State of Somerset County Public Schools: A report by Superintendent John Gaddis

The following is the report of the State of the Schools by Somerset County Superintendent Dr. John Gaddis, presented Jan. 7 at Washington High School and Jan. 8 at Crisfield High School.

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Good evening and welcome to the Somerset County Public Schools State of Schools Address. I want to thank everyone for being here tonight and for showing your support for our students, teachers, and staff. This is a return to an event that was initiated by Dr. Karen-Lee Brofee. In the future, this annual event will occur in fall and will provide us the opportunity to showcase our students while at the same time updating our community on the status of our school system.

I want to take this opportunity to thank several groups of people within the school system.

First, I want to thank the Central Office curriculum staff for their leadership. Their vision and understanding of curriculum, curricular changes and student needs is impressive and will be instrumental in leading us into the future. That leadership, in a 3-21 environment is a key ingredient to student success, no matter how large or small the system.

Next I want to thank the school based staff at all levels for what they do every single day. The principals lead, the teachers teach and the staff supports. Working in unison they are the conduit to our students and it is their daily interaction with all students that makes the difference.

On the other side of the hallway, the administrative and operational side

of our school system is also critical to our success. I want to thank them for

doing the work that is ,for lack of a better phrase, “behind the scene”. The finances, human resources, transportation, facility maintenance, capital planning, technology and associated areas are a key part of our system. The people in those departments do a fantastic job!

Lastly, I want to thank Ms. Smoker and Mr. Davis for their dedication to our system. They are faced with challenging issues every day. And what makes them stand out as leaders is their ability to effectively lead, make sound decisions and ensure that those decisions benefit our students.

In our community, I say thank you to our parents. We appreciate you trusting us to work with your children every day. There is no greater responsibility you can bestow on us than trusting us with your children and the fact that you trust and support us with your prized possession, is indeed an honor.

To our local elected officials, delegates, senator and county commissioners, thank you for your continued support. Your advocacy at all levels helps ensure that we have the funding we need to meet the needs of a diverse and ever changing population.

The last thank you goes to the Board of Education. Your decision making, leadership and hard work is the engine that runs the SCPS. Your

leadership in the governance of the school system will help lead us to becoming one of the top systems in Maryland.

The single purpose of this type of address is normally to

provide an update on the state of the county school system. Tonight I will do exactly that by updating you on the progress that has been made in relation to the original 5 goals in my entry plan and the current status of new and ongoing activities in the system. I will also address future goals and the challenges that we anticipate. At the end of the presentation, we will make time for a few questions. Please understand that we will address broad type questions and any specific questions should be offered privately after this event or scheduled with the appropriate staff member at another time.

18 months ago team SCPS was formed. At that time a 90 day plan called The Journey Towards Success Nothing Less was implemented. The overall goal of the plan was to provide a roadmap for moving the system forward in a variety of areas while the system transitioned to a new leadership team, continued implementation and transition into the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards formerly known as the Common Core and PARCC assessments as well as a examining a new strategic planning initiative.

 

As I said earlier there were 5 original goals. Here is a summary of what

has been done as we strive to reach those goals.

Goal 1: All students deserve a well-rounded rigorous and focused education that develops critical thinking, allows for collaboration and enhances communication.

            We have continued implementation of the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards, which I will specifically address later in the presentation, at all grade levels. We have aligned our local assessments to PARCC. As far as remediation, we expanded Summer school activities and have created additional STEM units at the elementary level. We continue to provide support for ongoing/continuous professional development for all staff and have even created Content Leaders for Art, Music, PE and World Language. Lastly we are changing our style of teaching and presentation to address current best practices which are allowing us to meet individual needs of our students.

Goal 2: Establish a positive student centered culture districtwide where decisions are based on teaching and learning and what is best for students.

We continue to question the norms of teaching. We are not

doing the same ole same ole. We are finding new ways to engage students, using a wider range of resources and are planning based on data and individual needs. For staff we are starting book clubs like learning from Lincoln, continuing professional learning communities and having active discussions of best practices and current research locally, across the state and nationally. Lastly, we have increased our communication during the decision making process and are always available to discuss issues that arise at the school and county level.

Goal 3: Establish stakeholder trust and confidence

through transparent and honest communication and

decision-making.

To begin we changed our BOE Meeting structure. We now

address community concerns at our meetings during the Superintendents Comments portion of the meeting, recognize staff, students and community members for their accomplishments and contributions to the school system and we provide a visual representation, as well as a paper copy of everything we are discussing at our meetings. Further, we are utilizing Connect Ed at the school and county level to advertise events and keep our community informed. We are able to reach over 3500 people with one phone call. We are asking for community involvement on committees and are making decisions based upon what is best for students and decisions that also are based on our own policies and procedures. We have a modern, updated webpage that has a wealth of information, video links and other documents. And lastly, we have an open door policy. No one, and I mean no one can say that we will not meet with them and hear their concerns, suggestions or compliments. We may not always agree, but we will hear what people have to say.

