Friday, December 19, 2014

Shutdown jeopardized school special ed funds, superintendent says

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 11/1/2013

The Ottawa school district was in danger of not getting its November payment for special education on time — thanks to last month’s federal government shutdown, Jeanne Stroh said.

The state has, on occasion, been several weeks late in distributing aid to Ottawa and other school districts across Kansas, Stroh, Ottawa school superintendent, said. School board members and the district’s administrators, Stroh said, often are asked why the district has such a big chunk of change in contingency reserves.

The Ottawa school district was in danger of not getting its November payment for special education on time — thanks to last month’s federal government shutdown, Jeanne Stroh said.

The state has, on occasion, been several weeks late in distributing aid to Ottawa and other school districts across Kansas, Stroh, Ottawa school superintendent, said. School board members and the district’s administrators, Stroh said, often are asked why the district has such a big chunk of change in contingency reserves.

“The reason is we don’t always get our state aid on time,” Stroh said. “We have to be able to function, we have to be able to pay our employees, we have to keep the lights on and so on. We always keep about a month and a half in reserves. Really, we need to keep about three months, but that’s the best we can do right now.”

Stroh, who took over July 1 as the Ottawa school district’s superintendent, talked about state funding, board goals, Common Core curriculum, facility needs and other topics Friday during the monthly First Friday Forum at Neosho County Community College, 900 E. Logan St., Ottawa. The community forum is open to the public.

“When I got here, the board and I decided on two important board goals, because we needed some focus goals for the district this year,” Stroh said, adding the she and the board would be working on a strategic plan.

In the meantime, the two goals established for the 2013-2014 school year were curriculum instruction and assessment, which is continually measured, analyzed and refocused, and communicating the facts and needs of the district’s students to the community.

“This year, we are studying math, [physical education], health and writing,” Stroh said in addressing the first goal. “Those are the things our teachers and curriculum cadres are studying. So at the beginning of next year we will have implemented math, writing, health and PE curriculum.”

Stroh couldn’t talk about curriculum, she said, without addressing some misconceptions about Common Core, known as Kansas College and Career Ready standards in this state.

“There is some information going around about Common Core that is not accurate, and that is that the federal government designed the standards and passed them out to the states — that’s not the case at all,” Stroh said. “In fact, you could ask the federal government, and they probably couldn’t describe to you what the Common Core standards are.”

Common Core was established to address the varying educational standards across the country, Stroh said.

“There is such a difference from state to state in the standards and from what kids learn and are able to do when they graduate from high school,” Stroh said. “The 50 governors and state school chiefs got together and said, ‘Let’s find people who really know curriculum instruction and assessment and let’s design standards that every kid in the United States can graduate from high school having those standards mastered and be college and career ready.”

Kansas adopted Common Core standards in 2010, Stroh said, and many school districts across the state, including Ottawa, are in the midst of implementing those standards. The now-retired standards required that students mastered basic skills, but Kansas College and Career Ready standards take those skills to the next step by requiring that students not only master the skills but also can apply them.

“It’s about problem solving,” she said. “It’s truly about being college and career ready.”

As part of the school board’s second goal to communicate the district’s needs to the community, Stroh told the audience she is in the beginning stages of establishing a 20- to 22-member committee that will study the district’s facilities and the future needs of the school district.

Though not an inclusive list, Stroh said, some of the needs include such topics as safety, career technical education facility upgrades, more elementary school space — especially at Eugene Field — better science classrooms, performing arts space and physical education facilities at the high school, space for project learning and technology improvements throughout the district.

“We have the instruction, we have the curriculum, and now we need the space,” Stroh said. “We need our community to tell us what are you willing to do.”

The district has no set agenda for the committee, Stroh said, who added she has collected about 30 names for the committee thus far. Anyone interested in serving on the committee can call the district’s central office at (785) 229-8010.

“We want all ideas on the table. And whatever the committee comes up with, we are prepared to honor that,” Stroh said. “Our schools are your schools. We want to do what is best for our kids, and we know the community will do that.”

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