Student improvement, Chromebook repair, Seven Oak expansion discussed at school board

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The school board heard a somewhat-glowing report regarding student improvement during its July 14 meeting.

School Improvement Director Bill Wittman presented STAR and SBAC data that shows students are improving in English Language Arts/Reading and Math, and Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Meckley discussed data for on-track graduation

STAR is a thrice-a-year screening assessment for second through eighth grade to help teachers to identify achievement and growth, while the SBAC is a required state test measuring what students have learned.

Meckley pointed out the data is a new baseline due to interruptions with COVID.

“This will be what we compare ourselves to year after year from this point moving forward,” Wittman said.

But staff did find some unexpected highlights, he said.

“One of them was just across-the-board achievement for both STAR and SBAC,” Wittman said. “In STAR we’re really talking about growth because we’re comparing ourselves from the Fall to the Spring and seeing how much growth we have.”

In Spring 2022, about 54 to 61 percent of the students ranked in the top two level performances (levels three and four) for English Language Arts and Reading, he said. Same in Math, where 54 to 64 percent were in the top levels.

With level one being where kids need the most intervention, 17 to 27 percent of the students ranked in level one for ELA/Reading while 17 to 25 percent ranked in level one for Math.

“On the surface that’s a pretty large percentage of kids needing that urgent intervention, but the question I would ask is how does that compare to the rest of the state,” Wittman said.

And that’s where he found some surprises. A good indicator for performance could be based off of socioeconomic status or special education services, he said. Lebanon has a high percentage who fall into those categories, so it would be expected the District would fall below the state average, but Lebanon actually ranked commensurate to the State average.

Also, in all but eighth-grade Math, there were less Lebanon students in level one than the State average.

“What that means is we have a pretty high bar going forward with our data,” Wittman said.

Meckley followed Wittman’s report with tracked graduation rates. She said freshmen on-track data is a good indicator of what that class’ senior on-track data will look like, so the District likes to see freshmen start off with high on-track data.

The Class of 2023 started last school year with 60 percent of its students on-track, and ended the year with 69 percent on-track, a nine percent increase. The Class of 2024 started with 52 percent on-track, and ended with 69 percent on-track, 17 percent increase. The Class of 2025 had no data for the beginning of the school year due to COVID, but ended the year with 82 percent on-track.

Meckley said the data is fantastic news.

“Kids and staff are working really hard, summer school is making a big impact,” she said. “The high school was pretty excited about those numbers, as were we.”

In other business,

♦ The board heard an update by Director of Business Services William Lewis III regarding the Seven Oak Middle School expansion. A rough design by Soderstrom Architects showed an option that would stay within the $4 million budget and fulfill the school needs for the upcoming sixth grade integration. The steel frame metal design with polished concrete flooring includes three classrooms, restroom, a fitness facility and a covered canopy. Lewis said ESSER funds are being used to construct the facility as a means to help mitigate the effects of COVID.

“This is one-time funding from the federal government that I can tell you I’ve never seen in my career,” Lewis said. “I’ve never even heard of this kind of money. So we wanted something at the end where we could say we’ve enhanced our system and there it is.”

By moving sixth-graders to the middle school, more space is freed up in the elementary schools, and that, Lewis said, is the key to how COVID funds were able to make this change possible;

♦ The board discussed the cost of repairing and replacing damaged Chromebooks, and how to alleviate the financial burden. Lewis gave an example that in just the first week of summer school, 12 screens were broken. In many cases of damage, staff are able to easily ascertain whether it was accidental, he said.

“What we quantify in parts alone is 20 grand and that does not include staff time to fix them,” he said.

He presented a Chromebook Assurance Program where families can opt in every year by paying a small non-refundable fee, and if the laptop is broken, then the cost of the repair is covered. If families opt out and the laptop is broken, they will be “on the hook” for the bill.

“I think part of this is (about) holding our student body accountable,” Lewis said. “I think the other piece is this puts something in front of the parents that gets them engaged and helps them to understand there’s a cost associated with this.”

Repair or replacement costs include: power adaptor, $29; hotspot, $60; keyboard/trackepad, $55; screen, $62.50; top casing/housing, $50; individual keys, $3 each; full replacement, $110-275.

There are about 4,300 Chromebooks distributed throughout the District, and this last school year the District paid $18,595 in repairs.

Board members Tammy Schilling, Richard Borden and Tom Oliver discussed an idea to instead charge every student a $5 fee due to the concern that many families who opt out won’t pay for damages. Lewis said he’ll run some models for how the two insurance options would look.

“They are essential to the learning process, so we’re gonna have to fund it some way,” said Board Member Mike Martin. “We can ask the parents and see how it works.”

♦ The board heard a summer school report by Coordinator Ryan King, indicating that by July 13, 93 incomplete courses were made up by high school students. He read a report by the elementary administration staff, who said the kids are exposed to multiple experiences including Spanish culture enrichment activities and music, as well as time with a teacher who sings Disney songs with his ukulele.

The middle school administrator reported the kids are working on fraction skills using M&Ms and Legos. They are also exposed to spectrometers, music and SEL experiences. One class allowed students to design their own superheros which identified their own personal strengths and struggles, and another class allows them to write their own songs. King also gave his own experience about his kids learning sign language at summer school;

♦ The board elected Tom Oliver as board chair and Richard Borden as vice chair for the 2022-23 year.