Goal 4: Align the organization to optimize effectiveness and efficiency

To do this we developed an Organizational Chart and Chain of Command. We spent months assigning and reassigning duties and responsibilities based upon our needs and created a structure that allows us to communicate and handle situations, no matter the type, in a more effective and efficient way. The development of the system wide responsibility chart lets staff know who to contact regarding the wide range of issues and concerns we deal with on a daily basis. We have further focused our meetings such as CPAC (Community Parent Advisory Council) and Instructional Council and use them in a way to share and stay in contact with our stakeholders. We continue to implement eFinance in our Finance department and AESOP in human resources. We also have staff scanning in and out using Veritime. All these systems make our overall system more effective and our payroll and HR data more accurate. Further we have completed 100% of our security initiatives and continue to reassess our systems on a regular basis.

Goal 5: Enhance the relationship between the Board of Education and the superintendent.

We must be on the same page. The right hand must know

what the left hand is doing. The BOE hires a superintendent to run the school system. As that person I report to the BOE in a weekly newsletter, have frequent conversations on phone and email and attend summer trainings and retreats as needed. We make sure we iron out the issues and we do it the right way. No secrets, no personal agenda, only what is best for our students.

That my friends is an update on the 5 goals from the entry plan. We will continue to work as a team and continue to address those goals and ideals while continuing to grow the system.

The next portion of this address deals with current status of the system and moves into other goals and challenges for the future. Let’s look at some recent activity in the system;

  • Since last summer we have received over over 4.5 million

dollars in competitive grants. (STEM, Community Foundation (CAHS, PAES, WES, CO), PreK Expansion Grant (All Day PreK, Judy Center & Satellite Center), Project Aware (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), 21st Century Grant (Sails – Somerset Achievement Intervention Literacy and STEM), Tele Med, Digital Learning Innovation Fund)

 

  • Title 1 Grant (1.4 million), Wellness/Youth Employment/Adult Grants Grants(300K) and 3 Approaching Target Grants(240K)
  • New Mission Statement –

 

Serving a rural, diverse community founded in rich traditional values, Somerset County Public Schools empowers all students to become innovative problem-solvers and ethical leaders by providing engaging, technology enhanced instruction and balanced extra-curricular programs.

 

  • New Belief Statements – We believe that:
  1. An understanding and appreciation for learning, varied cultures and diversity is essential to success in a global society.

 

  1. All students have the right to a safe, healthy and nurturing school environment.

 

  1. Students, family, school and community share in the responsibility of education.

 

  1. All students have the capacity to learn and become productive citizens.

 

  1. A wide range of opportunities and a well-balanced, rigorous and engaging curriculum will lead to an educated community.

 

– We have a new college and career planning tool called Naviance in grades 6-12. This program will start the conversation earlier and allow greater time to plan for the future.

  • We have a new Code of Conduct that explains, through a matrix, consequences for behaviors and provides a range of consequences. This matrix allows for system wide consistency in handling discipline matters at all levels.
  • We have PBIS in all of our schools and Character Ed Schools that are winning state and regional awards at all levels. These awards are based on programs that are changing the way our students act and look at others.
  • We have the most through and detailed Capital Improvement Plan that we have ever had. We have over 60 million dollars in projects listed for consideration by the state including a new Technical High School, new roof at PAES, finishing of a geo-thermal project at GES and the addition of a Head Start Learning Center at CAHS as well as way future projects at SIS and PAES.
  • We began a Breakfast and Lunch Program – CEP – that as of November 30th had served 39,909 more meals than last year with the greatest increase at our high schools.
  • Digital 1 on 1 Initiative that rolls out to grades 10-12 next fall. This initiative will put an android device in each student’s hand that will allow them to access needed curriculum in our SCPS Cloud.
  • We have a 21st Century grant that will roll out late winter

/early spring this year. The programs will be the SAILS

AfterSchool Program.

  • We have Dual Enrollment agreements with WorWic, and UMES for our students at no cost. The WorWic courses are offered for free in our schools. We offer College Writing, Chemistry and Environmental Science as well as AP courses and credit courses at UMES.

