Superintendent’s Message 5/5/17

Dear Parents/Guardians and Community Members,

A hearty Cardinal thank you to the Upper Dublin community for your enthusiastic support of our UD Education Foundation during the 19th annual “Foundation Day” held this week at George’s Market. Our students performed superbly, the volunteers went “above and beyond”, and our community responded enthusiastically.

We are looking forward to the UD Medals celebration on May 17, where the District will join the Upper Dublin Township community in honoring our 2017 Medals recipients:  Educator Esther Miller and Students Emma Barsky and Philip Dowdell, in addition to Citizen Ken Foster and the Community Ambulance Association of Ambler, winner of the Non-Profit Medal. Please join us!

As the school year draws to a close several important dates are quickly approaching. On Monday June 12 our Upper Dublin High School Class of 2017 will graduate. The commencement ceremony will be held at Cardinal Stadium at 7:00 PM. Our rain date is set for June 13, however all fingers are crossed that Mother Nature will smile for us again this year.

Other dates to note:

SRMS 8th Grade Promotion will be held on Thursday June 15 at 9:30 AM in the UDHS gymnasium,

Fort Washington 5th Grade Promotion will be held on Friday June 16 at 9:15 AM in the UDHS Performing Arts Center,

Jarrettown 5th Grade Promotion will be held on Thursday June 15 at 1:30 PM in the UDHS Performing Arts Center,

Maple Glen 5th Grade Promotion will be held on Thursday June 15 at 1:30 at MGES, and

Thomas Fitzwater 5th Grade Promotion will be held on Friday June 16 at 9:00 AM at TFES.

Our last day of school will be on Friday, June 16. For your summer planning please note that the 2017-2018 school year will begin on Tuesday September 5, 2017, and the annual calendar is now posted on the District website.   

Several seemingly unrelated topics have recently been the source of conversation in our community and I would like to address them as a whole, because I believe they are related. US News recently released their ratings of the “top high schools” for 2017 and for another year Upper Dublin High School was not ranked. In reviewing our performance through our 2015-2016 school year data we find that Upper Dublin performs well overall, however we still do not do well for our economically disadvantaged students and this disparity emerges when student achievement data is disaggregated, as required, by subgroups. We know that our performance measures for graduation rates and college readiness data are exceptionally high. The gap that we continue to experience in performance measured through the comparison of “all students” growth data and “economically disadvantaged students” growth data is the reason for our exclusion from this list. We recognize this problem and have launched several program improvements to address this achievement gap.

I continue to hear a disparity of opinions about the real importance of test scores and rankings. Some members of our community believe that these are of utmost importance and they eloquently share concerns that unless our “scores” increase there will be negative impact on property values and that some potential home buyers now look elsewhere because of these public rankings. Equally passionate are those who firmly believe that ”scores” should not be drivers of our decision-making in regard to our educational programming and that we must prioritize our efforts on providing a child-friendly educational environment. As I reflect on these arguments, I have come to understand that each of these apparently contradictory perspectives are accurate and not mutually exclusive.

We have a documented achievement gap that we must address; all students enrolled in our schools have the right to have their educational needs met in a manner that leads to their success. And we must continue to provide an appropriate educational program in a manner that respects the developmental needs of all students, including emotional, social, and physical well-being in addition to academic achievement.

To that end, we have implemented during the past several years program improvements that we believe will meet these varying needs. We have written standards aligned curricula in all of our content areas and adopted new Mathematics and Reading programs to better deliver this curriculum. We have developed a plan to reduce academic levels in high school courses to increase rigor for all students while funding supports for our students and teachers as we implement this plan. Our professional development activities are designed to support these initiatives and we are working with our teachers to provide professional learning to meet the needs that they have identified.

We are redesigning our student support system, Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTII), to ensure that we are once again delivering academic and emotional/behavioral support as needed. To guarantee that we are implementing RTII with fidelity, and to meet the needs of our teachers as they work with new curriculum and programs, we have reviewed our schedules at the middle school and elementary school levels.  We have now adopted a new schedule for Sandy Run Middle School and our budget proposal includes funding for three new positions. These include a teacher to teach accelerated Math in 6th grade and two teachers to add another team in 8th grade.

Our elementary school scheduling  workgroup is drafting, soliciting feedback, and redrafting a schedule designed to ensure that we make the best use of time as a resource to provide instruction and intervention while promoting the social-emotional well-being of all of our students.  One area of consideration in this process has been the question of how recess will fit into a revised schedule.  The District is committed to providing  at least 25 minutes of guaranteed recess per day for every student every day and is currently considering increases to lunch time and the role of a scheduled or discretionary second recess at each grade level.  

We have heard from parents who advocate strongly to include a dedicated second recess time throughout the elementary grades, and their input is being examined by the workgroup.  Of importance to our administration is the flexibility for our teachers to use their professional judgement to provide optimal movement and “brain breaks” for our students throughout the day.  The work of this group continues; we anticipate a presentation of their work within a few weeks and will continue to  gather  parental input. In sum, we take very seriously our charge to provide quality educational programs that meet the expectations of all of our parents and community members, and to that end we will continue to seek and understand feedback and to communicate our continuous improvement efforts through our Board of Directors’ committee and legislative meetings, PTO/PTA meetings, and ad hoc meetings scheduled as requested by our constituents.   

Our Guidance Department recently released an alert related to the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” to the parents of our high school and middle school students, and I would like to share this information with all of our parents and community members. The mental health community has issued concerns about this graphic television series, based on a popular young adult novel, that tells the story of a high school student who ends her life after recording 13 tapes that implicate others in her death. The 13 episodes present the struggles that led to her suicide, and the struggles of her friends as they try to make sense of this terrible event.  To support parents in discussing the topic of suicide with their children, our Guidance Office provides this link jedfoundation.org as one reference and source of information. The Jed Foundation is a non-profit organization working to promote emotional health and prevent suicide among students. Our counselors are always available to meet with students and parents if there is a concern or need, or to provide additional resources to support our families. Please contact the counselor at your child’s school at any time.

The Board of School Directors will hold their next Legislative Meeting on May 8 , 2017, at 7:00 P.M. in the Cardinal Room at UDHS. All members of the community are encouraged to attend. Members of the public may access agenda and documents through BoardDocs on the District website. Go to the Board of Directors tab and click on the meeting listed on the appropriate date. Agendas and materials will be available 48 hours before the meeting.

As always, I invite interested members of the Upper Dublin community to contact me with any questions or concerns you might have. I can be reached at 215 643-8802 or through dwheeler@udsd.org . Follow me on Twitter @UDSDSupt.

 

Sincerely,

Deborah S. Wheeler, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools