What’s Happening in HSE Schools – Sept. 2019 SAC Meeting

For those that don’t know, within the Hamilton Southeastern Schools (HSE), the superintendent is Dr. Bourff. On a regular basis, Dr. Bourff meets with a group of people from across the district. This group is primarily composed of leaders from each of the school PTOs as well as a handful of additional parents provided by school board members.

Today, Dr. Bourff met with this group and provided some discussion on a number of things happening in the district. This posting is a summation of my notes from this meeting.

New Administrator

Dr. Bourff introduced Kim Lippe as the Executive Director of Student and Staff Services. Kim’s role replaces the position that was vacated by Mike Beresford and was being temporarily filled by Dr. Carnes. Per the HSE web site, she will be responsible for a variety of things:

  • Oversees Human Resource and Student Services Departments
  • Primary Director Overseeing Certified Staff
  • District Liaison to the Teacher’s Association Regarding Contract and other Personnel Issues.
  • Coordinates Hiring of Administrative and Certified Instructional Staff
  • District Supervisor of Matters Involving Student Behavior, Attendance, Discipline, and Due Process
  • District Supervisor of School Safety
  • Homeless Liaison for the District
  • District Supervisor of School Counseling Program
  • District Supervisor of Student Services
  • Corporation Liaison to School Attorney and other Legal Services

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)


If you are not familiar with the acronym SEL and the term Social Emotional Learning, you might want to research it a little bit if you have a student within HSE. This acronym is being used more and more.

The district has set up a web page on the district site at https://www.hseschools.org/counseling/social-emotional. This page has information on SEL including an embedded whitepaper with tons of information including an overview, stats, HSE milestones, and much more. I won’t rehash the material here, as you can find it all at the link included.

One of the ways SEL is happening within the district is through the #WeGotThis program. A video had been sent to all parents earlier this year promoting the We Got This concept.  I’ve included that video here:

What was shared in Dr. Bourff’s committee meeting were a few points related to SEL. First, meta studies have shown that there is a 11% increase in academic success in schools that have SEL programs. He also clarified that the mental health initiative within the district is different from SEL. Whereas mental health is considered a health-based concept, SEL is considered to a set of skills. Many of these skills are aimed at understanding and managing emotions, stress, and more.

It was shared that most employers consider SEL skills to be the hardest to find, ye the most importance for success. As such, the more the district can do to teach SEL skills, the better candidates our kids will be for future jobs.

The district plans to continue working to identify stressors in our schools and other elements that can be addressed to improve SEL. In addition to the #WeGotThis video that was distributed and the second video on the HSE site, there are currently plans to produce roughly seven more videos. The district is open to ideas for topics for these videos. An example of one topic that has come up is vaping.

In addition to the videos, the administration has been sending monthly tips to the staff and are looking to possibly do more around parent-teacher nights and other events.

iLearn

ilearn, like iStep, is almost considered a dirty word, but the more I hear about it, the less I feel that way. Dr. Combs present results from the iLearn tests at this meeting. They also presented the same information to the board earlier in the morning. Having attended both presentations, the information was the same; however, the advisory meeting in the afternoon produced many more questions.

One of the key things mentioned was about how iLearn is different from iStep. This is an important distinction. In short, the iLearn has been created to be much more application focused. Rather than being pure regurgitation of facts and figures, it tests in a more authentic learning style. Simply put, it tests to see if a student can apply what they learned versus simply testing to see what they learned.

In an application-based learning style you are asked to solve what are more real-life scenario questions. For example, a math question might ask, what is the distance between Bridgetown and Albany based on the following sign:

See the source image

This test is a simple subtraction problem. This would be a math problem where the student would need to take the 359 and subtract the 84 miles from Bridgetown. On the iStep test, this would have been a question asking the student what 359 – 84 is. While these both are asking the same question, the app-based requires the student to be able to not only know the answer to a math problem, but to be able to apply it in a more authentic manner of learning. In short, the iLearn doesn’t just test that the student memorized something, but rather tests to see if they can apply what they learned.

In addition to talking about the testing approach, data was shown for the results. This included showing many charts and graphs as to how the students faired.

