University City Patch Editor Myra Lopez submitted questions via email to University City School District Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt. The following are her responses.
Patch: August marks a new cycle of education - a new school year with a lot of new students coming on board - and the new district plan going into action. How optimistic are you about the new school year?
Joylynn Pruitt: I’m really looking forward to this year, because I know it’s going to be a great year. We have lots of exciting changes to the physical structures in the District, and that sort of change creates a new atmosphere for students and staff. We’re entering our third year of the Instructional Core model for academic reform, and that continues to make a positive impact for kids, as seen in our achievement data this fall. I expect continued improvement for this year as well.
Patch: How do you make sure your teachers are fired up and ready to go?
Joylynn Pruitt: We host Opening Day activities for staff on Monday, August 22, where we talk about the year ahead and motivate staff to make it a great year. One of the things I’ll be talking about on Opening Day is how we ALL impact the educational opportunities for students. I think the building enhancements will help motivate staff, too. Last year, was a challenging year with lots of teachers experiencing the inconveniences of construction. Some of that will continue this year in some buildings, but our teachers have shown a lot of patience and flexibility because they know the great things that come from construction. This year, I also want to celebrate some of our successes, because there have been many. It’s important that we take time to celebrate.
Patch: How satisfied are you with the budget, and is your financial house in order at this time?
Joylynn Pruitt: Administration has worked diligently to maintain a balanced budget in recent years, despite cuts in state funding and other programs. It required some difficult decisions, such as closing schools and enacting a reduction in force last year, but we strive to make cuts that result in a minimal impact on kids in the classroom. Our fund balance remains healthy, and we continue to carefully monitor potential budget cuts and changes in our District’s needs to ensure our finances remain stable. We’re already planning for next year’s budget so that we can provide the Board of Education with the most comprehensive information available later in the fall.
Patch: Some parents have voiced concern about class size, especially at Flynn with the additional of students from Delmar Harvard - what are the plans, if any, to reduce the size of the number of students in each classroom?
Joylynn Pruitt: From the beginning of the elementary consolidation process, administration has monitored projected and actual enrollment at all school buildings. There are some grade levels with a possible “bubble” of students, where additional support may be necessary. We strive to keep class sizes near the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) desirable standard, which varies by grade level. The District has committed to providing additional support, either through a classroom aide or through addition of another classroom, when actual enrollment in a classroom reaches two students above the desirable standard. However, the addition of an extra classroom isn’t feasible unless actual enrollment numbers warrant that level of change, which is why it’s critical for parents who are changing school buildings to re-enroll their students now, if they haven’t already done so.
Patch: Does the District have any idea what it's going to do with the Delmar-Harvard building?
Joylynn Pruitt: The District is forming a committee to review the disposition of buildings within the District, which includes Delmar-Harvard and the Nathaniel Hawthorne building. The committee application is posted on the District website, and interested individuals have until August 22 to submit an application to serve on the committee. The committee will begin meeting in September with the goal of presenting its recommendations to the Board in January.
Patch: Please speak to the district's accreditation, where does the district stand? What do parents and students need to know about the situation?
Joylynn Pruitt: The District remains fully accredited. The Annual Performance Report (APR) includes 14 standards that the state monitors each year. When a District undergoes a review by the state, they must have 9 or more standards met to remain fully accredited. If they have between 6 and 8, they may be subject to a provisionally accredited status until they show improvement. When APR data was released in the fall of 2010, we met 7 of the 14 standards, but the state has not reviewed our District because of the consistent progress we are showing through our academic reform efforts. It’s also important to note that the calculations for the 14 standards are based on five or more years of data, so while we continue to show consistent improvement in most areas, the oldest data prevents us from meeting some standards. As older data falls off the calculations each year, we expect to meet more of the standards because of the consistent and aggressive work we have been doing the past several years. The final APR data for last year school year will be released in September. Our preliminary data shows 7 standards met, but we have projected 8 standards met. We’re reviewing the data and identifying some discrepancies, then we will file an appeal with the state prior to release of the final data in September.
Patch: The recent show that the University City School District did not meet proficiency in reading or math. Is that worrisome? The District has been putting a lot effort in preparing kids for these tests, how come it appears that effort did not reflect in the results?
Joylynn Pruitt: The MAP tests are measured at two levels – the federal standards of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and the state standards on the Annual Performance Report (APR). At the federal level for AYP, nearly 80% of school districts across the country will not meet the performance targets this year. The performance targets are higher each year through 2014, and every subgroup in a building must meet the targets in order for the school as a whole to meet AYP. As a District, in many areas, including gains at the middle school level that are higher than any we have seen before. That’s something we as a District and a community need to celebrate. Are we still short of the federal standards? Yes. But are we making consistent improvement toward those standards? Yes.
Part 2 of the Q&A with Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt will be published on Monday. Pruitt will discuss what she believes is the most important issue facing the district this coming year. She'll also answers questions that were submitted via U City Patch Twitter followers.