News from the Superintendent …
The Susquehanna Community Board of Education passed its budget for the 2019/2020 school year on June 19, 2019. The budget for 19/20 is substantially more significant than the budget for 18/19 due primarily to increases in the budget categories for cyber charter schools and vocational education. The growth for these two categories combined is $553,000. While the professional education programs offered by the Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center carries with them an outstanding reputation of success, the same cannot be said for the cyber charter schools that exist within the Commonwealth. The results of these institutions are dismal at best, but state legislators, some of whom receive campaign contributions from these institutions, have not passed legislation to hold them accountable for students’ academic success like all other publicly funded schools in Pennsylvania. Susquehanna Community offers a cyber program for students interested in cyber education at one-third of the cost of commercial cyber charters. Property tax increases by school districts across the state are a result of independent expenditures related to cyber charter schools.
Even with expenditures to cyber charter schools at an all-time high, it is a priority of the school district to ensure the district’s facilities are always operational. This summer the district is working with multiple companies to evaluate the HVAC and electrical systems of each school to determine which equipment has to be replaced and what are the best options for replacing the identified HVAC and electrical equipment. At this point, the district is focused on the following improvements: replacing the elementary school chiller and boiler; converting the pneumatic controls in the high school to electronic controls; replacing the main electrical panels and subpanels, and converting the high school from heating with steam to heat with hot water. Additionally, due to the deep structural issues within the running track, the district is investigating the possibility of installing a new running track.
News from the High School Principal …
Preparations for the 2019-2020 school year are well underway. All students should receive a packet of information in late July that will provide families with the information required to make the transition into the next school year a successful one. In this mailer, two specific changes deserve added attention as they highlight policy changes as they relate to schedule changes and student use of tobacco.
Over the past two years, schools across the nation have witnessed a significant increase in the number of students who vape. According to the Surgeon General, the use of vapes by students in grades 7-12 increased by 900% from 2011 to 2015. Vape companies have targeted teenagers with their products through advertising and the flavoring of vape liquids. Vapes today are very small and can easily be hidden, which adds to the difficulty in stopping students from becoming addicted to nicotine. The Susquehanna Community School District has a policy in place that forbids the use of any nicotine delivery device on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event. The use of a vape, whether it hosts juice that contains nicotine or not, is a violation of this policy. The Board of Education has approved a plan that states when school officials have reasonable suspicion that a student has items that violate school policy or are a threat to the health and safety of students, school officials may utilize a handheld metal detector to determine if the student has such items. If the metal detector indicates that a metal item is on the student’s person, the student will be allowed to produce the article.
Furthermore, students caught with a nicotine delivery device will be cited for their first offense and each offense after that. Possessing a vape on school property is a severe issue for students within our district. I encourage parents to have conversations with their students about the dangers of vaping.
The following policy that has changed will impact students and how they change their schedules. Under the new policy, students must make their request for schedule changes within the first six days of school. Schedule changes will not be made on or after school day number seven. This change was made to allow students and teachers to find their routine quickly at the start of the new year so that we can maximize our instructional time. To accommodate student requests, Mrs. Milos will be hosting a schedule change day on August 7 from 8 am - 3 pm. Students are encouraged to utilize this day to ensure their schedule is set up to fit their needs. Students are also reminded that the new policy no longer allows students to drop classes later in the school year without it being denoted on their transcript.
News from the Elementary Principal…..
I am continuing to the second part of a three-part series in outlining the STEM/Computer Science (CS) initiative at Susquehanna Community Elementary School. In the 1st part series, I provided an overview of the PAsmart Grant, the need behind it, and what SCES will be doing in the next few years. This newsletter will focus on examples of computer science programs that our staff will look to implement this year and in the coming years within their curriculum.
At the end of the May, Library Media Specialist Jeannye Glidden and 5/6 Science Teacher Jeff Hall, along with myself, attended a 2-day professional development conference at PaTTAN East in Malvern, PA along with many other educators from school districts across Pennsylvania. We had an opportunity to learn from trainers from the state along with collaborating with other educators to gain an idea of how other districts are implementing computer science into their curriculum.
One of the first activities we participated in was to write an algorithm (a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations) to make an airplane. Simple right? Well, the idea was to write the algorithm that another group was to follow to build the paper airplane. What we learned was the need to be specific with instructions to ensure the other groups built the aircraft according to the algorithm. It wasn't about making the airplane but on how algorithms are part of our everyday life. Brushing your teeth, tying your shoelaces, baking cookies, assembling a bookcase are all algorithm based. This activity was an unplugged activity, which is an example of how we can get students to start thinking about how computer science works.
In the area of plugged activities, Jeannye, Jeff, and I got to explore a wealth of options, including Bee-Bots, which can be used in the primary grades so students can learn strategic thinking. Students will be analyzing why we need rules (algorithms), planning how to make the Bee-Bot do what it needs to do, reasoning and asking the question of why didn't it do what we wanted it to do. They will also gain an understanding that often there are multiple ways to get an answer. All these are higher order depth of knowledge level processes. After students get to know the basics, they will begin to increase their depth of knowledge where the Bee-Bot activities will go from enhancing the curriculum to transforming it by allowing students to create new tasks that were previously inconceivable just a few exercises before. In addition to the increased depth of knowledge, students will learn to work with each other, come to an agreement together, and engage in productive discourse. In the upper elementary grades programs like Scratch will quickly excite and engage students taking them from using and modifying programs to creating their own through analysis, testing, and refining algorithms they create.
Not only are our students learning to use their reading, writing, and math skills, but they're also learning computational thinking skills. Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in expressing solutions as computational steps or algorithms that can be carried out by a computer. All these skills students are learning are global competencies that are better preparing them for the real-world where CS and STEM jobs are abundant. Stay tuned for the next newsletter on computer science coming this fall.
News from the Supervisor of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment….
This summer, many of the faculty members of the Susquehanna Community School District will be participating in professional development. The district has adopted a new Social Studies program in grades two through twelve. We will be utilizing IMPACT Social Studies published by McGraw-Hill in second grade, third grade, and fifth grade. Fourth grade will continue to focus on Pennsylvania History with an updated version of Penns Valley Publishers’ Exploring Pennsylvania. Networks published by McGraw-Hill will be utilized in grades 6-12 and Psychology. Social Studies teachers will participate in professional development in July to learn about implementing this new series.
READ 180 teachers and support staff will participate in a training session at the beginning of August. Although the district has been using this program for several years, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has developed a new version, called READ 180 Universal, which will incorporate more writing than the previous version.
Elementary reading and math teachers in grades two through six will participate in professional development sessions in August. These sessions, provided by a consultant from McGraw-Hill, will focus on differentiating instruction and meeting the needs of our struggling students through the implementation of Wonders and Everyday Math.
I look forward to a summer of learning new programs, new ideas, and new strategies that will help our students to be successful!