With a new test, the expectation is that scores will go down. Dr. Combs stated that scores go down every time there is a new test, but then slowly pick up. Dr. Combs also commented on the number of kids that failed. HSE Schools performed above the state average in both the math and languages areas of the tests. Even so, there was a dip in the number of kids that passed. The standardize tests are create with an expectation that a certain number of kids will fail. There is an expected “cut rate”

One of the other changes with the iLearn is that the test is more adaptive or responsive. As a child takes the test, if they get an answer correct, then they will be given a harder question. If they get an answer wrong, the next question given should be easier. In addition to this responsive nature, the testis was also changed to remove the time element. Kids are given the they need to complete the test.

It was also noted that the tenth-grade class did not switch to iLearn this past year, but still used iStep. Their scores were also presented. This year the tenth-grade testing is expected to be skipped, but the current class will take the test in their Junior year. This will be a “yet to be named” test, but could be a version of the S.A.T. or another test.

Other Testing

Dr. Bourff mentioned that the state is looking into other measurements beyond just the iLearn test that can be used to assess kid. This includes looking into different measurements from traditional test scores. This is one of the reasons the district used Panorama.

The Panorama testing has been discussed at school board meeting in association to administrative goals. I wrote an article recently on ‘Striving for average’ that is related to this testing. You can find the results of the Panorama survey on the HSE site on the analytics page at https://www.hseschools.org/about/analytics. There are both the Family-School Relationships Survey results and the Panorama Student Survey Report.

Flipped Schedules

Flipped schedules and the potential of HSE Schools flipping the start time has been a topic at school board meetings and on social media for a while now. Dr. Bourff mentioned that the administration is research this and is planning to have a recommendation for the HSE School Board by the end of the calendar year. If the recommendation requires action, then it is hoped the board will make a decision in January of 2020 for action possibly next fall for the 2020-21 school year.

Dr. Bourff mentioned that there is a lot of reasons for flipping as well as counter arguments. One of the big reasons for flipping would be the mental well-being of kids. Specifically, younger kids learn better earlier in the day and tend to be finished (wiped) by 2:00 or 2:30. Our younger kids currently go well past this time. It is thought that older kids do better later in the day than the younger kids.

It was note that Noblesville has flipped their start times as have other schools. Dr. Bourff is talking with the other districts. He has also talked with students at the high schools and plans to have additional discussions with not only kids, but also other groups.

The discussions regarding flipping include looking at a few other things as well. HSE has some of the longest school days with our older kids going roughly 50 minutes more than the required daily minimum. It was stated that because HSE has high performing schools, there is an expectation of longer class days. The elementary kids go roughly 75 minutes more than the required daily minimum. Some changes at the state level have opened a window to where these times could possibly be reduced a little bit. In the past, I’ve heard mention of possibly cutting 20 minutes from the elementary schools; however, that is not yet determined. Dr. Bourff was asked about the 20 minutes in the meeting.

In addition to possible time adjustments, there is also consideration of changing the transportation model. It was noted that there are not enough busses or drivers to do all the schools at the same time, so there will still need to be staggered start times in the district.

One question raised asked about the impact of start times on testing results. Dr. Bourff commented that history has shown that the change in start times has very little impact on testing results. The change in start times, therefore, focus more at improving the kids’ mental well-being.

In the advisory meeting, feedback was given that echoes what has been seen online and in other locations regarding flipping start times. This includes the issues of childcare and the impact on sports. A key point of feedback point given to Dr. Bourff was in regard to his gathering to feedback from a variety of sources on this topic. If the administration is going to push for a decision based on data that says flipping is best for the well-being of the kids, then he might want to forego getting feedback. The reasoning being, if all the feedback says, “don’t do it,” then it will look really bad to do the switch anyway.  Dr. Bourff indicated that he wants to collect the feedback, and that the decision will not be solely based on the data but will consider those all of those that are impacted as well.

In Conclusion

This is a summary, (my summary and a long one), of the core topics covered. Last year I was president of the Riverside Junior High PTO and shared this at the PTO meetings. Being that PTO leaders are a part of this meeting, you should ask them to share their perspective on the Superintendent Advisory Council meetings at your upcoming PTO meetings. These happen quarterly, so they won’t have an update every time!

While I have your attention, check out my latest book, which is available on Amazon.com. It’s a fun, “find the difference in the pictures” book where you also learn a tidbit about the public parks in Fishers:

Spot the Difference in Fishers, Indiana: City Parks Edition

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One Reason SROs are Important

The other day I listened to a school safety webinar. A lot of familiar information was covered, but one tidbit of information stood out, which I’m sharing here.

