to alter it in one of two ways. One, an advanced student could increase the rigors. Two, for students with disabilities, the administration is asking the board to adopt a 60-percent proficiency level, which is consistent with the grading policy for every subject.
“This doesn’t water down the curriculum,” Stowers said, “nor does it allow the student to opt out of MME.”
“Absolutely not,” Brallier agreed. “It adjusts the curriculum for a student, being mindful of their stated disability in their IEP (Individualized Education Plan). It would increase the rigors of the curriculum for a student who has no disabilities. It makes it a more even playing field for students, based on their disabilities.”
“A fine arts student, for instance, might exhaust all the fine arts in our school and want to go out to the college for some additional fine arts,” Stowers said.
“An advanced student could trade a half-credit of health or (physical education) for maybe another science or math,” Hartsig said.
Guidance counselors and a teacher from the particular department would work with a student seeking a personal curriculum.
“We have presented this to eighth graders coming to ninth grade,” Brallier said. Beyond that, “The parent, student or legal guardian must come to us. We can’t identify them, we can just get the word out there that this exists. It’s in our student handbook and on our Web site.”
Stowers highlighted for the board the new 64-page annual report for 2008-2009.
“We need to toot our horn from time to time,” she said, noting the spiral-bound book is distributed to 80 people across Cass County.
“First of all, all of our buildings made AYP,” Stowers said of Michigan’s Adequate Yearly Progress goals. The district met or exceeded the state Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) average in seven test categories.
“We have outstanding attendance,” Stowers said – 94.2 percent districtwide and 95.3 percent at Union High.
“We continue to make growth, not just for certain levels of kids, but all kids across the board. That’s one of the reasons we continue to make AYP and our attendance rate is high.”
Individual building reports will be available at the September meeting.
Bill Lawrence and Michelle Helmuth were absent.