Committee to Study the Mission of CHS

January 18, 2007




Attending:  Anne Freske, Lee Kounovsky, Ellen Adler, David Case, Sharon Heater, Shirley Burrus, Ken Donner, Terrie Chrones, Stan Kramer, Bill Martin, John Moran, Jan Ophus, Sue Bowers


Anne Freske opened the meeting at 6:50 a.m.   There were no corrections/changes to the minutes of the December meeting.  The proposed agenda was approved with three topics:  Freshman Academy review, Career Pathways and Marketing Creswell High School.


Freshman Academy


Anne asked Mr. Kramer to review briefly the discussion about Freshman Academy from last week’s School Board meeting, after which the topic was put on this Committee’s agenda.  At this point in the semester, 29% of the freshmen have failing grades in their Academy class.  Mr. Kramer noted that in almost every case, this is due to not turning in a significant amount of work.  He mentioned that both non-English speaking and special education students are being successful, which indicates the work should be doable by most everyone.  He noted that he has sent progress reports to struggling students’ homes every five weeks rather than waiting longer, but has gotten very few responses from parents as a result.  He also makes numerous phone calls to parents so they are aware of student progress and has allowed extra class time for completing assignments.  He said that the freshmen teachers meet informally weekly to discuss students of concern. 


Mr. Kramer took a survey of a random sample of the freshmen students, with 67% saying that Freshman Academy should continue.  Some of their comments included that the class was too long for its content, it had too much writing required and some wondered why the history of Creswell, school rules and statistical information about students was important for them to know.  On the positive side, they have enjoyed the career unit and Mr. Kramer has seen improvements in many of their writing skills.  He feels that some changes in format and content will improve the class, but that overall it has been positive.


The question of what the consequences are of failing the class was raised.  Mr. Ophus answered that, just like with other required courses, a student who gets an “F” would need to re-take the class.  Since it won’t be offered in the spring that would mean taking it again next fall.


Mr. Kramer has been discussing possible changes/improvements in class content with other staff members.  Ideas include incorporating some keyboarding for students who need that, instruction on Word and/or other Office programs, becoming familiar with the CIS system and beginning work on their CRLES.  Mr. Ophus noted that finding additional teaching resources to enable these additions would be challenging.  (While it was not highlighted at the meeting, folks should be reminded that since Global Issues and Global Perspectives will be back next year for sophomores, additional teaching resources would need to be found just to maintain the current four sections of Freshman Academy.)

CMS staff members were curious about how many of the students struggling to pass Freshman Academy took part in their Skills for Success program.  Mr. Kramer and Mr. Donner will review their lists to discover the answer to that question.


Mrs. Chrones is also concerned with the number of seniors facing “F” grades.  She pointed out that teachers are always brainstorming about how to get kids “hooked” so they will find the motivation to get their work done.  She finds that she gets little or no response to the many notices that she send home.


Mrs. Freske agreed that a part of the discussion was really about social issues, many of which are beyond the walls and/or control of the schools.  She wondered about engaging community leaders for ideas, noting that our society can’t afford to have 30% of its members not making good progress with their education.


Mr. Moran cautioned against the possibility of opening a “can of worms.”  He can’t identify a single student who has failed any of his classes because they were truly incapable and was reminded of some advice early in his teaching career that 1 out of 4 at-risk students basically chooses to fail, regardless of how much energy a teacher directs toward them.  It isn’t fair to the other students if teachers spend much of their time with those cases.  Others agreed that while laws currently protect those with learning or other disabilities, there are no similar protections for everyone.


Mrs. Burrus brought up Ruby Fields’ book on understanding poverty, which all the CMS teachers read over the summer.  She recommended it as a resource.  It helps in understanding what is truly of value to some students.  One outcome of its study at the middle school was a change in how parent-teacher conferences were done.  Participation was over 90% this year, which was a huge improvement.


Mr. Kounovsky, who teaches at Churchill’s alternative school, expressed the opinion that kids don’t plan to fail in school.  Instead, they believe that they won’t be successful, so why even try?  He suggested trying the approach of having juniors or seniors assigned as mentors for freshmen.


Committee members wondered how many of the struggling students are products of Creswell’s K-8 education, as opposed to having entered the Creswell district fairly recently.  Mr. Case expressed concern that, from his experience, there seems to be little integration or communication between grade levels in the district.  Others agreed there is need for improvement in this area.  An example given was the lack of coordination between textbook publishers/series in the different schools.  There are cases where we have a scope and sequence down on paper that appears to have a logical flow, but in practice, there is little if any time for teachers to get together to assure they are actually presenting content that flows smoothly between grades or buildings.