If you don’t follow my blog or School/Kids focused Facebook page, then let me state that SRO stands for School Resource Officers (SROs). While the webinar was ultimately trying to sell software to help with school safety, my takeaway was further confirmation that the use of SROs within schools is important. While there are many reasons for this (look at some of my old articles), the webinar pointed out one big reason which is summarized in the following picture:

If there is an incident at a school, such as a school shooting, then how fast can a police officer get to the school? When you weigh this against the data point that with a standard weapon, one shot can be fired every 4 to 15 seconds, you quickly realize that minutes matter – a single minute matters.

It was stated that it can take 4 to 9 minutes to make a call for help. In that time, you could have over 15 casualties. If an officer can respond in 3 minutes, then that could be an additional 12 casualties. If the officer that shows up is a marathon runner, then they might be able to get from their car and into the building in a single minute. That minute could be another 4. That puts the total at over 30 with the assumption of a shot every 15 seconds rather than 4 seconds.

In the webinar, it was indicated that the response time of police to aggravated assault ranges are generally five minutes or more. Only 21 percent of responses by police happen within 5 minutes. 33 percent are within 6 to 10 minutes and 36 percent are from 11 to 60 minutes. Roughly 10 percent are of an unknown length of time. At a five minute response time, that’s between 20 and 75 shots with standard weapons.

Having SROs in place would eliminate the response time from the equation as well as the need to do an initial all, which are the longest delays in the equation. That means lives potentially saved. That seems like one big reason to have them.

Of course, this value is only seen when there is security breach at a school. The impact on SROs goes way beyond just being available for emergencies, but that’s a different article!

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Safety in Fishers: A Failure to Learn From…

Larry Lannon reported on the nice crowd that attended the safety day at Fishers yesterday that occurred on the Eastern side of town. For anyone on the West side of Fishers on September 7th between 6:00 and 11:00pm, you have to wonder if safety had been considered.

With 11,000+ people merging into a two lane road with near non-existent traffic control, safety seemed to be lost. Fortunately, it didn’t seem that anything went wrong.

But what if something had happened?

Cars within the last couple of miles were reporting speeds of roughly an hour per mile to get into Conner Prairie. With cars being bumper-to-bumper, blocking intersections, and turning right from the left lanes it is easy to say that traffic was likely the worst Fishers has ever seen. Having gotten caught in the traffic, plus having lived across from Conner Prairie for over two decades, I can say it was the worst traffic I had ever seen for them.

What if a firetruck or rescue truck had needed to get to one of the houses across from Conner Prairie in several of the divisions whose only access is from Allisonville Road? What if a firetruck had needed to get to Conner Prairie. Could it have?

Last night’s event at Conner Prairie should be an eye opener for Fishers police, fire, and political parties as far as insuring the safety of Fishers residents and guests that come to our town. There are no plans in the Fishers 2040 plan to change the road in front of Conner Prairie from two lanes to four. There are no other major access roads other than going through an older neighborhood that is always blocked with parked cars to where a single car can barely get through, let along traffic going two directions or a fire engine.

While the neighborhoods around Conner Prairie deserve an apology, I believe the more important thing is that the city needs to make sure that if future crowds are going to converge on Conner Prairie – or any other location in Fishers – that it is done in a manner that allows for the safety of the residents to be kept at top priority. This includes making sure emergency vehicles have a way to get to any of the locations in or around the park.

On a related note…..

On a related note, there has been a trend for Fishers Police to shut down North bound Allisonville Road at 131st Street when they are letting out the traffic at Conner Prairie. For those people living off of Allisonville Road and south of 141st Street, this means you are redirected away from your home. This isn’t for an accident, but rather to make it easier to let the people at Conner Prairie leave at the expense of making it harder for residents of Fishers to get home.

Why?

Why is Conner Prairie get favoritism over tax paying residents of the city?

The irony of course, is that this traffic control happens after a concert; it doesn’t happen before when it is really needed more.

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Striving for Average – Administration Goals from the HSE School Board

At the August 28th, 2019 Hamilton Southeastern Schools board meeting, there was one topic that surprised me in that it didn’t get more attention by the school board. What surprised me even more was the willingness to set goals that strive to be average in a district that is rated as high performance and one of the best.

