Thursday, March 31, 2005

Important: Contact Your Legislator

We can not impress upon you the importance of contacting representatives regarding the bills mentioned in yesterday’s posting.

It is critical that our representative understands the feelings that we have regarding the great job that we do at Plymouth and the necessity to provide the resources for us to move forward. We will be participating in the state-wide rally on April 6th in Indianapolis.

Many of us are concerned about potential cuts that may be required in the near future. Because our general fund budget order was reduced $117,038, that amount be trimmed in general fund expenses. The total financial impact, positive or negative, will not be known until the legislature has recessed. Given the nature of some of the bills that are being considered and some of the talk that has been shared with us, necessary reductions could be as high as $450,000.

These challenges are not unique to Plymouth Community Schools. Districts all over Indiana are facing the same crisis or even greater challenges. Furthermore, Indiana is one of the last states to come address its financial state crisis.

We will examine:
- the $588,000 in previous reductions
- our current organization and explore if there are more efficient ways to deliver instruction
- look at low enrollment classes and their relationship to our mission statement, corporation goals, building goals, and state goals as we discussed yesterday.

There are five bills currently under consideration that are either unfunded mandates or bills that will take dollars away from state tuition support that will come up for vote in the very near future. It is critical that you immediately email Representative Heim and express that he vote “no” on those bills.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Plymouth Produces Two Lilly Scholars

The Marshall County Community Foundation announced the 2005 recipients of Lilly Scholarships are Taryn Holt and Ryan Pickell. Congratulations for your accomplishment!
To those staff members and parents who have guided and influenced Taryn and Ryan in their endeavors, we say 'thank you".

Budgets and Bills

As a child growing up, my parents had six envelopes in which they kept money. The envelopes were designated for groceries, clothing, car expenses, household expenses, Christmas, and miscellaneous. My parents cashed their paychecks and distributed dollars among the envelopes. This was their way of budgeting.

The corporation budget operates much the same way. Instead of six envelopes, the district has seven funds. The money from various sources is placed into one of the designated funds. The funds are the general fund, capital projects fund, debt service fund, bus replacement fund, transportation operations fund, special education/pre-school fund, and debt service pension fund. Money from one fund cannot be spent for purposes designated for another fund. For example the district pays for a building from the debt service fund and pays for employee salaries and benefits from the general fund.

The preparation of the 2005 budget begins in June of 2004. By the third Thursday in September 2004 the board must adopt the 2005 budget. Those numbers are based on projections and estimates of assessed values, estimated expenses, and various revenues for the next 18 months. The final approval for that budget is supposed to be made prior to the beginning of the 2005 year. With re-assessment, the Department of Local Government has been late in certifying the budget.

Two weeks ago, the district received its budget order, the certified amounts that the district can spend out of each fund. As a result of that certification, the district will now have $117,038 less to spend in the general fund than the Board originally adopted in September of 2004. In the transportation fund, the district will receive $8,075 less then approved. In the special ed/pre-school fund, the district will receive $37,715 less then approved. The money in the special ed/pre-school fund is driven by the number of students enrolled on December 1, so that will not create a hardship for us. Its greatest cut came in the capital projects fund. That has been reduced by $872,000. Part of this reduction is caused by a new “envelope” called the debt service pension fund. The board has chosen to reduce its capital projects fund to pay off the pension bond debt. The district is required to cut expenses for this calendar year by those amounts.

These cuts come off the top; they do not include the short-falls that the district is currently experiencing as a result of the State being unable to meet its share of its monthly tuition support payment.

During the next few weeks, the district must estimate the impact of the legislature’s action and determine how it will live with in the new parameters.

This task is compounded by the potential passage of several bills moving through the legislature, whose financial mandates will shrink the amount of money available for supporting schools.

It is critically important that you contact Representative Heim ( and ask him to vote “no” on Senate Bill 200. Senate Bill 200 is the Core 40 bill. It is a noble bill that could be supported if the dollars needed to implement the tenants of this bill were provided.

Senate Bill 231 is the Kindergarten entrance age date change. This is another bill that could be supported if the dollars needed to implement the change were provided. In its current form please encourage Representative Heim ( to vote “no”.

Senate Bill 281 would provide transfer tuition/school vouchers/tuition tax credits. This bill has the potential to move millions of dollars from the public schools to the private schools. In its current form please encourage Representative Heim ( to vote “no”.

Senate Bill 371 is the professional standards board reorganization, increase in drop-out age/spring ISTEP testing bill. Many parts of this bill could be supported but, the unfunded financial liabilities of this bill will take money away from public schools. In its current form please encourage Representative Heim ( to vote “no”.

Senate Bill 598, diverting common school and alternative education funds from traditional public schools to charter schools. The financial resources of the state are limited at this time. Money needed to fund this bill will be taken away from children of this district to fund charter schools in other districts. Please encourage Representative Heim to vote “no”.

