On March 20th, the Hamilton Southeastern Schools superintendent, Mr. Bourff, met with an advisory council that consisted of members of the community including numerous PTO board members, parent representatives for school board members, and others. This small group was presented with information and given time to interact directly with Mr. Bourff. In this meeting, there were four core topics covered.
HSE School Safety
The first topic was school safety and information on school safety plans. With the recent activities in the news, which included the shootings in Florida and the recent school walk outs, it was no surprise that this was the leading topic to be covered. Dr. Bourff indicated that there had been a lot of requests for information on the school safety plans and what was being done. While he indicated that he could not share all the details of the school’s continually evolving plan for security reasons, he did take time to discuss a number of key points.
“One of the best remedies [for school safety] is a good relationship between teachers and students,” was one of the initial comments made by Dr. Bourff. Creating an environment where students, parents, and teachers can openly communicate is the first line of defense for schools. It was stated, that creating an environment where students are able to feel comfortable sharing information they overhear or things they see is key for the staff and administration to become aware of possible issues.
Also important is having certified, trained school staff. Within HSE, Dr. Beresford is the point person for insuring all staff is certified and trained on safety. The district also has a number of visible security resource officers (SROs) that are within the various schools. Other parts of the security plan include continued improvements with the mental health initiatives. It was noted that while the mental health initiatives only partially address school safety, they have helped in at least six “at home” issues that have occurred within the HSE district.
Several other topics around safety were also discussed ranging from the unproven use of metal detectors to feedback on the walkout of students at HSE. A separate meeting was scheduled with an invitee audience to specifically discuss the school’s safety plan and to get feedback.
HSE Student Walkout
Another discussion point was a report on the student walkout that occurred. It was reported that roughly 700 students participated in the event out of approximately 21,000 students even though the district reported that standard disciplinary action would happen. Roughly 350 of the students were from Hamilton Southeastern High School. A little less than that were from Fishers High School. The few remaining were from the Junior Highs.
The students and administration in the high schools worked together to insure safety. In the case of HSE, most of the students gathered in the gymnasium. At Fishers High School, most of the students gathered in an internal court yard. As such, the majority of the students remained within the school’s internal safety parameter. There were a few students that were reported to have gone outside of the school buildings; however, that was recommended against.
It was indicated that disciplinary action would be occurring. In most cases, for students with no prior issues this would likely be a meeting with a counselor and a note in the school file. For students with past issues, further action was likely to occur.
Dr. Bourff also addressed the reasoning behind why the administration took its controversial action of stating they would not endorse the walkout. While the walk seemed to be initiated by students in Florida, it was indicated that the real organizers were a national organization outside of the schools. As such, if the walkout were to be endorsed by our school administration, then the school administration would have to allow any other national organization to have similar walkouts.
eLearning at HSE
On a much lighter topic, an eLearning plan was also discussed. eLearning centers on the idea of having a plan in place to allow students to be do work at home on those days when the weather prevents them from getting to school. By having an eLearning program in place, a district can remove the need to have make-up dates when snow days occur.
HSE had one flex day built into the schedule that was used to make up one of two snow days that had occurred. To avoid having to come back after Memorial Day, the school was going to roll out an eLearning day to make up the time. Having the single date after the long week-end wasn’t likely to lead to any additional teaching, plus it was indicated that there was an expectation that a number of students would have missed the date due to planned vacations and other activities.
To do eLearning, a school needs to have a plan in place for how it will be executed. While it was indicated that there are state regulations on having a practice date before a school can do eLearning, because HSE is a high-performance school, the need to do a practice day was waived. Even so, a school does need to have in place how the eLearning will occur. Prior to the advisor meeting, an email had been sent to all parents with the details of how HSE would be doing the first eLearning date. For future eLearning days, the hope was to have a repository in place to make things better.
While there were more details on eLearning, I’ll simply provide a few key details here:
- In the future, eLearning dates are likely to happen on the snow day itself.
- eLearning is to make up a day; however, what is being made up is a number of minutes of learning. As such, the makeup can be done over a period of time.
- Teachers have been asked to make sure that the eLearning work be relevant to the current teaching. It should not just be busy work.
- eLearning does not have to be done on a computer.
- At the higher grade levels, teachers will be asked to be aware that students have multiple classes. A high school student with seven different teachers should not be overloaded with seven different assignments that total more than the makeup day’s amount of time.
Overall, it is expected that the eLearning process will evolve as the district works to get to something that works and is manageable. In the meantime, the email has already gone out for the first attempt at trying something to make up the remaining snow day.
Neighborhood Conversations and Listening Tours
A fourth topic that was discussed related to improving communication. The idea of having meetings at the neighbor level would be beneficial for engaging the community. There was a bit of push-back on how this would be executed and whether they would be effective. It was indicated that it would require people to open their homes for the meetings. It would also require organization. PTO members indicated there was already a lack of participation at the PTO meetings, so there was concern that this could be more effort to create more meetings that are not attended.
An alternative suggestion was for the central office administration, especially Dr. Bourff, to come back to the individual schools in the same manner that was done for the referendum listening tours. The listening tours in the past were indicated to be some of the highest attended meetings, so the suggestion was to have open Q&A sessions at individual schools (aka meetups). With the number of schools in the district, it was indicated that it would be great if the administration could schedule to get to each school at a minimum of once every two years if not more often. Dr. Bourff indicated that this was an idea that would be looked into and agreed to get a meeting scheduled with Durbin elementary as a way to get things rolling.
The previous mentioned items were the core of the discussions for the advisory committee. While there were a lot more details, this was the heart of the discussions.
One other tidbit that was dropped as a comment at the end of the meeting centered on redistricting HSE. With a new elementary school in the works, it should not surprise anyone that redistricting is going to happen again. Dr. Bourff indicated that a redistricting committee was likely to be formed in late May or early June of this year. He indicated redistricting was coming…
This post is based on my notes from the meeting. My notes are not always perfect, so if there are questions or concerns on anything posted here, feel free to let me know or talk to one of our school administrators.
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