EASTERN Center for Arts & Technology – A Shining Star for Our Region

Part of this new position includes not only preparing for and participating in our almost weekly meetings, but each member often participates in educational leadership activities outside of the board.  In my case, I have the pleasure of sitting on the Joint Operating Committee of the EASTERN Center for Arts and Technology, our area’s career and technical center.

I’ve already spoken about it earlier, but I wanted to share a recent re-accreditation report that reflects the strength and quality of this part of our district’s educational offerings.  EASTERN was recently reviewed by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, under their Commission on Secondary Schools, as part of EASTERN’s self-initiated effort to build and maintain national and international accreditation for their programs.

This initiative was the direct result of an intense strategic planning process fully documented on their website and the most recent evidence of their success is provided in the 2009 Middle States Report, which I encourage you to review.

In supporting EASTERN’s continued accreditation, the review team noted a number of supporting factors, which I summarize below:

  • EASTERN’s strong culture of collaboration with the business community yielding strong, meaningful advice to the school regarding career and technical areas of interest.
  • EASTERN’s strong focus on data-driven planning focused on improved student performance.
  • EASTERN’s long-standing commitment to strategic planning involving all of their stakeholders, which supports a high degree of financial stability, evidenced by the consistent unanimous approval of their budgets by constituent school districts.
  • EASTERN’s commitment to and, indeed, guarantee of quality student skill development through their student warranty program.
  • EASTERN’s parents and community member support built, in part, through the strong relationships developed between students and teachers.
  • EASTERN’s excellent transition to their new Administrative Director derived from a proactive succession planning process.

I’m proud to have the opportunity to send our students to this fine school.  This is NOT your father’s Vo-Tech school.  EASTERN goes way beyond that whole concept of skill development, including college-level coursework through Penn State on accounting, finance, information science, and engineering in their offerings.

My continued congratulations to EASTERN for their efforts to maintain such a high quality program and for their highly successful re-accreditation.  I’m lucky to be a small part of it.


A Comment On…The Battle of Educational Technology

This article (written by a teacher and submitted by a new, faithful reader) does a great job of outlining the topic of deciding how to approach the incorporation of new technology into schools and school board members would benefit from the perspective described as they develop their prioritization strategies.

We all see and perhaps own the wonderful individual technologies (those little time wasters we carry on our hips and in our bags), but until those technologies actually show a benefit to learning, I agree it would be better to focus on infrastructure that supports distribution of and collaboration around learning.

Do we really need our students worried about the perfectly formatted MS Office paper or are we focused on the content, developed through research, thought, and collaboration?

Obviously, the later, so let’s make the technology support the goals and let the Droids serve their rightful business purposes.  They are not quite learning tools, today.

Act I Exceptions…Shared Knowledge

I knew it would happen.  I’ve left some information out of my previous discussion on Act I.  Specifically, there are exceptions to the rule (or why else would it be a rule, right?).

Here’s what I believe I know.  (And please don’t shoot me if I’m still wrong on some of this.  I’m learning and the legislative language can be rather dense.  Helpers are welcome to comment.)

First, start here at the PSBA website.  This site was written before the passage of Act I, so ignore the link to PDE and head to the “new” PDE website on Act I Exceptions.  Don’t bother searching for our base index value, it’s 2.9% in 2010-2011.  (For succeeding years, look here.)

Based on my own read, districts may apply for exceptions to Act I (and thus do not have to seek a referendum) when expenses rise significantly for the following purposes:

1. Debt service related to school construction
2. Special education
3. School improvement programs related to the Federal No Child Left Behind program
4. Fast growing student populations
5. Failure of the sum of certain local and state revenues to keep pace with the base index
6. Health care expenses for contracts in place when Act I was adopted (no longer applies)
7. Retirement expenses (e.g., gigantic PSERS rate increases that are already starting to come)

Districts are NOT required to utilize all of the value of the approved exceptions so please don’t be shocked by news reports that say taxes ARE going up by some huge amount — they may not be and I will certainly work hard to avoid it.  Provided a district fills out their paperwork correctly, I would expect approval of the exception requests since the criteria are pretty straight forward.  The application forms are even online at the PDE site above.

One gotcha…If a district requests exceptions and also requires a referendum, and then that referendum is turned down at the May primary, the district loses the exceptions AND must stay within the base index.  Thus, it should be obvious that a district will stay within its approved exceptions and avoid a referendum at the very least, unless there are truly dire circumstances. 

Again, districts do not have to use all of the value of their exceptions, so the work of boards is not done simply by applying for exceptions.  Because budgets are rarely finalized when the exception applications are due, districts are derelict if they don’t at least apply for valid exceptions, even if they don’t ultimately use them.

So, I just wanted to make sure I was doing my best to share my learning, to be open about having left out a point, and to make this an opportunity for others to comment if they believe they have a better handle on this complicated mess than I do.

One other thing I’ve learned…to LISTEN carefully to our district business manager.  They know this stuff really well and will guide us.  On this, you will just need to trust me.