Again looking for better ways to educate, Hall High School board heard some suggestions for change as superintendent Mike Struna and president Tony Valente reviewed the school report card.

The number of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the Work Keys test in reading rose from 53 percent in 2008 to 55 percent in 2009, still well short of the state requirement of 70 percent. In math, the percent meeting or exceeding actually fell from 50 to 45 percent - and only 2 percent exceeded state standards in math. Struna wondered why that figure is so low, when 20 students each year start out a whole math class ahead of state expectations by taking algebra in eighth grade instead of waiting for freshman year. No conclusion was reached.

The district will have to push students to reach 77 percent meeting or exceeding standards this year to make Adequate Yearly Progress, or will have to reduce by 10 percent the figures for students not meeting or exceeding standards.

Yet the students achieved the highest average comprehensive ACT score (20.2, tying with the average in 2004) the district has seen since 2002, the first year when all students were tested - and the highest average scores on the reading and science sections, at 20.7 and 19.9, respectively. Struna, Valente and board members agreed, the discrepancy shows students don't put as much effort into the Work Keys test taken on the day following the ACT.

Valente also announced some success from the school's new freshman support system. With extra attention from homeroom teachers and extra punishments for not completing homework, Valente said only one freshman is failing math.

"Tony (Valente) and I are hoping the ‘no Fs' doesn't mean we're lowering standards.. .I think kids are working harder, I really do," Struna said.

School improvement also came up as the board discussed its vision planning meeting, when the board turned briefly to a discussion of scheduling that first surfaced in 2008.

"In the schedule we have now, eight periods a day, no study hall, it's not working," Valente said. Teachers have requested more time for collaboration and for the newly adopted methods of Response to Intervention, which requires teachers to spend more time working with students who have some difficulty keeping up.

Valente suggested the school swap its infrequent half-day discussions among teachers for more frequent "early outs" that let teachers have some time at the end of the day to collaborate or pursue RtI. He suggested the district could switch to a seven-period day with a study hall built into the last period to allow daily collaboration or RtI time with students.

Struna also announced the education association (teachers union) approved a "Memo of Understanding" that changes how the district will evaluate tenured teachers. In the past, tenured teachers have received a formal, written evaluation every year. But the new agreement requires formal reviews only once every two years, which Valente and Struna said will allow more time for more frequent, informal assessments. Both have been visiting classrooms already this year to observe teachers' habits and make suggestions as to how teachers can become more effective. Teachers do receive written copies of the administrator's suggestions, but these are not included in their permanent files.

"The intent of those is to improve instruction. It's not an ‘I gotcha.' Teachers are concerned about that," Valente said.

 Struna gave the board an overview of the procedure for the "vision meeting" planned for 6 p.m. next Wednesday, beginning in the school auditorium. The board invited members of the community and representatives of feeder school districts to attend the meeting. After an overview of goals, the group will break up into pre-assigned committees focusing on five topics: academic achievement, technology, facilities planning, community relations and extracurricular programs.

"Our objective is to get input… We're not going to be paring those ideas down next Wednesday. We're taking suggestions," Struna said. He added even "pie-in-the-sky" suggestions should be accepted, regardless of financial impact. At its November meeting, the board will consider which suggestions can be implemented in the near future.

More Spring Valley school board news in Thursday's NewsTribune

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