ST. PARIS – Graham Local Schools community members and alumni got an education Wednesday at a morning “Coffee and Conversation” get-together with Graham administrators.
The event featured performances by Graham High School Choir members and treated attendees to a tour of the high school after the discussion.
Administrators discussed finances, curriculum, course availability, student behavior, strategic planning and facilities issues with attendees. Attendees were most interested in student electives, district finances and student behavior issues and how the district is handling all of them.
Interim Superintendent Matt Curtis started by talking about ongoing strategic planning. Administrators and staff are working with the school board and the Ohio School Boards Association to set goals for everything from facilities to student achievement.
Testing data and curriculum
Curtis told attendees that state report card data, which gave the district an “F” grade in a number of areas, does not reflect what he sees going on with students.
“I’ve seen many good things going on at Graham. Graham is not an F district,” he said.
Curtis said the report card is one set of data taken over a couple of weeks of student testing every year. He said administrators evaluate that data to see what they can do to improve student achievement, but do more than rely on that data.
Curtis said teachers do their own assessments periodically to determine where students are and where they need to stress instruction. The district instituted the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) program this year, a national program that tests student progress.
Curriculum Coordinator Becky Gerardi talked about the district implementing Literacy Collaborative, an Ohio State University program shown to help with literacy outcomes for younger students. That program benefits more than just reading and works in conjunction with other subject areas to improve instruction and learning.
Curtis said a guidance counselor has been added to the elementary school this year, which may help with behavioral issues. The district is also using Positive Behavioral Interventions (PBIS) to model appropriate behavior for students.
Curtis said the district’s financial cutting in 2011 had a negative impact on state report card data, something seen statewide when districts are strapped financially.
“We can’t take millions of dollars in cuts in any organization. They hurt, and they hurt Graham,” he said. “I’m not saying they didn’t need to be done, but it does hurt over time, and I think the local report card data reflects that.”
Curtis added, in response to a question, that he believes school districts in Ohio were hurt because of political agendas statewide over the past few years.
“I think there’s been a wave, maybe over the last few years in Ohio, where there have been political agendas, not just personal agendas, to maybe even occasionally discredit public schools. It hurt all public schools in Ohio,” he said.
By reducing funding to school districts, the districts had to make up the difference with local tax levies or cut staff and programs, or both, he said.
Graham has somewhat recovered from its prior staffing and funding cuts and has hired back some staff and brought back a few programs. Curtis and high school Principal Joe Hurst pointed to adding online elective courses as one way to bring that back, and Hurst hopes to add more foreign language options at the high school.
Treasurer Judy Geers said new textbooks are being brought in to update the curriculum, but the school board will need to keep an eye on cash reserves, which it chose to use to bring back some programs and staff. Geers said the district will start deficit spending next year. It currently has a $5 million cash reserve for the district’s $17.4 million general fund expenditures budget. Most of the district’s expenses are salaries and benefits.
Facilities and student welfare
District Operations and Services Supervisor Don Burley told the group the district is working to save money as much as possible, through a variety of means, while providing good services to students and the community.
Burley talked about the $100,000 in estimated energy savings over the past couple of years by replacing parking lot light bulbs with LEDs and changing around heating and air conditioning fan usage and times. The savings add up, and the district will continue to work on that, he said.
Operations staff moved from the former junior high to the new board office, which didn’t add any cost. Staff are finishing renovations to a new maintenance and bus garage, so staff can move from the junior high and the sale of that building can be finalized. The new garage is funded by $600,000 returned by the state as leftover funds from the building project. Burley said those dollars had to be used on facilities, rather than staffing or general operations.
Burley noted new technology helping students achieve and a new breakfast program. He said many students do not get enough to eat and providing breakfast at $1 for all students who do not receive free or reduced lunch cost benefits ensures students are ready and able to learn.
“You can be proud of Graham schools in lots of areas,” he said. “We’re doing our best to be good stewards with our finances and to demonstrate our pride in Graham in everything we do,” he said.