Athens City School District
Summary of Board of Education Meeting, November 20, 2014
The actual business of the board was fairly quick, with the most substantive points related to action in the state legislature. Keep reading past the formal stuff, though, for a snapshot of the Plains Elementary – its challenges and the people and programs dedicated to meeting them. The hardships facing the Plains exemplify the difficulties we face in this district and throughout our region.
To begin with the formal business: Board member Roger Brown noted that House Bill 597 is supposed to go up for vote this week. This bill would repeal the Common Core as the standards for Ohio public school, and it would set new standards that many parents may find troubling, such as:
- teaching science as a set of facts while rejecting the scientific process
- opening the door to teaching creationism
- limiting the percentage of literary works written after 1970 and/or by non-English-speaking authors to 20% in the upper grades
In short, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, critics call the bill an effort to politicize education while appealing to Tea Party voters.
Board member Bruce Nottke reported that the House has passed a four-hour testing bill (House Bill 228 – formerly 629), which would limit the number of hours each student spends in testing annually to no more than four per subject. The bill will go next to the Senate.
Superintendent Carl Martin explained why the schools’ Internet was down for much of the week. The fire on West Union necessitated a power outage, which in turn damaged a major server located at Athens Middle School. Repairs to that server are still unfinished, but Internet service is now restored.
Presentations on The Plains Elementary School bookended the meeting. Music teacher Shannon Williams opened the evening with vocal selections from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (which will be performed this spring as the dinner theater musical), along with a flute solo and a saxophone duet. The performers were a delight to hear.
Principal Heather Skinner highlighted the school’s K-2 intervention efforts, which focused on reading. The school has consultants coming in to model and coach. Kids are divided up by skill group and have 30 minutes of intervention daily. Intervention aims to break basic skills down into smaller elements to help students master those skills bit by bit.
Principal Skinner stressed that even though the school is not yet where the state wants them to be, its indicators are all moving toward improvement. For instance, its performance index for last year was a C,. However, this is still the highest it’s been in the past 7 years.
To cap off the meeting, social worker Diane Stock spoke movingly of the challenges students and staff face daily. Most of these challenges stem from poverty, substance abuse, and hopelessness in their home lives. Ms. Stock knows them intimately because she works with children in the Plains every day and sees their struggles.
The numbers tell part of the story. The Plains Elementary currently has 402 student in total. Of these:
- 295 (73%) are economically disadvantaged
- 110 (27%) live in single-parent homes
- 55 (14%) have a primary caregiver who is not one of their parents
- 145 (36%) have no contact with one or both biological parents due to some traumatic event: death, incarceration, drugs, etc.
By comparison, at East Elementary, only 17.1% of students are economically disadvantaged.
Unfortunately, the number of families in dire straits is on the rise. In 2013, the number of families referred for basic needs was 252. In 2014, the total had already risen to 375 families as of the end of September. Ms. Stock attributes this to dramatic reduction in the funding of government food assistance programs. Many families don’t have enough food at the end of the month. Also quite a few parents have lost their jobs this year.
The statistics don’t tell the whole story, either. Ms. Stock told stories of children who had lost a parent to homicide. Who regularly witnessed domestic violence. Whose guardian beat them. Whose parents suffer from mental illness and addiction. All these traumatic circumstances, which find fertile ground in poverty and hopelessness, traumatize students early in life. Ms. Stock urges us to recognize the enormity of trauma and harm many of these children have suffered, often before they even start kindergarten. She cited research showing that responses to chaotic and unpredictable environments that are adaptive at home typically put those kids at a disadvantage in the classroom or on the playground.
The Plains Elementary offers a number of programs to help support its students and raise them up. These range from music enrichment to a community garden, a cross country running club, and a summer lending library. They partner with Ohio University, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Kids on Campus. Ms. Stock praised the dedication and intelligence of the school’s faculty and staff. Still, it’s not enough, she said, imploring the district and community to volunteer their time and ideas.