Future Goals:

  • Secure State funding for future projects that impact PAES, GES, J.M. Tawes, SIS and CAHS
  • Study expansion of 1on1 initiative to grades 7/8 and below. It is crucial that we get technology into the hands of our students. It’s a tool, not the answer, but a tool and skill that will serve them well.
  • Extend PreK to all day everywhere. The research shows that the earlier we have the students the greater the chance for success. Early intervention and early childhood education is crucial to our success.
  • Extend Dual Enrollment Opportunities so students have the opportunity to graduate with a MD High School Diploma and potentially up to 30 credits for college
  • Strengthening Teacher and Principal Evaluation so it reflects that we have

the best teachers that are meeting the needs of all of our students.

  • Strategic Planning Initiative – Our goal is to return to being recognized as an accredited school system by the nation’s leading accrediting agency, Middle States Association. Using the Excellence by Design protocol, SCPS will evaluate our ability to affect change and move our schools forward in all areas. Goals will be established and data collected to verify and show growth or lack of on a variety of measures.
  • Increase Graduation rate and lower drop out rate – Plain and simple all of our students will graduate and they need to stay in school.
  • Decrease the SPED rate. SPED should be a temporary situation to help our students. It is not a life sentence and should not become a crutch for any student.
  • Every Classroom Matters Initiative – I will be beginning a program where myself and members of the C&I Team led by Mr. Davis, will visit and spend time with students and teachers in every classroom in this county. If time allows we will visit each student and classroom various times for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes. We will know what is going on in the classrooms, we will feel the vibe, and we will interact with the students. We will sit in PreK learning circle, 3rd grade science, 6th grade PE, 9th grade English, 11th grade history and AP and Dual Enrollment courses.
  • We will strengthen the AFJROTC Program. We have two of the top instructors in the country and we will utilize them.

Challenges:

  • We must continue to grow despite the economic condition. Even though we all know how bad things are economically, we have the 7th highest PPE of any county, with 70% coming from the State. The latest figure is 14,022. We realize that we are number 1 in things you don’t want to be number 1(obesity, low median income, high poverty rate and others), but we must move forward. We have to stop using them as excuses and rally our community to want more for our students.
  • Our community. At many events we struggle to have the room filled. If it is a music program, game or graduation the room is packed. We must reach out to our parents and motivate, engage and fire them up. The apathy must stop and we need our community to be involved. The same ole same ole will not help us. Education must matter and it must be a priority. We are the greatest economic factor in this county. A quality school system will attract home buyers, business and people in general. Instead of wanting to go to other counties or private schools, they should want to go to our school system.
  • Growth Areas – we have a spike in 5th grade and have

seen an increase of over 51 students this year in the PA area. As the college grows and prospers and business comes to SC, families are starting to stay and others are returning to our system because they want to be part of it. While families will still opt out of our system, we must

provide a quality education for those that stay.

  • Technology upgrades – we actually are in a great point due to the hard work of the technology department. We must continue to grow and see the importance of technology as a tool, not the solution. Arming our students with top technology will only make them stronger candidates for jobs, college and career.
  • Aging Facilities – just look at them. We are planning improvements and must address maintenance neglect. Not having enough people to do the job has hurt us, but we are catching up. We will start prevention and normal regular preventative maintenance and turn the tide. We must have a plan that addresses our facilities out ahead to a time frame that may range 15 years. We have to plan for the future and continually discuss options for our students.
  • Loss of local control – we are heavy burdened by mandates and everyone taking our time and telling us what to do. It is the local BOE responsibility to decide school calendar and start times. Let’s keep it that way by maintaining local control. Why should someone from PG county that’s never been here, make a decision for us. With a new governor many things may change. Let’s be out in front and let Gov. Elect Hogan and his staff know who we are!

One of the biggest goals and challenges we face deals with the issue of the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards and PARCC, even though the standards and testing work started over 5 years ago. It’s the topic of every meeting I attend and it has become a national debate. Here in Somerset County the system has embraced the higher standards and the challenge because we know the standards will push our students to do more, our teachers to do more and that results in greater success. To not do anything would have been a great dis-service to our students and staff. We are still “in charge” of the curricular choices as we were in the past. In fact, we have had a standards based curriculum for years. The difference is the uniqueness the previous standards represented as the Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum was created and raised by Maryland teachers. But, in both cases we are still in charge of the local curriculum development and look at the standards as the

floor not the ceiling. In other words the standards are the minimum and we

will do more. There will be legislation introduced again this year to slow

the process and give systems more time to implement. That doesn’t mean the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards are going away, it just means we will need to do more professional development with all staff. To that end, I am proud of our staff and entire system for going to work and staying about the fray and out of the weeds on this subject. We have focused on our students and have kept moving forward. So how have we done it and specifically what have we done? Here is a small list;

-we have worked directly with MSDE and PARCC national representatives to get the most current information and established communication efforts to provide constant updates to teachers as changes emerge.