Monday, March 28, 2005

State Financing Issues

It is critical that we all become aware of the activities of the Indiana legislature with respect to school financing and related issues. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette published an article that describes the anti-school sentiment that exists in Indianapolis.

Posted on Sun, Mar. 27, 2005

Running on emptyAnti-school sentiment stalls education progress by Karen Francisco
There might be no equation more important in the state’s budget battle than the one that will determine how much money will go to public schools. And as popular as the idea of simplifying that equation seems to be, it will please very few if there’s not enough money to make it work.
Calls to replace the current formula with one in which “the money follows the child” are growing stronger. They drown out a deeper, darker fight taking place at the Statehouse – one that strikes at the philosophical foundation of Indiana’s constitutional requirement to provide “a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”
The implication in calling for a revised funding formula is that there are plenty of education dollars to go around, but they aren’t being distributed fairly. It’s a brilliant strategy if your goal is to divide urban, suburban and rural school districts or to saddle them with more and costly requirements. If you want to steer tax dollars to private and parochial schools exempt from those same requirements, “the money follows the child” is the ticket.
If you believe, however, that Indiana’s public schools are a key factor in its economic future and that improvements will continue only with additional investment, you’ll realize that a simple funding formula is this session’s red herring.
The philosophical fight has come about because Republicans won control of the House and because the new administration appears to place little stock in public education. Gov. Mitch Daniels used his State of the State address to characterize Indiana schools as overfunded and lagging other states. His education agenda is aimed at rewriting the funding formula, increasing funding for charter schools, appointing his own superintendent of public instruction and moving the ISTEP+ exam to spring. Only one measure – moving up the kindergarten enrollment date – would have any direct effect on classroom achievement.
A complex task
The task of balancing property wealth, socioeconomic variables, fluctuating enrollments and other factors presents a challenge that far exceeds grade-school math abilities. Even Sen. Luke Kenley, a critic of the current formula, expresses reservations. “We’re very pleased we’re all marching down the path of trying to do funding that follows the child,” he said earlier this year. “But it’s good news, bad news.”
Actually, it’s a case of bad news and more bad news. What some lawmakers sought was a formula that stops granting additional dollars to schools with declining enrollment and shifts those dollars to growing districts. The dollars earmarked for schools in the House budget bill, however, allow a handful of districts to limp along and leaves most of them struggling.
“It almost works the reverse of what they were hoping for,” said Brian Smith, superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, one of those growing districts. “We were shocked to learn that our class sizes are going to grow as a result of this.”
Southwest Allen, because of its projected growth, expects to lose $150 per student in 2006 and $100 per student in 2007. That’s frustrating for the Allen County district because it succeeded in passing a voter referendum specifically aimed at reducing class sizes.
But its problems are minor compared with those of some small-town and rural districts. Adams Central Community Schools, in Monroe, is facing a 3 percent reduction in the first year of the proposed budget; almost 4 percent in the second year. Smith-Green Community Schools, in Churubusco, would see cuts exceeding 2 percent each year.
“It’s a very, very difficult time,” said David Martin, Smith-Green superintendent. “We’re looking at a significant drop in revenue, and what is amazing to me is that the discussions at the state level are about adding requirements.”
Martin is worried about Senate Bill 200, which would make the Core 40 curriculum the minimum requirement for a high school diploma. It would require Smith-Green to hire more staff, even as the proposed budget demands that vacancies left by retirements this year will go unfilled. It will be harder for small districts to offer more advanced science and math courses than it will be for larger districts.
Lowell Rose, a retired superintendent and consultant to the Indiana Urban Schools Association, said the proposed budget will “disperse misery for all, albeit disproportionately.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, defended the budget proposal, noting that it’s the lack of money, not the formula itself, that school officials are unhappy with. He pointed out that all three districts in Wells County, his home county, lose money in his proposed budget.
Urban vs. suburban
Before the legislative session began, Sen. Vi Simpson, a Democrat from Ellettsville, predicted that the funding battle between urban and suburban schools would be the “debate that tears this session apart.”
That could still happen. But school officials have quickly realized that squabbling over their own share of state dollars is counterproductive when there is not enough money to go around in the first place. It’s a fairly recent development, even if it seems that schools always have been begging for more.
Some history:
Indiana’s school finance program dates to 1949, with adoption of a “foundation program,” in which the state guarantees all school districts a target amount of per-pupil support for education, assuming that the district will raise a portion through local property taxes.
Until 1973, school districts were required to raise a minimum amount in local taxes in exchange for state support to meet the foundation level. Districts could levy higher taxes to support as strong a school system as the community wanted and could afford. In 1973, modifications were made to control property taxes and, later, to reduce inequities in funding between districts. One major change was to add a “minimum guarantee” so that school districts would not face a decline in revenue during a fiscal crisis. As the state’s fiscal crisis began in 2001, the number of school districts receiving the minimum guarantee began to grow to the point where eight out 10 corporations now receive the minimum guarantee.
Because growing districts in wealthier areas make up most of those not receiving the minimum guarantee, some lawmakers began faulting the formula for withholding money from growing, suburban districts at the expense of declining urban and rural districts. But it’s a lack of money overall, not the formula, that is the root of the problem.
“It’s all about politics and very little about schools,” said Simpson, who predicted the urban-suburban battle. “(The formula) is not that difficult to explain. When they say that only six people in the state understand it, that’s baloney – that’s malarkey.”
She said that the state shouldn’t penalize corporations like Fort Wayne Community Schools, with a relatively stable enrollment, or small districts like her own in southern Indiana, to support growing suburban districts, but should instead re-examine its priorities to put more money toward all schools.
“There are appropriations in this budget that could be diverted to K-12 – it’s just a matter of priorities,” Simpson said. “My hope is that we can get the word out and get this turned around. We’re going outside of Indianapolis to spread the word – the governor has been missing in action in supporting public schools.”
Discouraging prospects
As Simpson and other Democratic legislators hold town meetings across the state to discuss K-12 funding, education officials are bracing for the worst and trying to hold off the additional demands that Republican lawmakers seem intent on approving. Lowell Rose admitted that the crisis hasn’t registered with voters. “When the public wakes up to everything that has happened (regarding education) in the session, it’s going to be too late to do anything about it,” he said.
“The other thing going on is that this administration has demonstrated that it is not pro-public school,” Rose said. “I think the members of the House and Senate are far more supportive of public education than the governor.”
Rose praised Senate leaders, including Sen. Robert Meeks, R-LaGrange, who he said is working to find another $100 million for schools. Revenue estimates due in April will determine if it can happen. Espich predicted that the legislature will approve additional sin taxes and find another $50 million to $100 million for schools, but he warned that even the extra dollars won’t bring K-12 education up to the funding level of the current biennium.
A likely scenario is that Indiana’s public schools will receive in the next two-year budget the same or less amount of money as in the previous biennium. They also will be required to add to their high school course offerings and serve more students in accommodating an earlier kindergarten enrollment cut-off date and a higher minimum age for drop-outs. A badly timed switch from fall to spring ISTEP+ will consume a considerable share of dollars that could go toward instruction.
In a worst-case scenario, Republican House leaders will push through HB 1009, a voucher bill that will further erode financial support for public education.
If the session continues on its present course, Indiana can expect to find itself continuing to talk about its funding formula. But instead of Statehouse arguments over suburban vs. urban, the discussion will be in the courts, where many other states have found themselves trying to defend inadequate and inequitable support for public education.
Lawmakers would be well-served to review of the state’s constitutional requirements with regard to schools if they want to save Hoosiers the cost and heartache of a legal challenge.
More important, they should protect the wise investment they have placed in schools over the last two decades.

