Full minutes from September 2016 forum

Fox Chapel Area District Forum

September 13, 2016

LGI Room of the High School

9:00 a.m.

Elizabeth Klamut, District Forum president said, “Today’s topic, Dr. Freeman’s vision for our school district and the role benchmarking and assessment play, was selected after receiving input from our spring survey and being voted on by our PTO representatives.” She thanked board members, PTO representatives and “those community members who participated via our online format for taking the time to contribute the insightful questions that are serving as the basis for this program today.”  After recognizing District Forum representatives and board members, she thanked Ms. Berzonski the head of FCASD communications for “helping us spread the word” and Ms. Anuszek for “arranging meetings and the use of the room.” Klamut proceeded to thank, “superintendent Dr. Freeman and assistant superintendent Dr. McCommons for spending time dialoging with us about this topic, taking our questions to heart and being willing to answer these questions as in depth as possible.” Klamut explained that a moderated Q & A would follow Freeman’s presentation and asked that participants use index cards to write down their questions and that questions remain topical. She concluded her remarks, “We recognize that we may not be able to address all questions or concerns today so we want to invite you to keep the dialog going, by visiting us on the web at foxchapeldistrictforum.com. “

  • Introduction of Superintendent, District Forum Board, PTO Reps and School Board Members (Sandra Garbisch, Terry Wirginis, Joel Weinstein and Eric Schmidt)

  • Superintendent’s vision for FCASD

Dr. Gene Freeman provided background information detailing the start of his early career in North Carolina working with a 30,000-student district that was struggling with various socioeconomic challenges.  Next, he moved to a Superintendent position in Eastern Pennsylvania before coming to Fox Chapel Area School District.  As Superintendent his vision for FCASD has been “to be the best district it can be” and “to grow each kid.”  There is no such thing as a “perfect” student, and that parents sometimes get “hung up on the final end goal.” He stressed that his focus is on the individual student’s “journey and what he can do to make them achieve success along the way.” According to Freeman, about 15% of the student body fall in the low socioeconomic end.  Freeman cited the Pittsburgh Business Journal in its latest school ranking showing FCASD ranked eighth in the state (previously ranked 14th). He stated our goal is to be in the top five. Freeman states that FCASD is about the equivalent of a $100 million corporation that employs about 700 people.  Maintaining buildings and facilities takes millions in capital.

Freeman describes his role as Superintendent as, first, the instructional leader of the district, lobbyist to the State leaders and a real estate “agent.”  FCASD is located in a family-oriented community that new families to the Pittsburgh region look to call home.  The district is based on the rich history of strong academics and many resources to maintain that academic excellence.  

  • What is the role of assessment and benchmarking in your children’s education?

Administration response– Freeman begins candidly, informing attendees that state tests may not be designed to make school districts “look good.” He questioned the value of a test administered in April that provides results in October as being “helpful to student achievement or to guiding teacher instruction.”  Freeman explained that while FCASD’s end product showed overall results as being “good,” prior to his arrival, since becoming Superintendent, he has implemented changes in benchmarking as a “better way to guide this district.”  PSSA’s are mandated by the state and will remain so in the immediate future.  Dr. Freeman stressed his role as “instructional leader” is to find more productive measures to gauge teacher instruction and drive student achievement.

FCASD still utilizes the CDT, which stands for Computerized Diagnostic Tool in the schools, but more recently the new benchmarking tool of choice is the STAR 360. A new computerized “smart test,” which takes the student about 20 minutes quarterly to complete.  The results are instantaneous and can let a teacher know what that student may not be mastering.  This allows a poor performing student and/or an academically gifted individual to get additional instruction.

The STAR assessment results are reviewed quarterly by the school district starting with the district office.  Each elementary and middle school principal meet with the administration to discuss the results.  The administration may look to transfer skills from one school that is performing at a higher level to another to achieve a more consistent teaching instruction across the whole district.  Principals take the results back to their school and review the results with each of their grade levels.  There is “no punitive outcomes” as a result of the STAR assessment.  Freeman says it is only to be used to help guide teacher instruction.  The goal of the benchmarking is to not allow a student to fall through the educational cracks.  Under Freeman’s guidance, FCASD seeks to continue to improve educational programs and help create equal academic success amongst all elementary schools.                        

  • Additional topic – Duties of the school board

After discussing the Vision and Benchmarking for the FCASD, Dr. Freeman informed the audience of the duties of the school board.  The primary role is to govern over the district.  The school board can hire and fire the Superintendent and, generally, can set the tone of district by setting policy.  In regards to the school board, the district follows PA mandates handed down by the governing body.  They do not “manage” FCASD, which is the primary duty of the Superintendent.  The Superintendent sends the board a weekly update on the district.

After discussing the Vision and Benchmarking for the FCASD, Dr. Freeman informed the audience of the duties of the school board.  The primary role is to govern over the district.  The school board can hire and fire the Superintendent and, generally, can set the tone of district by setting policy.  In regards to the school board, the district follows PA mandates handed down by the governing body.  They do not “manage” FCASD, which is the primary duty of the Superintendent.  The Superintendent sends the board a weekly update on the district.   

There is an email on the district website that can be used by anyone to reach out to the school board. Dr. Freeman explained that, in most cases, the school board referred questions to him.

  • STAR 360 interactive demonstration

Alicia Gismondi, Director of Federal Programs and Student Achievement, distributed iPads and guided attendees through a STAR 360 assessment at the 8th grade level to provide a hands-on experience of the adaptive assessments taken by students.

  • Additional topic – Instructional and Innovative Leadership

Megan Cicconi, the District Director of Instructional and Innovative Leadership, then spoke on the exciting opportunities that FCASD is instituting.  The district has or within the next year will have four programs:

  • Advanced digital fabrication (Fab Lab)
  • Computational thinking (High School Programming, AP Computer Science and Elementary levels with a computer science based curriculum)
  • Work force development connection (partner with local business to integrate students into workforce and set them on a job path with a potential of making 45-60K/year)
  • Project based learning (exists in the middle and certain segments of elementary)
  • Moderated Q & A:

  1. A question was heard about “accountability” in elementary schools in regards to “No Child Left Behind” to “Every Student Succeeds Act.” The response from administration was that there has “not really been a change in testing.”
  2. A question was heard about PSSAs as a source of “stress for students” and that PSSAs “lead to teaching to the test.”  The administration response was that if you teach the standards you are teaching the test.  The state mandates the standards. Freeman suggested the antidote was keeping “Kids focused on the destination.” Freeman pointed out that a child is measured in FCASD by many benchmarks.             
  • Next Public Forum Tuesday November 15th 9 am LGI Room High School

The above minutes are based on what was able to be documented during the meeting as it was not electronically recorded.

                        

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