-We have re-designed the entire local assessment system and have moved toward a growth based model, with diagnostics and summative assessments, as well as formative assessments along the way. These take us away from a quarterly, superficial “check in” and move us toward real data that can be used to inform day-to-day instruction.

-We continue to work with our districts across the Shore, MSDE, and even high level PARCC content specialists, and have been recognized on the shore, across the state, and even regionally/nationally as innovators in this work. As a result, we are working in collaboration with the other 8 LEA’s on the Shore and developing assessments that are being used across grades and with 1,000’s of students in MD.

-The assessments are rigorous and focus on the instructional shifts needed to align with the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards. More importantly, they focus on skills and concepts that students will need in the world of work, careers, colleges, and citizenship. They incorporate the best practices of digital and disciplinary literacy.

-We have built in structures to cross train teachers across grade levels and even content areas and now we are moving into work that allows us to dig into student work samples to identify strengths and weaknesses and make the necessary adjustments to meet the needs of all students.

-Here again, we are leaders in a statewide project related to performance based assessment and reliable/valid feedback. We are even training teachers from other districts on how to do this work in a way that impacts not only Somerset students, but students from across Maryland.

-We have also made significant adjustments to our text resources, moving novels and other texts to match up to the higher rigor expectations in terms of text complexity and have purchased new, rigorous, and engaging texts across elementary, middle and high schools to make sure our students have access to the best instructional materials. In doing so we have added intervention programs that will allow us to better meet student needs and track the progress of our students who need additional support.

All this leads to the PARCC Assessments. As a founding

member of PARCC, Maryland is in on the ground floor. In SCPS we are working on our infrastructure so we can complete the online testing. We participated in diagnostic field testing last year and continue to look for more opportunities to participate again. We have adjusted local assessments to be PARCC like. We also purchased and beginning the use of the online testing module from Performance matters to attempt to simulate the testing environment (online and different types of questions) that students will be exposed to with PARCC. What that means is we are doing our best to simulate the actually testing environment so our students are prepared and ready when the testing occurs. This means more of something I mentioned earlier, PD. In fact this week we were asked by Performance Matters to participate in a national focus group to inform the development of their product, as well as support best practices in the work happening across the nation. However, with all the great work being done, there are still challenges.

– Time. The pace at which we’re making changes is incredibly demanding.

Without the PD structures we have in place, we would never have been

able to do the work we’ve done.

– Infrastructure and computers needed to test. We do not have the capacity in all areas to complete on line testing. We continue to work in this area so all students will be able to participate in testing, no matter their location.

– Human resources – We don’t have the resources and people to carry the load of curriculum, assessment, and professional development because our experts carry so many responsibilities. That includes CO staff, but perhaps more importantly, I mean our facilitators and coaches. They are spread so thinly that it is sometimes difficult for us to do all that we want and need to do.

– Focus. We are trying to do so much on a large scale that it is sometimes difficult to keep it all going. Teachers and leaders struggle to focus on implementing any ONE huge change because there are so many happening simultaneously. All these changes are essential, so prioritizing among them is difficult and a balance is tough.

-Lastly and most importantly we are still struggling with the gap between the standards. There are many skills and concepts that the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards and PARCC “assume” students mastered at earlier grades, but they didn’t because they were never exposed to them. The result is that the upper grades are challenged not only to meet vastly more rigorous demands, but them must also to try to fill the gaps resulting from the transition. For struggling students, this is an even bigger challenge. They already have gaps and now the entire curriculum shift is creating more gaps. That is a huge challenge for our work with at-risk students across the board.

Whoosh, even with all that said our movement is upward. We are improving every day, and we are making decisions based on what is best for all involved in our system. It is a busy time for us and we will continue to work as hard as ever! The Maryland College and Career Ready Standards and PARCC testing will be challenging but we believe we are preparing our students for what is to come. The validation we need will come once testing is initiated and the first reports are produced. Maybe I’m crazy, but I look forward to that day so we can celebrate, adjust, rework or all of the above, to make sure we are meeting the needs of our students. Kudos to everyone in and associated with our school system.

To that end, I can assure you the greatest asset in this county are the adults and students in this system. We have tremendous leaders that guide our system and guide our schools in every situation. And they do all of this so our students exit our system with a degree that means something and a degree that will allow them to be successful locally, regionally, nationally and globally. No matter whether the next step is the job force, military, community college, 4 year college, or trade school our students deserve the very best and they deserve a united effort from their community. No matter the challenge, initiative, person or persons in office, we will continue our upward projectory. TEAM SCPS is going places and will be exactly what we want and need it to be. Don’t stay silent, spread the news and join us in showing our community, state and region that we matter, our kids matter and that we can truly achieve “Success Nothing Less” for all students.

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