Tomorrow we will share the impact of proposals on our district. Late this afternoon we received the following:

PLEASE BE ALERTED THAT HB 1009, THE VOUCHER BILL, WAS AMENDED INTO SB 281, PUBLIC SCHOOL TRANSFER PROGRAM THIS MORNING BY THE HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE. The amendment was offered by Representative Behning. Now is the time to personally contact your representative in the House and ask them to oppose SB 281 as amended by the House Education Committee. You can e-mail your legislators at: A telephone message would also help. Testimony was not completed on the bill and amendments, so further testimony and the vote have been delayed until Wednesday morning at 8:30 AM. No one received a copy of the amended 1009, so it is hard to tell what changed. John Ellis did have one of the opportunities to speak, and opposed the amendment incorporating HB 1009. He discussed:· When funding for public schools is at such a low level it is not a good time to direct dollars that could be dedicated to the public school funding formula away from those schools. The dollars would go to private schools even if the private school and the student funded never demonstrated attainment under NCLB. The fiscal impact for the three-year period on the tax credit defined is substantial--$11.4 million in 2007, $17.1 million in 2008, and $63 million for 2009. In addressing the assumption that schools will recoup dollar for dollar since the student leaves when the money leaves, Ellis used the example of tuition support at $3880 per student--a district with six 4-section elementary schools losing 100 students to vouchers would average a loss of 1/2 student per class--hardly allowing a penny of savings because the 100 students were gone. The Chair's response was there would be a new fiscal to fit the revisions in the bill.· The funding source was changed from direct school revenue to the state's general fund. The state's general fund provides revenue for public schools, Medicaid, correction, and any other item within the state's budget.Members of the House Education Committee: R. Behning - Chair T. Harris S. Heim R. Hoffman J. Thompson G. Porter D. Cheney J. Micon P. Pflum V. Smith

Champions In Our Hearts

Our speech and basketball teams are great examples of what is right with public schools. Both exhibited what our youth can do when high expectations, great teaching and coaching, and hard work all come together. Their accomplishments are not measured on the ISTEP, however their experiences provided valuable lessons that will last them a lifetime. Coaches and team members, we thank you for your efforts. You are CHAMPIONS in our hearts!

