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, 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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