The school board presented three goal areas for the administration and district. The three areas that were presented are: The goals that were presented are:

  • 1A. The language arts academic achievement gap between the highest performing student group and the lowest performing student group will be reduced by 6% in this academic year without compromising the achievement gains of the highest performing group.
  • 1B. The math academic achievement gap between the highest performing student group and the lowest performing student group will be reduced by 8% in this academic year without compromising the achievement gains of the highest performing group.
  • 2A. The sense of belonging for HSE students in grades 3-12 will increase to a level consistent with districts of similar demographics.
  • 2B. Teachers’ perceptions of the overall school climate will increase to a level consistent with schools districts of similar demographics.
  • 3. HSE Schools will maximize the use of its current and potential facilities in order to provide excellent learning environments for all HSE students.

The wording of the last goal was reviewed and adjustments are being made to it. The other bullets, however, were close to what is likely to be final.

The first two bullets are about reducing the achievement gap. This is a good goal, although you would hope that they would also work to improve on the highest performing group and not just the lowest group. The achievement numbers for 1A and 1B are based on the iLearn scores. The 6% was based on what it was believed would be needed to make the gap more in line with other schools after 3 years of similar improvements.

It is bullets 2A and 2B, however, where concerns should be raised. It was stated that HSE school district is compared to other schools of similar size. In doing this, it was stated by Dr. Combs that HSE ranks around 30% and 40%. The goal is to get this to 50%. Said differently, HSE students are currently indicating that they feel they belong less than most schools – we are ranked below average. Similarly, our teachers perception of the overall climate is worse than a majority of the schools of similar size. The goal is set to get this to 50% or average. More schools below and above.

We are shooting to be average. Why wouldn’t we be shooting to be better than average. Even 51% would mean more of our students feel like they belong than the average school and more of our teachers have a good perception of our district’s climate than teachers at other schools have about their districts.

To mean it seems it seems like we currently have a grade of a D and F and are striving for a C. In a high performance school district, I would hope we could work to try to be at the top for giving our kids a sense of belonging as well as building a climate where all of our teachers feel a sense of belonging.

As the board revisits these goals, I hope they don’t accept average as acceptable. In fact, I hope they start asking questions as to why we are scoring below average now.

As the board revisits these goals, I hope they don’t accept average as acceptable. In fact, I hope they start asking questions as to why we are scoring below average now.

UPDATE: Changes were made to the goals so that it is no longer targeting average, but rather “average or better”.

Yowza Publishing’s Fourth Release: Spot the Difference in Fishers, Indiana

The release of Yowza Publishing’s fourth title is now complete. You can get Spot the Difference in Fishers, Indiana: City Parks Edition on Amazon today! This marks the fourth book published by Yowza Publishing and the first full-color book.

In Spot the Difference in Fishers, Indiana (Spot) you not only get to learn a little bit about the city parks that are within Fishers, Indiana, but you also get to also have a bit of fun. For each of the parks shown in the book, you are given two pictures that are very similar. The first picture is a real picture of the park. The second picture is the same picture; however, a few changes have been made and it is up to you to find those changes. Each park follows a similar layout, which includes a few extra pictures as well as an indicator for the number of differences you should be able to find:

Spot the Difference

Most cities have parks. These includes city parks as well as neighborhood and other private parks. Fishers, however, has a large number of city parks relative to the size of the city. There are two parks that include sledding hills. There are several parks that have fishing lakes as well as a couple of locations to fish in the White River. Several of the parks boast athletics including baseball diamonds, basketball courts, soccer fields, and football fields. There are also pickle ball courts as well as Frisbee/disk golf courses. One park has “off road” biking trails that wind through the woods as well as tree houses. There is a splash-pad in one park. There are docks and a public beach as well as a ton of playgrounds ranging from simple swings to complex contraptions such as those shown in the picture above.

There are two new parks being developed in Fishers. The irony is that both are easy to confuse with existing parks. One will be the Nickel Plate Trail linear park that will replace the existing Nickel Plate Railroad tracks. This is not to be confused with the existing Nickel Plate Trail that is a part of Cheeny Creak Nature Park. The other will be the Geist Waterfront park, not to be confused with the existing Geist Park that features trails, bird-watching, access to Fall Creak and Geist Reservoir.

If you are wanting to know what parks are around Fishers, this book will quickly give you a glimpse. As our newest book, we hope you enjoy it!

Buy the book now: Amazon