Friday, March 18, 2005


Good luck to the Speech Team members and coaches who are participating in the State Speech meet this weekend at IUPUI.

Our "final four" basketball team will make us proud tomorrow at Huntington. During this week, Jack will be admitted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Congratulations!

Reading News

It was a “rush” to see the enthusiasm associated with our district’s emphasis on reading in Wednesday’s elementary in-service. This does not exist in all districts.

Federal reading first dollars have been used to evaluate many products who say they meet the “scientific research-based” criteria. Those evaluations are available to the general public from an University of Oregon website. As we become more adept at identifying specific problem areas, these resources will be useful in making instructional decisions.

While working with a student teacher, Stephanie Schaffer (Webster) compiled a resource book for reading. This book has been distributed to all elementary and is organized for additions over time. We thank you Stephanie for your efforts.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What is in a Name? Part 2

A few days ago we solicited potential names for the new elementary. Some experienced difficulties with the comment button. Let's try it again. Thus far, two suggestions have been received via email, Franklin Elementary and Nutmeg Academy. What is your proposed name for the new building?
Remember, the name of the building should inspire excellence. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Check Out Other Blogs

The Wawasee Blog has two interesting posts. One talks about the game on Saturday, the other features an article by the late Mike Royko, Mudders and Fodders.

Semi State Tickets

Semi-State Tickets will be sold as follows:
Tuesday, March 15, Parents of varsity players, managers and cheerleaders,
High School students and high school employees from 12:00 - 4:00 PM - - Season ticket holders only.
Wednesday, March 16, . From 3:30 - 5:00 PM - Plymouth Community School Corp. Employees - season ticket holders only.
Season Tickets holders - Tickets will go on sale at 6:00 PM in the boys gym. Everyone must show their season tickets and everyone will have to pick up their own tickets.
Thursday, March 17,
Non season ticket holders 8:00 - 4:00 PM.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Student Services Committee

The Student Services Committee met for the first time this year. Thirty-five staff members, parents, and community members gathered to talk about what our community is doing for our students.

Mrs. Georgette Rader started the meeting by addressing the needs for AIDS instruction in the schools. Once the new Health and Wellness curriculum is released from the state, health teachers from the high school and junior high will meet with representatives from the elementary school to create a K-12 curriculum in this area.

Representatives from the Bowen Center took the podium next and informed the gathering on the Student's Assistance program recently established.

Melissa Shanks, Sue Stinson, and John Barron gave excellent reports on wellness in the PE and Health Classes. Mrs. Stinson even had Mr. Tyree take off his shoes and socks and have his body-fat index taken. The results are secret! Mrs. Rader talked about wellness from the nurse's perspective and Mrs. Burnham gave a report on our healthy-lunch program.

The group will meet again on September 7, 2005. Anyone who has an agenda suggestion should contact Dan Tyree.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Welcome Steve Miller!

We have been fortunate to visit Steve Miller's Industrial Tech class at Lincoln Jr. High. This is Steve's first year in Plymouth. Students in Steve's classes are always busy working on projects. Please stop by and see the clocks manufactured by Steve's students. You will be impressed! Steve teaches more than technical skills. All students are encouraged to be kind, courteous, and respectful. Steve models what he expects. Steve, we salute you for your efforts.

Superintendent’s Advisory Committee

The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee met March 8, 2005 at 7:00 p.m. in the board room. The committee members heard an Option K update from Dr. Hill. The members also received an update on the redistricting process. A list of issue to be considered during the process has been compiled. The data from the student management system is being copied over to the student transportation data system. This process will continue into the next school year.

The committee received a report on the impact of the proposed Governor’s budget and the budget that passed the house on the Plymouth Community Schools. Both will result in a decrease in services for students. Community members are encouraged to contact their representatives and express their concerns.

The council also discussed a variety of other issues including the alternative school program, the alternative to suspension program, the student assistance program, and changes in the teaching of reading.

The next scheduled meeting of the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee will be May 3, 2005.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Construction Update

A construction meeting was held on March 10, 2005 @ 9:00 a.m.

During the past two weeks:
The brick on the Lincoln locker room and the roofing on the Lincoln locker room are near completion. The underpinning at Lincoln in the kitchen, choir room, and band room has been completed.

The brick on the Washington south addition is 50% completed. The roofing at Washington is completed on the north addition. The south addition will be completed by the end of today.

Temporary heat is on in the Washington additions. The plumbing underground in the Washington kitchen area was started. The masonry at Webster is 70% complete. Approximately 100 feet of the pre-cast panels has been removed on the west side of Plymouth High School.

