Pawhuska School Board Votes Down 4-day School Week

By:  Roseanne McKee

At a special meeting held March 23, the Pawhuska School Board voted against the idea of switching to a four-day school week by a vote of 3-2. Board members voting in favor of the four-day week were Patricia Wilson and Jeff Bute, reasoning that teacher recruitment and morale would be improved. Those against the switch cited the need to raise academic scores and lack of student supervision on the extra day off.

During the discussion, board members Lori Loftis and Christi McNeil indicated support for the five-day week already in place. Board president Justin Sellers did not reveal his position prior to the vote.

Jeff Bute began by saying that he had reviewed several studies by Indiana University from 2002 – 2011.

“Essentially, there are not a lot of numbers out there. If you’re a numbers guy, you’re not going to like it,” Bute explained.

Nonetheless, Bute said, he had found the studies helpful in providing criteria for comparison of those districts with the Pawhuska Public Schools.

According to Bute, schools that had been successful with a four-day week showed positive results in: improved employee morale, academics and money saved. However, he acknowledged that he had not studied the four-day week from a financial standpoint.

“If we go to a four-day week, we’re still required to give 1,080 hours of instruction time to our students. All we’re doing is adjusting the schedule and plus we leave open an opportunity – an open day to actually do some tutoring and other enrichment,” Bute said.

Thereafter Bute made a motion “to adopt the four-day school week for the 2015-2016 school year and provide class offerings on the fifth day, which may include, but not be limited to, enrichment, credit recovery, and tutoring on that fifth day. This motion would be subject to successful negotiations with the negotiation team and for the successful development of a school calendar.”

After some discussion, board member Patricia Wilson seconded the motion.

Board President, Justin Sellers, asked Superintendent Berry about the contention that the fifth day offerings would be part of the negotiations. Dr. Berry said fifth day offerings would not be part of the contract negotiations because they would fall outside regular school hours. Fifth day offerings would require a separate budget and separate teacher recruitment, Dr. Berry said.

After emphasizing that this was a community decision, Superintendent Berry shared that his concerns about the four-day week impact on: academics, student supervision and nutrition on the fifth day, longer school days for young students and the reduction in available professional development days.

Dr. Berry said that in his opinion, the four-day week, “would make an average teacher maybe a little better. I think it would make a great teacher a whole lot better; and I think it would make a below average teacher or poor teacher worse.”

Dr. Berry added that he did not have any proof that the four-day week would improve test scores.

Board member Christi McNeil asked if there were great gains in academic achievement in the schools that switched to a four-day week.  Bute responded by saying there were academic gains and in the larger school districts that were similar in size to Pawhuska’s school district. McNeil also inquired about the socio-economic impact. Bute responded by indicating that he did not study the socio-economic impact, but that he had found that schools were academically successful when they were able to utilize the fifth day for academic enrichment. He said that Montana and Georgia schools had used 4-H on the fifth day for such enrichment, which is free. Locally, he said the 4-H administrator was willing to become involved in such an endeavor.

McNeil indicated the need to study the cost of fifth-day enrichment tutoring before the school adopted a four-day school week.

Dr. Berry interjected, reiterating that the fifth-day enrichment would not be part of the teacher-contract negotiations.

McNeil finished by stating that students could not be required to attend fifth day enrichment tutoring. Dr. Berry confirmed this.

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Educators, Parents and Students attend Rally on Capitol Steps

(L-R) Osage Hills Elementary School teachers Jennifer Gilkey and Mindy Englett at the Rally for Education held at the state capitol on March 31, wearing the tee-shirts Englett designed which read “In it for the outcome…not the income.”
20140331_111133_N Lincoln Blvd

