District sees improvement in first-grade readiness





First-grade readiness, year-round virtual school, and program budgeting were topics of discussion at Monday night's USD 457 Board of Education meeting.

The aim of the first-grade readiness pilot program, which was started at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year and allows for mandatory retention of students who aren't meeting a certain level of skills, is to ensure that all students exiting kindergarten are first-grade ready by the end of the school year.

Leigh Ann Roderick, director of elementary education, updated board members on the program Monday night, highlighting some of the skills necessary for passing kindergarten, which include reading out loud, writing a sentence, counting out loud, and recognizing and writing numbers up to 100.

The retention guidelines are based on a rubric that roughly represents the College and Career Readiness Standards.

Roderick said administrators and principals haven't yet finished working on the first year's data, but anticipate they will have it by May 15.

"We saw a lot of rubrics that were 21, 22, and we need to get these kids to at least a 24 to be successfully exiting this criteria, so we have a lot of those kids that are right there — three more weeks just might get some of those kids over the hump," Roderick said.

She showed the board the decrease in students being retained since 2010.

"In 2010-2011, we had 55 students that we were referring for retention," Roderick said. "So far this year, we're looking at about 30."

She attributed that drop to greater support for teachers and greater parental involvement.

"One of the things we also noticed was our early childhood center was yielding pretty good results because we could sure tell the difference between those kids who came in from the early childhood center and those kids who didn't," Roderick said.

The first-grade readiness program is a three-year pilot program. The first-grade readiness committee will be asked to present annual data on the results of the program and, after the three years, it may be modified.

The board also unanimously approved allowing year-round virtual school through the Garden City Alternative Education Center, after hearing a brief presentation from Principal Mark Ronn.

Ronn told the board that 80 percent of the AEC's students are seniors who are not graduating from high school, or adult education students, both of whom would greatly benefit from an extended school year.

Some of the benefits he highlighted included earlier course completion, opportunities to catch up on credits, and better preparation for the following school year with little or no interruption in course progress.

"We're also offering this to GCHS, so that any student who's enrolled in E2020 Edgenuity courses through Garden City High School can continue that progress over the summer. We'll maintain the records, we'll maintain the grades and then, at the end of the summer, we'll shoot all that information back to them so that those kids don't have to lose time over the summer either," Ronn said.

To make it work, Ronn told board members, he would need 25 extra days for the virtual instructor position, 45 additional days for a paraprofessional and secretary of the AEC building.

KJ Knoll, USD 457 financial officer, also shared the results of program budgeting, which were completed at the end of March by committees of teachers, parents, community members and district staff. The committees ranked from 1 to 15 their preferences on which district programs to cut first, if and when necessary.

"What this chart shows you is that if, during the budgeting process, we get to the point where we need to make some cuts and some reductions, this is the order in which those cuts would be done if we stay true to the program budgeting process," Knoll said.

Knoll pointed out that programs most directly related to education are at the bottom of the list, to minimize cuts that directly impact students.

"When these departments are asked to make these cuts, there is a lot of thought that goes into every one of their decisions and a lot of creative thinking to try to minimize the impact to their students, to their ability to teach and educate, and most importantly, how can we minimize the impact to people," Knoll said. "Unfortunately, they've had to continually shave away for many years now, and they're to the point where a lot of them, there's not much left to cut, but yet they're still finding creative ways to do it if they can."

Any cuts potentially made would be done in the following order: curriculum/assessment, district wide administration, plant facilities/maintenance, transportation, activities, counseling, media services, supplemental services, building administration, special education, high school instruction, middle school instruction, elementary instruction, health services and technology.

Board member Lara Bors said she thinks some people have a perception that categories outside of instruction don't impact the classroom.

"I think that's a perception that's out there, which is frustrating, because if we don't have transportation, our kids aren't going to be entering that classroom," Bors said. "If we don't have counseling, and we have a kid with an issue, it's not only going to be impacting that student, but impacting students in the classroom and that teacher in the classroom."

Superintendent Rick Atha said that with Gov. Sam Brownback signing the school finance bill into law Monday, it will be a positive for Garden City schools, but he wasn't yet certain how the additional funding will help when it comes to the budget. According to the Kansas Department of Education, USD 457 is projected to get approximately $1,943,251 in additional funding from the bill.

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