During the next two weeks:
A slab will be poured on grade in the Lincoln music, choir, kitchen, and locker room areas. The slabs will be poured on the north addition at Washington and in the cafeteria portion of the south addition. As soon as the rough-ins are completed in the kitchen area, the slabs will be poured there. The brick on Washington north will be completed.

The bearing walls at Webster will be completed on Monday. The roof trusses will be delivered tomorrow and set next week. The interior walls at Lincoln and Webster will be started.

REMINDER – Power Shut-off:
During spring break, the electricity will be off at Lincoln on Monday and Tuesday. The electricity at Washington will be disconnected on Wednesday and Thursday. The front entrance of Washington will be unaccessible during spring break due to the bricking of the west wall of the north addition. All schedules are contingent on the weather.

Last Project milestone dates:
Washington, Lincoln and Webster – new construction including kitchens to be completed by June 15, 2005. The high school west addition to be completed by July 29, 2005. The Washington and Lincoln renovations completed by July 29, 2005. The high school multi-purpose addition to be completed by December 1, 2005. The high school renovations will start May 31, 2005 and be completed by December 1, 2005.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Heroes Help Children at Webster

The Webster Math Bowl Team placed first in the district contest last evening. I'd like to share that Susie Kreighbaum, Deb Boocher, and Meg Schneiders stepped up to make this happen for the kids after the coach resigned her position with the school. This is another example of good heroes taking action so kids aren't disappointed.

Kindergarten Round-up

Plymouth Community School Corporation will host their annual Kindergarten Round-up the week of March 14-18 in all Plymouth Elementary Schools. All children who will be five years old by July 1, 2005 are eligible to enroll in kindergarten for the fall of 2005.

Parents should visit the elementary school of the school district they reside in to sign up their child for school. Registration hours are 8:00 A.M.-3:30 P.M. each day, Monday through Friday, March 14-18. Evening hours for registering will also be held on Tuesday, March 15th, from 5:00-7:00 P.M.

Parents are asked to bring their child’s birth certificate and immunization record to the school when they sign-up their child. Requests for morning or afternoon sessions of kindergarten can also be made at this time.

If you have family, friends, or neighbors who have children at this age, please have them contact the school or call the school for answers to any questions.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bill Gates Talks About the American High School

Bill Gates addressed the National Governors' Association on February 26, 2005. His speech was thought povoking. Below is a transcript of his talk. do you agree or disagree? Please share your comments.

"Thank you for that kind introduction.I also want to thank you, Governor Warner, and your fellow governors, for your leadership in hosting this education summit on America’s high schools. It is rare to bring together people with such broad responsibilities and focus their attention on one single issue. But if there is one single issue worth your focused attention – it is the state of America’s high schools.Many of us here have stories about how we came to embrace high schools as an urgent cause. Let me tell you ours. Everything Melinda and I do through our foundation is designed to advance equity. Around the world, we believe we can do the most by investing in health – especially in the poorest countries. Here in America, we believe we can do the most to promote equity through education. A few years ago, when Melinda and I really began to explore opportunities in philanthropy, we heard very compelling stories and statistics about how financial barriers kept minority students from taking their talents to college and making the most of their lives.That led to one of the largest projects of our foundation. We created the Gates Millennium Scholars program to ensure that talent and energy meet with opportunity for thousands of promising minority students who want to go to college. Many of our Scholars come from tough backgrounds, and they could bring you to tears with their hopeful plans for the future. They reinforced our belief that higher education is the best possible path for promoting equality and improving lives here in America.Yet – the more we looked at the data, the more we came to see that there is more than one barrier to college. There’s the barrier of being able to pay for college; and there’s the barrier of being prepared for it.When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education – and we looked at the damaging impact that has on their lives – we came to a painful conclusion:America’s high schools are obsolete.By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It’s the wrong tool for the times. Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year. Today, only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.The other two-thirds, most of them low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won’t ever get them ready for college or prepare them for a family-wage job – no matter how well the students learn or the teachers teach.This isn’t an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system.In district after district, wealthy white kids are taught Algebra II while low-income minority kids are taught to balance a check book!The first group goes on to college and careers; the second group will struggle to make a living wage.Let’s be clear. Thanks to dedicated teachers and principals around the country, the best-educated kids in the United States are the best-educated kids in the world. We should be proud of that. But only a fraction of our kids are getting the best education.Once we realize that we are keeping low-income and minority kids out of rigorous courses, there can be only two arguments for keeping it that way – either we think they can’t learn, or we think they’re not worth teaching. The first argument is factually wrong; the second is morally wrong.Everyone who understands the importance of education; everyone who believes in equal opportunity; everyone who has been elected to uphold the obligations of public office should be ashamed that we are breaking our promise of a free education for millions of students.For the sake of our young people and everyone who will depend on them – we must stop rationing education in America.I’m not here to pose as an education expert. I head a corporation and a foundation. One I get paid for – the other one costs me. But both jobs give me a perspective on education in America, and both perspectives leave me appalled.When I compare our high schools to what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow. In math and science, our 4th graders are among the top students in the world. By 8th grade, they’re in the middle of the pack.By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. Many who graduate do not go onto college. And many who do go on to college are not well-prepared – and end up dropping out. That is one reason why the U.S. college dropout rate is also one of the highest in the industrialized world. The poor performance of our high schools in preparing students for college is a major reason why the United States has now dropped from first to fifth in the percentage of young adults with a college degree.The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor’s degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind.That is the heart of the economic argument for better high schools. It essentially says: “We’d better do something about these kids not getting an education, because it’s hurting us.” But there’s also a moral argument for better high schools, and it says: “We’d better do something about these kids not getting an education, because it’s hurting them.”Today, most jobs that allow you to support a family require some postsecondary education. This could mean a four-year college, a community college, or technical school. Unfortunately, only half of all students who enter high school ever enroll in a postsecondary institution.That means that half of all students starting high school today are unlikely to get a job that allows them to support a family. Students who graduate from high school, but never go on to college, will earn – on average – about twenty-five thousand dollars a year. For a family of five, that’s close to the poverty line. But if you're Hispanic, you earn less. If you’re black, you earn even less – about 14 percent less than a white high school graduate.Those who drop out have it even worse. Only 40 percent have jobs. They are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than their friends who stayed in high school. They are far more likely to have children in their teens. One in four turn to welfare or other kinds of government assistance.Everyone agrees this is tragic. But these are our high schools that keep letting these kids fall through the cracks, and we act as if it can’t be helped. It can be helped. We designed these high schools; we can redesign them.But first we have to understand that today’s high schools are not the cause of the problem; they are the result. The key problem is political will. Elected officials have not yet done away with the idea underlying the old design. The idea behind the old design was that you could train an adequate workforce by sending only a third of your kids to college – and that the other kids either couldn’t do college work or didn’t need to. The idea behind the new design is that all students can do rigorous work, and – for their sake and ours – they have to.Fortunately, there is mounting evidence that the new design works.The Kansas City, Kansas public school district, where 79 percent of students are minorities and 74 percent live below the poverty line, was struggling with high dropout rates and low test scores when it adopted the school-reform model called First Things First in 1996. This included setting high academic standards for all students, reducing teacher-student ratios, and giving teachers and administrators the responsibility to improve student performance and the resources they needed to do it. The district’s graduation rate has climbed more than 30 percentage points.These are the kind of results you can get when you design high schools to prepare every student for college.At the Met School in Providence, Rhode Island, 70 percent of the students are black or Hispanic. More than 60 percent live below the poverty line. Nearly 40 percent come from families where English is a second language. As part of its special mission, the Met enrolls only students who have dropped out in the past or were in danger of dropping out. Yet, even with this student body, the Met now has the lowest dropout rate and the highest college placement rate of any high school in the state. These are the kind of results you can get when you design a high school to prepare every student for college.Two years ago, I visited High Tech High in San Diego. It was conceived in 1998 by a group of San Diego business leaders who became alarmed by the city's shortage of talented high-tech workers. Thirty-five percent of High Tech High students are black or Hispanic. All of them study courses like computer animation and biotechnology in the school's state-of-the-art labs. High Tech High’s scores on statewide academic tests are 15 percent higher than the rest of the district; their SAT scores are an average of 139 points higher.These are the kind of results you can get when you design a high school to prepare every student for college.These are not isolated examples. These are schools built on principles that can be applied anywhere – the new three R’s, the basic building blocks of better high schools:
The first R is Rigor – making sure all students are given a challenging curriculum that prepares them for college or work;
The second R is Relevance – making sure kids have courses and projects that clearly relate to their lives and their goals;
The third R is Relationships – making sure kids have a number of adults who know them, look out for them, and push them to achieve. The three R’s are almost always easier to promote in smaller high schools. The smaller size gives teachers and staff the chance to create an environment where students achieve at a higher level and rarely fall through the cracks. Students in smaller schools are more motivated, have higher attendance rates, feel safer, and graduate and attend college in higher numbers. Yet every governor knows that the success of one school is not an answer to this crisis. You have to be able to make systems of schools work for all students. For this, we believe we need stable and effective governance. We need equitable school choice. We need performance-oriented employment agreements. And we need the capacity to intervene in low-performing schools.Our foundation has invested nearly one billion dollars so far to help redesign the American high school. We are supporting more than fifteen hundred high schools – about half are totally new, and the other half are existing schools that have been redesigned. Four hundred fifty of these schools, both new and redesigned, are already open and operating. Chicago plans to open 100 new schools. New York City is opening 200. Exciting redesign work is under way in Oakland, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Boston. This kind of change is never easy. But I believe there are three steps that governors and CEOs can take that will help build momentum for change in our schools.Number 1. Declare that all students can and should graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship. How would you respond to a ninth grader’s mother who said: “My son is bright. He wants to learn. How come they won’t let him take Algebra?” What would you say? I ask the governors and business leaders here to become the top advocates in your states for the belief that every child should take courses that prepare him for college – because every child can succeed, and every child deserves the chance. The states that have committed to getting all students ready for college have made good progress – but every state must make the same commitment.Number 2. Publish the data that measures our progress toward that goal. The focus on measuring success in the past few years has been important – it has helped us realize the extent of the problem. But we need to know more: What percentage of students are dropping out? What percentage are graduating? What percentage are going on to college? And we need this data broken down by race and income. The idea of tracking low-income and minority kids into dead-end courses is so offensive to our sense of equal opportunity that the only way the practice can survive, is if we hide it. That’s why we need to expose it. If we are forced to confront this injustice, I believe we will end it. Number 3. Turn around failing schools and open new ones. If we believe all kids can learn – and the evidence proves they can –then when the students don’t learn, the school must change. Every state needs a strong intervention strategy to improve struggling schools. This needs to include special teams of experts who are given the power and resources to turn things around.If we can focus on these three steps – high standards for all; public data on our progress; turning around failing schools – we will go a long way toward ensuring that all students have a chance to make the most of their lives.Our philanthropy is driven by the belief that every human being has equal worth. We are constantly asking ourselves where a dollar of funding and an hour of effort can make the biggest impact for equality. We look for strategic entry points – where the inequality is the greatest, has the worst consequences, and offers the best chance for improvement. We have decided that high schools are a crucial intervention point for equality because that’s where children’s paths diverge – some go on to lives of accomplishment and privilege; others to lives of frustration, joblessness, and jail.When I visited High Tech High in San Diego a few years ago, one young student told me that High Tech High was the first school he’d ever gone to where being smart was cool. His neighborhood friends gave him a hard time about that, and he said he wasn’t sure he was going to stay. But then he showed me the work he was doing on a special project involving a submarine. This kid was really bright. It was an incredible experience talking to him – because his life really did hang in the balance.And without teachers who knew him, pushed him, and cared about him, he wouldn’t have had a chance. Think of the difference it will make in his life if he takes that talent to college. Now multiply that by millions. That’s what’s at stake here. If we keep the system as it is, millions of children will never get a chance to fulfill their promise because of their zip code, their skin color, or the income of their parents. That is offensive to our values, and it’s an insult to who we are.Every kid can graduate ready for college. Every kid should have the chance. Let’s redesign our schools to make it happen.Thank you very much."