Mr. Martin expressed concern about another category of students, using the example of one who is not failing, but who clearly lacks skills and the sense of responsibility needed to be successful in a workplace.  (The student was placed in a job, with the assistance of school resources, and lost it after 2 weeks, as he apparently didn’t feel it was important to be there on time.)  Mr. Martin also expressed frustration with the schools trying to meet “community expectations,” as he feels there are many different and sometimes conflicting opinions in Creswell about school policies.  He asked about the consequences for students who “fail” classes at the K-8 level.


Mr. Donner addressed that question, noting that without formal “credits” at the lower grades, the system does not always provide a clear answer.  The CMS policy has been that students must pass 5 of their 7 classes to progress to the next grade.  Parents have input to this decision, however, and can overrule the school’s recommendation. 


Dr. Adler suggested bringing the students who are failing Freshman Academy to the SST for a review.  She reported that the district currently has about 250 students with IEPs and that accommodations are defined to help them be successful.


Mr. Ophus shared his concern that it will take additional resources at the high school to address some of these issues.  As an example, April Norman, last year’s Campus Supervisor and an experienced law enforcement person, was nearly overwhelmed with the discipline issues she needed to address.  He feels that a full-time Campus Supervisor is needed.  He suggested the need to re-visit some policies.  He cited the example of both his and Mrs. Zacharias being required to spend extensive time on the issue of bullying during December.  With the Athletic Director making less on an hourly basis than assistant coaches do, he cannot be asked to do all the things that position probably should handle and some fall instead to the principal.  On the other hand, Mr. Ophus has yet in his four years at CHS been able to fulfill the teacher growth portions of his contract.  He reiterated that there is very little time in their workdays for teachers to work together on behalf of their students.


The state is considering (and as of Friday, Jan. 19 has adopted) new graduation requirements that will make obtaining a diploma even more difficult for our struggling students.  These will increase the need for more discussion and likely more use of alternative diplomas.


Mrs. Freske noted that the discussion had become a bit wide-ranging and brought it back to a summary of the Freshman Academy.  She felt there were some good ideas about improving the course and encouraged that those be further developed.  She then steered the discussion toward the second item on the agenda.


Career Pathways


This topic was described as a vestige of the state’s CAM program, which has effectively gone by the wayside.  In theory at least, students entering high school should be ready to plan their 4 years to help achieve a career objective.  Several expressed concern that many (most?) of our students don’t have a sense of their career goals yet.


The discussion digressed a bit back to the question of alternative programs to meet different needs.  Mr. Kounovsky noted that ADD and ADHD are not “IEPable” and that many students with those challenges have trouble in the standard classroom setting.  His program at Churchill is aimed at trying to give the 10% or so of students for whom the standard program doesn’t work an alternative that will work for them.  Having such a program within the district that helps retain these students can enable it to be self-sustaining financially, as it also retains the funding for those students.


Having also taught in an alternative program, Mr. Moran noted that having a separate facility works much better than trying to co-mingle the students with others on a single campus.  Mr. Ophus highlighted that something like this would require additional teaching and/or administrative resources.  The last experience here with such a program did not work well in his view.


Mr. Martin reminded the group that research has shown adolescents do not function well early in the morning.  He wondered about the feasibility of a later start to the day, though recognized that bus schedules are an issue.  He also stressed the need for teachers to do more planning together, noting that Marist meets as a staff every Wednesday morning, giving the students a late start that day.  He was also aware of a program that has four days of instruction each week with the fifth devoted to other educational needs.


Mr. Ophus noted that small districts do not have the resources that are available in larger districts.  A Committee like this in a large district would have professional staff available to follow up with ideas, rather than needing to rely on volunteer school board members and already-busy teachers.


As discussion came to a close, there was a consensus that the district as a whole needs a better system for sharing information.  The Committee has discussed many good ideas, but the “nuts and bolts” of making changes takes lots of follow-up, with available time already very limited.



The meeting ended without time to discuss the third agenda item (marketing CHS), which will likely be on the agenda next month.


A next meeting date was not set during the meeting, but Mrs. Freske and Mr. Ophus have since conferred and set it for 6:45 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22.


Respectfully submitted,


Sue Bowers, Secretary