By: Roseanne McKee

For the first time in over two decades, an estimated 25,000 educators, parents and students gathered on the steps of the state capitol on March 31 at 10:30 a.m. to rally for public school education in Oklahoma and the children it serves.
“We were not there for ourselves. I was there for Osage Hills, for my students, for your child and my children,” explained Osage Hills Elementary School Math Teacher Mindy Englett. “It really bothers me that there are legislators out there who thought it was selfish for us to be there.”
To bring attention to their true purpose, a group of teachers purchased and wore tee shirts designed by Englett, which read “In it for the outcome — not the income.”
In describing the highlights of the rally, Englett said, ‘the most amazing speaker I heard was a high school student who compared herself to a flower and teachers to gardeners.” According to the speaker, teachers have the power to help students blossom or wilt depending on the resources they have, Englett said.
Explaining how the rally came about, Pawhuska Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Landon Berry said, “Several months ago the Education Coalition contacted me saying that there might be a rally.”
Berry, who has been in education for over 22 years said, “the last big rally was over House Bill (H.B.) 1017.”
H.B. 1017 sought to lower class sizes and increase funding, explained Osage Hills Schools Superintendent/Principal Jeannie O’Daniel, an educator for 25 years.
A recent House Bill has gained ground since Monday’s rally. H.B. 2642, provides for “small, guaranteed increase each year through the state funding formula,” O’Daniel explained.
The conundrum is that even if H.B. 2642 becomes law, it will take time to gain the ground lost.
“They’ve been cutting us for years, they can’t replace it all in one year,” O’Daniel said.
Those interviewed echoed concerns with a central theme – the state mandated curriculum has changed and those changes have not been facilitated through funding or curriculum.
Pawhuska High School Principal Joe Sindelar: “There’s a whole new philosophy of education, but we can’t even get the textbooks and resource materials to implement it. Where is the funding for those materials?”
Osage Hills Superintendent/Principal Jeannie O’Daniel: “We’ve had reform after reform coming very rapidly and there’s no funding to back it up; and if there has been it is because they’ve taken funding away from somewhere else. We adopt textbooks on a six-year cycle, one subject per year, but we’re supposed to implement Common Core all at once.”
The resulting budget challenges are only part of the problem because textbooks containing the Common Core curriculum simply don’t exist in many cases.
“We’re scrambling to find resources that really teach the Common Core content and concepts,” O’Daniel said. “The cover of the textbook changes, but that doesn’t mean the content of the textbook has changed.”
“I agree with the general objective of Common Core, analyzing and critical thinking, but how are we going to get there? We’re not being given the tools to get there” Sindelar observed.
To complicate matters, the name of the Common Core curriculum has changed recently. Math and language arts are still referred to as “Common Core Curriculum,” but the other subjects have been renamed “Oklahoma Academic Standards,” O’Daniel explained.
One might wonder without textbooks how schools are informed about the mandated Core Curriculum and Oklahoma Academic Standards.
“The standards are provided by the state education department and tell what concepts should be taught in what grade,” O’Daniel said.
With legislation to revoke it being considered, some wonder if Common Core will remain in place. “There is talk of repealing Common Core standards so districts are now up in the air as to what the required standards will be,” O’Daniel said.
Understanding what her district faces, Math teacher Mindy Englett works to conserve resources for the benefit of her students.
“With budget cuts, resource funds are limited and it’s tougher to justify the purchase of new textbooks for a curriculum that may be repealed,” Englett said.
No matter what challenges her district faces, O’Daniel’s attitude is positive.
“I have good teachers and that makes all the difference in the world,” O’Daniel said beaming.
Describing the situation his school district faces, Dr. Berry said, “This comes down to a lack of money to educate kids. I’ve been a superintendent for 12 years and the money goes down every year. You have to reduce staff and class size increases…It’s getting to be a critical stage,” Berry said that Pawhuska Public lost over half a million in revenue for the 2013-14 school year. “We’re going to cut $200,000 more from next year’s budget,” he added.
Summing up the reason for the rally, O’Daniel said, “we’ve all reached a breaking point and that’s why we went. We’ve had major changes in the educational system in the past four years. None of these is bad, but they’ve all come at the same time without the funds to implement them.”
Dr. Berry shared a statistic: “Since 2009, percentage-wise we’ve gone through more cuts than any other state in the nation. In 2013, we were number three, and this year we’re number one according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute.”
Berry said he spoke to three state legislators on March 28 at the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce Gala about the problem. Berry’s message to the legislators: “It’s a hard choice, but we make hard choices every day. You have to step up and do what’s right for kids.”
Sindelar said that he spoke to State Representative Dennis Casey recently about his concerns. “He’s very pro-education. He gets it,” Sindelar said. “I asked Dennis, ‘does this make an impact?’ He said, ‘actually, it does.’ Teachers and administrators have an impact, but parents also make an impact…If parents call legislators to say, ‘we don’t have textbooks, or resources, it really has an impact.’”
Educators are asking their legislators important questions that deserve answers. What are the ripple effects of state legislators placing education low on the list? Are teachers drawn to work in Oklahoma public schools if the state doesn’t pay competitive wages?
“When I first went into teaching there were hundreds of applicants for each job. Now there are just two or three and schools advertise early for positions,” Englett said.
“My niece went to Missouri to work as a teacher and makes $10,000 more there,” said Osage Hills Support staff member DeDe McMillan.
Another ripple effect could be a reduction in tax revenue in the years to come.
Dr. Berry said, “We’ve got kids out there who need to be educated so they can work, pay taxes and pay in to social security for those retiring.”
It took a lot for educators to get to the point that they felt a rally was necessary,
Englett said, but “If we don’t stand up now, what’s going to happen to future generations?”