Horner reflects on success, prepares for change

Wapakoneta City Schools is celebrating its past successes, while preparing for future changes in how students and teachers are to be measured.

Superintendent Keith Horner highlighted Wapakoneta City Schools first excellent rating based on 2012 state report cards during his annual State of the Schools address Thursday before the Wapakoneta Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a reflection of all the hard work the teachers are doing in the classroom every day,” Horner said.

Looking toward the future, Horner said there has been a lot of talk about a new common core (or national) curriculum, but he stressed it has been many years since curriculum was locally driven.

The goal would be to foster a new rigorous curriculum, which challenges students to think deeper, showing educators what to teach to achieve that. The new curriculum is to be implemented next year.

“It would standardize what kids are learning throughout the country,” Horner said.

A change in the testing system is to come with the changes in curriculum.

Online assessments are slated to begin for students in 2014. The new type of testing brings up questions about what type of technology is acceptable.

“There are no more pencils and bubble sheets,” Horner said of new testing, which in two school years would be done online during a 20-day window. “There is a tremendous amount of change in education.”

New more rigorous testing and the way the test is taken is expected to lead to lower scores, referred to as an “achievement cliff” at first, but Horner said once they get an idea of what the tests are like and how to prepare for them it will get better.

“Next year, scores could drop,” Horner said. “They are taking a test they have never taken before on curriculum we are just starting to learn about.”

The third-grade reading guarantee, resident educator program, and Ohio Teacher Evaluation System are to be implemented within the next couple years.

“They are all good in principle,” Horner said of what he described as heavy-handed, unfunded mandates. “The problem is they take lots of time, energy and money.”

New report cards are to rate schools and districts from A to F in six areas, four of which look at areas the report card rated in the past with added components, while two new areas — kindergarten through third-grade literacy and prepared for success — are being added.

Horner said the prepared for success component would measure whether students who graduate are prepared for college or a career, putting a definition and standardization to the component and defining what it means to be college and career ready.

“It’s all good stuff, but we can’t just send a memo out and implement it,” Horner said. “We need to train people and meet to discuss it.”

Financially, the latest projections expect Wapakoneta City Schools to end this fiscal year $300,000 in the red. The district cut $1 million in expenditures last fiscal year and is expecting to cut another $500,000 this year.  

“We’ve slowed the money bleed, but we haven’t stopped it,” Horner said. “We have made a lot of reductions and a lot of changes, but it doesn’t change what we have to do with the same number of kids. Enrollment has remained steady with most classes between 240 and 250 and we have cut employees significantly.”

In addition to cutting 47 employees in the past 10 years, the district is experiencing personnel challenges with significant turnover in both teaching and administrative staff as the state retirement system forces a lot of them to make decisions to retire early.

“We’re losing history and talent in the classroom,” Horner said, explaining that to counteract that, they are meeting with teachers a lot and implanting the resident educator program.

Horner said in some areas, he thinks the district is under staffed.

They also are making efforts to keep health care costs down by keeping as many employees as they can under 30 hours, including substitute teachers and bus drivers.

Asked if an operating levy is a possibility, Horner said it has been a discussion among board members — if they should do it, when they should do it and what to ask for.

“Because we slowed down the money bleed, we bought ourselves some time,” Horner said. “We are kind of living year-to-year.

“At some point, the community also will need to decide what it wants to offer our kids.”