Blog Tidbits

-Preliminary results of studies examining the relationship of DIBELS and ISTEP show in excess of 90% of the students who meet or exceed benchmark on the final second grade fluency assessment will pass the 3rd grade ISTEP.

-Many textbook publishers now make textbooks, study guides, practice quizzes, etc. available on the internet.

- Other districts have initiated blogs. The Whitko blog contains a posting on dress. "What parents really want " is the topic of a posting on the Wawasee blog. Whether we agree or disagree is an individual decision. It is interesting to see what is being discussed in other districts.

-2500 visits have been made to the Truth during the past 10 days.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

What ISTEP Doesn't Measure

Saturday was a championship day for Plymouth schools as they brought home five championships: two in athletics and three in academics. These championships can't be measured on ISTEP but they represent quality work by Plymouth students.

First, the PHS Speech Team won the sectional tournament competing at Columbia City High School. They qualified 35 out of 36 students to the state tournament. Plymouth has won every sectional since 1982. Committment to quality work continues by the PHS Speech Team.

Second, the gymnastics team travelled to Wawasee High School where it won its first sectional title. This tops of a tremendous year where the Plymouth gymnasts had recorded a 10 - 2 record. Good luck at the Regional!

Third, Destination Imagination won two regional titles at Triton High School. Lincoln Junior High won first in the Structural: Designing Bridges. The High School Team also won first place in the category Improving Along. Great job DI!

Finally, the Plymouth hoopsters won their first sectional championship since 2002 in our gym Saturday night by defeating a pesky Mishawaka Marion High School. They will now advance to the IHSAA Regional to face Hammond High School at 12:00 noon Saturday, March 12.

While these championships can't be measured by ISTEP, they certainly do teach our students lifelong lessons that prepare them to do quality work when they leave PCSC. Great job coaches and students. We are all proud of you!

Friday, March 04, 2005

PHS Open House

Plymouth High School will host its third Open House of the year on Thursday, March 10, 2005. Registration runs from 6:00 - 6:30 PM in the high school's front lobby. While construction has created a parking problem at the high school , parents are asked to park in the south and east lots. Parents will rotate through their child's schedule and SPD from 6:30 - 8:00. Parents may also meet with any staff member with whom they were unable to meet with during open house from 8:05 - 8:30. For more information call 936-2178 or email

What Is It All About?

