Strengths, weaknesses, and goals of the Oberlin City Schools were laid bare Saturday in an annual board of education retreat.
Educators delved into topics such as state report cards, teacher collaboration, using social media, and how to increase access for students with disabilities.
The district has roughly 140 students with disabilities in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Jim Eibel recently filled in the position of director of pupil services after Liz Rogel relocated to Lakewood. Eibel acts as a liaison for homeless and disabled students and is responsible for student-related services including occupational and physical therapy and speech and language pathology.
He wants to increase support within the classroom so students can learn alongside their peers, rather than get pulled out for individual instruction. Assistant superintendent John Monteleone agreed, saying the regular education classrooms can benefit from serving students with disabilities.
“They bring a new perspective to the classroom and can both learn from and teach other kids,” he said.
Last year, 51 percent of students with disabilities had instruction alongside their peers.
The goal for last school year was a five percent increase in the number of students in the classroom for 80 percent of the day or more. Calculations are underway to determine whether the target was met, as data trends require at least two years of reporting.
Eibel also encourages participation in extracurricular activities. He hopes for a five percent increase in the number of students with disabilities involved in clubs such as football, wrestling, and art.
He has asked all coaches, advisers, and club members to submit rosters to the pupil services office.
“Why aren’t we using Twitter?” board of education president Anne Schaum asked several times during the retreat.
She urged the district to think about the creative ways technology can be used to highlight student achievement.
“Our kids have rich, robust lives outside of academics and we need to increase the visibility and celebrate the wonderful things they are doing,” she said.
Last year, the board of education aspired to have 75 percent of Oberlin High School sophomores complete an International Baccalaureate Middle Year Program personal project. The district did not meet the goal — only 63 percent of students finished the project, one percent higher than 2015-2016 school year.
Schaum suggested showcasing completed projects across social media to encourage more students to take part.
The aims of the projects are to encourage and enable students to participate in a sustained, self-directed inquiry within a global context; generate creative new insights and develop deeper understandings through in-depth investigation; demonstrate the skills, attitudes, and knowledge required to complete a project over an extended period of time; communicate effectively in a variety of situations; demonstrate responsible action through learning; and appreciate the process of learning and take pride in their accomplishments.
The catch? It’s not mandatory, students are not graded, and it takes approximately 25 hours.
It’s a lot of work for no grade, said high school principal William Baylis.
Sending a district newsletter to residents and collaborating with agencies on grant opportunities are two ways superintendent David Hall said the district has been engaging with the community,
“The newsletter is great, but it’s so long. People need news in little blurbs.” board of education vice president Albert Borroni said.
Hall suggested sending out a survey to determine how best to engage with the city, as not all people are tech-savvy.
Both Monteleone and Langston Middle School principal Michael Scott use Twitter to share updates on sports, professional development, and snapshots of students at work.
Monteleone shared three points the district hopes to prioritize this year:
• Ensuring students learn the foundational skills and knowledge in mathematics, reading, writing, science, and social studies.
• Prioritizing equity by meeting the learning needs of students of poverty, students with disabilities, and students who face unique challenges.
• Developing social and emotional skills, and connecting students to careers and vocations so they can identify their passions and chart their futures.
Oberlin schools only met two out of 24 indicators on the state report card released Sept. 14. The indicators measure the percent of students who have passed state tests.
“Now that we have the data, what are our action steps?” Monteleone asked. “Research shows that the greatest success of student learning are excellent teachers and building leaders.”
He said the district wants to focus on professional development of staff and administrations by holding meetings and providing meaningful feedback on teacher instruction.
Monteleone said this will “establish a structure of teamwork where we’re all vested in our students.”
“Sometimes a teacher will approach us and say, ‘I did all the teaching, I did all the planning, but the student hasn’t learned the material. What do I do next?,’” he said “It’s OK to say ‘I don’t know.’ And that’s where these communities come into play.”
STATE REPORT CARDS
Controversy continues to swirl around the state’s school report card system, with some questioning the core value of the tests themselves.
“People see letter grades and they think about what they meant when they were in school,” said teachers union president Robin Diedrick. “They have no clue how things have changed. By giving them something familiar, it brings it to this level of simplicity in peoples’ minds and they really don’t understand what this data represents.”
Oberlin is below the state requirements in every test and grade level except third grade math and fifth grade English.
Even the numbers, though, are the subject of dispute.
Hall said most of the data points are based on one test students are going to take in their entire life.
“These assessments don’t help improve instruction,” Monteleone said. He used an analogy of a piano to describe state testing.
Students practice on a grand piano but are never allowed to see the piece they will play at the end of the year. “And the day of the recital, when they have to play a piece that has been secured and kept secret, they go from a grand piano to an electronic keyboard, and get judged on that performance,” he said.
School board member Barry Richard said he wants to figure out how to raise the scores. Immediately, Schaum chimed in. “But not on the expense of the kid,” she said.
“It’s a balancing act,” Diedrick said. “We’re not going to do things that we think are detrimental to our students, but at the same time, we would like to look at this information and have a positive message come out of it.”
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @HamameNews.