NEW PARIS — National Trail Board of Education members elected new officers, recognized students, and discussed organizational concerns for the Spring 2020 semester and beyond at their monthly meeting Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Newly elected board member Mindy Ward and returning board member Greg McWhinney took the oath of office at the top of Wednesday’s meeting. David Harris was elected president of the board, while McWhinney was elected vice-president.
Numerous students were recognized for their achievements during the month of December, including members of the National Trail FFA chapter’s Advanced Parliamentary Procedure Team, which won fifth place in state competition.
December High School Students of the Month were Dakota Gibbs, Vincent Cummings, Kelsey Rea, and Kindra Holloway; Middle School Students of the Month were Madi Mann, Jenna Deaton, and Hayden Regan (Fifth Grade); Jackson Skinner, Mae Brubaker, and Avery Lanman (Sixth Grade); Cooper Smith, Josie Stiner, and Breanna Melling (Seventh Grade); and Evan Porter, Jamison Watts, and Cooper Lee (Eighth Grade).
Superintendent Bob Fischer offered residents the opportunity to provide input on a proposed two-year academic calendar for National Trail Schools. The calendar would extend until 2022, and will be officially voted on by the board during its Feb. 25 meeting.
The proposed calendar would have the next two school years starting earlier than previously. Fischer said this was due, in part, to the scheduling of certain standardized tests which students must take each year.
“From an educational standpoint, it’s better to start earlier,” Fischer said. “Because it gives us more time pre-test than after the test.”
The board discussed disciplinary statistics for the Fall 2019 semester, with Fischer saying he was pleasantly surprised by the numbers.
“I was surprised, mainly from the standpoint that they’re so low,” Fischer said.
Seventeen suspensions were reported, prompting board member Gary Moore to ask if there might be a better alternative to suspending so many students. Fischer reported at least half of those were multiple-day suspensions, however, and that all were justified, saying it was a matter of combining a “zero tolerance” attitude toward certain behaviors with common sense.
Food Service Director Dorothy Frist raised the issue of parents failing to pay for their childrens’ lunches. Fischer said that this is an ongoing issue, but one students shouldn’t be penalized for.
“For whatever reason — be it laziness, entitlement, or maybe they just can’t afford it — there are certain people who always owe,” Fischer said. “But we’re not going to take lunches away from kids. We’re not going to punish kids for what is a parental issue.”
Elementary school principal Ed Eales discussed plans for Discovery Day, an activity slated for the end of January. The elementary school will operate on a two-hour delay schedule that day, allowing students to participate in “clubs” centering around activities including Legos, board games, cake decorating, crafts, sign language, crime scene investigation, and hip-hop dancing.
“We’re trying to build a community, and get the kids excited about being here,” Eals said. “This way the teachers get to know more of the students, and the students get to know each other.”
Fischer said the program may eventually be extended to the middle school, with the elementary students serving as a pilot group.
Middle school principal Jen Couch discussed students’ performance in language arts and other areas.
“We’re trying to figure out where we are, and where we need to go,” Couch said. “What are we doing as teachers? How in-depth are we going? Where are our weaknesses?”
Couch suggested that language arts, science, and math skills typically taught in certain grades should be aligned more closely with standardized test scheduling.
“Kids learn about something in sixth grade, and then don’t get tested on it until eighth grade,” Couch said.
Couch also spoke about scheduling conflicts within the middle school itself.
“Every grade has its own timeframe, its own schedule, different amounts of time between classes, and so on,” Couch said. This makes it difficult for different grades to share teachers, according to Couch, as well as to coordinate activities with the high school.
Finally, Fischer drew the board’s attention to an expansion of Ohio’s EdChoice Income-Based Voucher Program slated to go into effect at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Under the expanded program, according to Fischer, a student who lives in the district, but has never attended public school, could receive state funding to attend private school, funding that would otherwise go to National Trail.
“If it goes through, it could be the end of public education,” Fischer said. “The program uses a flawed report card to unfairly label public schools as ‘failing,’ and then forces districts to subsidize the cost of private school tuition.”
More than 70 percent of Ohio school districts will have a building that qualifies as “failing” under the new standards, according to Fischer, including National Trail.
“Vouchers will funnel money away from public schools to pay for private or parochial tuition,” Fischer said. “They also threaten districts’ ability to serve their remaining students, and jeopardize the quality of those students’ educational experiences. Public school districts are held to high standards and accountability, unlike private schools, which do not have to use the same state tests to assess student achievement.”
National Trail Board of Education meetings typically take place the last Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the National Trail Middle School Media Center.