Standards based report cards, sequenced curriculum, benchmark tests, horizontal meetings, etc., are all part of the school improvement process. We don’t know about you, but it is important for us to sit back and remind ourselves how these all fit together.

The curriculum defines what students should know and be able to do. It must include the state standards. That is our legal obligation to students. The curriculum also includes other knowledge and skills students need to succeed beyond their high school years. That is our moral obligation. The “sequenced curriculum” is the order that we present the topics. This is the structure upon which we build learning activities.

The “benchmark tests” are short, periodic assessments that tell us how our students are progressing. We can use this information to make adjustments in our instruction and target our “extra help.”

“Horizontal meetings” currently at the elementary level give us an opportunity to review the results of the benchmark assessments. A greater benefit is the sharing of our collective knowledge to provide the most effective instruction to our students.

In the future, we will report student progress on a “standards-based” report card. Instead of reporting how students are progressing by subject, we will inform parents of student progress by skill and knowledge areas. We will focus parent conferences on students’ strengths and challenges and offer focused suggestions on ways parents can help their children outside the school day.

Curriculum + sequence + benchmarking + horizontal meetings + standards based reporting + working with parents and families = outstanding students.

Thank you for all you do for kids!

Great Job Washington

I (Dan Tyree) had the opportunity to sub for Mrs. Riise on Wednesday, March 9, to insure that an administrator was present as the NAEP Test was given to 4th grade students. I was greeted warmly by Judy Cooper and Tim Schmidt who tackle the morning office calls and visitors. Bob Girten took just a second to show me where I could get a cup of coffee. He then continued with his job to make sure the school was clean and presentable for the students and NAEP staff.

I was so impressed with all aspects of the school. Faculty members greeted me with a smile, the bus drivers waved as they let the students off the bus, and parent volunteers and aides were excited to brag about their school. The NAEP Test went off without a hitch. Mrs. Riise had prepared the staff well; the 4th grade teachers created a conducive atmosphere for testing; and even with the open concept, you could hear a pin drop during the morning testing.

Testing officials were complimentary of the staff and the school. One official said the dirt floor in the construction area was cleaner than most schools he visits. He explained to me that the Washington staff won't see classroom results of the test; however, the student results will be part of The Nation's Report Card that will be available on-line in about three months at

Finally, I stopped in the gym to watch Mr. Schmidt teach physical education. The children were bowling with small sandbags and plastic pins. It was a great activity, but there was more. The students kept track of their scores and then made bar graphs with the results. You see, Tim was hitting PE standards, math standards, and science standards in one activity. He was complimenting the classroom teachers' work and the kids were having a great time.

Good job Washington! Keep up the great work! You are truly committed to leaving no child behind.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

"The Boss"

Every school program has individuals who are not employees of the district who contribute greatly to its success. The activities of the Plymouth High School athletic department are broadcast locally on WTCA and world-wide on the web.

Tony Ross provides the play-by-play for most events. For Tony it is more than announcing the games. He has developed a close relationship with the athletes and coaches. Tony’s enthusiasm and loyalty (it is rumored he bleeds Plymouth red and white) is unquestioned.

We extend our sincere appreciation to “The Boss” for spreading the news about PHS’s athletic teams.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Construction News

The construction process creates challenges.

At PHS the choir and weight rooms will be vacated immediately after school is out. Dick Tobias and Roy Benge are currently developing plans for serving lunches and relocating classes this fall.

The cafeteria, kitchen, nurse’s office, and teacher workroom will be vacated immediately after school is out at Washington. All work is expected to be completed by the opening of the 2005-2006 school year.

The teacher workroom, Miss Gilbert’s classroom, and the nurse’s office will be vacated at the conclusion of the school year at Lincoln. All work is expected to be completed prior to the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Above and Beyond

We are fortunate to be part of a school district where many go beyond what is expected. At Menominee Elementary the Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade teachers studied DIBELS. A faculty member went on the Internet, made herself familiar with DIBELS and trained herself to give the assessments. When asked, she sought and provided intervention materials to other teachers. As she served other roles in the district, this has been her norm. We say, “Thank you Jennifer George for caring about kids.”

What's in a name?

Many have stopped and asked us “What’s the name of the new elementary going to be?” At this point we don’t know. Some have suggested it be named Menominee Elementary and find a new name for the 5th and 6th grade building. Others have mentioned that it should be called West Elementary. We believe that the name of the new building ought to reflect the activities that go on in the building. The name should inspire those who attend and work in the building to greater achievements. One patron suggested that perhaps the school should be called an “academy” and not a “school.” Another has suggested that it be named after Einstein. No process has been put in place at this time to pick the name. If you have a suggestion for a name, please list it in the comments section.