School Improvement Team Highlights Needs in Montrose
by William Woody
Nov 01, 2012 | 880 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Volunteer Group Cites Deficiencies in Class Size, Technology and Materials

MONTROSE – The Montrose Community School Improvement Team (MCSIT), a volunteer group comprised of concerned citizens, has concluded its school-by-school, teacher-by-teacher survey, recording teacher feedback and pinpointing problems within Montrose School District. Those findings, abbreviated from a final 43-page report, were presented to the board during a work session on Oct. 23 at Pomona Elementary School.

Board President Kjersten Davis hailed the report as a “road map” for a progressively better school system in a time of falling achievement and funds. "It was the kind of information that we have been looking for," Davis said.

Davis said the goal of the report is to identify every need, identify where needs are falling short, and then specifically target those concerns. The report identifies a lack of sufficient materials, from office supplies to textbooks, and cites how "[the materials] are outdated and consequently not usable to meet current achievement or testing standards." In certain cases – for example,  where teachers have to share textbooks between classes – educators are forced to make purchases with out-of-pocket funds or make take-home copies for students.

"Teachers report spending $200 to $300 minimum per year [out of pocket], and upwards of $1,000 plus, in several cases, for books, subscriptions to online resources, copies and other basics," the report said.

Drops in tax revenue, coupled with millions of dollars in budget cuts, and dozens of layoffs over the past few years, have collided with increased costs in staff health insurance, school supplies, fuel and energy consumption, according to the report.

As a result, Davis said, student achievement has fallen.

In the area of class size within MCSD schools, the report said, numbers vary from year-to-year. With increased class size, the report notes, there is an increase in behavior issues that make instruction more difficult. There are currently classrooms in the district with well over 24 students, and in some cases teachers have up to 30 students in the room.

Melanie Hall of the CSIT said the report is only the beginning of a new process to create a better district-wide system, one that can grow student achievement and retain quality teachers. On Nov. 13, Hall said, the CSTI will sit down with district principals to deliver findings from each of their specific schools.

“We want to know what the principals think is most important, given the feedback. We want to be proactive,” Hall said.

After those get-togethers, more surveys are scheduled before the end of the year, including interviewing recent high-school graduates to see if the district has been effective in preparing them for post high-school careers.

“We are going to ask them, 'Do you think class size during your education here helped you be more successful, and do you think the level of technology was there for you to become more successful?'" Hall said.

Although the issue of technology is only briefly mentioned in the CSIT report, teachers who were interviewed said regular access to functioning computers is limited. “There are severe limits to the availability of tech support for creating and maintaining adequate computer systems, and little to no training for personnel to meet baseline expectations,” the report said.

An additional area of concern in the report, and one echoed by Hall and Davis, is retaining  quality teachers.

“Teacher support is considered a significant factor in teacher retention. Whether the school, district or community provides much-needed materials, additional paraprofessionals, time for training, teachers suggest that, “upping the game” is imperative,” the report said.

“The teachers are the ones that are most influential in a student's life. They are our greatest asset," Davis said.

Hall reported the study is just one step in creating a better community plan to move forward with next year. "We want to communicate that the community is part of the schools, and the schools a part of the community," Davis said.

The report’s final conclusion was in the area of employee morale.

“Most of those involved with focus group conversations feel there has been improvement in the morale and culture of the district in the past year. 'Hopeful' is a term that often is used. [But] there is a prevailing sentiment that, at the classroom level, things are 'overwhelming,' due to class sizes, lack of materials and lack of training and support.”

The CSIT has made recommendations to the district regarding a possible sales tax increase or mill levy increase in 2013 to increase revenues.

The CSIT was formed about a year ago, after Davis and school superintendent Mark MacHale made a number of presentations at various community forums to recruit new members. Davis estimates that nearly 200 people showed up. "We wanted to educate the community about school needs and be open and transparent with what was going on. Then we wanted to see if there was enough community interest," Davis said about the group’s formation.

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