2020-2021 Key Initiatives Quarterly Update (May)
Educational Program & Continuum (During COVID-19)
Starting with communications and planning in February 2020, the district has continued to use three key drivers to design and improve the educational model: (1) health and safety; (2) effectiveness of learning academically, socially and emotionally; and (3) flexibility for students, families and staff. The PRSD Healthcare Leadership Council was formed in June to help inform this critical initiative. Comprising 43 members that include community-based healthcare experts, this council has helped the leadership team refine plans that align with public health guidelines. The concept of a continuum has been used to illustrate the hybrid model and virtual-for-all contingency.
A comprehensive approach to communication with evidence-based rationale for decision-making has been implemented. In March, a transition process was started to shift left on the continuum and provide increased opportunities for in-person learning. The district now provides an update on PRSD-specific cases of students and/or staff each weekday. Recently, our region and district has seen worsening conditions. A podcast was shared with the community in mid-April that outlines specific reminders about the following topics: short-term closure due to cases in the 14-day rolling window; quarantine requirements for close contacts; and the criteria that would be considered if a different program is required at the building level. The health services department is providing excellent levels of support and coordination as the pandemic response team works with the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD).
Transforming-the-Future Educational Models (Post COVID-19)
The global pandemic has disrupted so many industries. In public education and at Pine-Richland specifically, we have responded with a balance of systems thinking and agility. This challenge has provided the generational opportunity for innovation and transformation. In this revised image, we see COVID-19 as the "red star" event that may stimulate breakthrough change and innovation. The Transforming the Future Leadership Council has been established as a representative group of approximately 50 representative members of the school and community (e.g., teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, technology coaches, students, parents, etc.). In recent years, we have formed various leadership councils to help address our greatest opportunities and challenges. Similar to those councils at Pine-Richland, this representative group of stakeholders will help serve as a “think tank and sounding board” for the future transformation of educational programs and services. While we will focus some of our immediate attention on 2021 - 2022, this council will especially focus on the fall of 2022 and beyond. The district has committed to offering both the traditional in-person experience for 2021 - 2022 and a full virtual K - 12 option for interested families. Eventually, families will be asked to “select and stay” with their preferred model.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Schools
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a key strategic initiative linked to safety and school culture. The goal of this work is to achieve our mission by helping staff and students establish environments of inclusion and appreciation of differences. Counselors, administrators and other support staff (Core Team) have been collaborating with the community-based PR anti-racism coalition and the District’s DEI Leadership Council to identify short- and long-term actions and goals. Additionally, the district is working with local universities and other school districts to gather information, insight, and share best practices.
The district has identified and refined a number of key DEI research topics that will guide our strategic, sustainable action items. Research topics include: (1) Family & Community Outreach and Partnerships; (2) Staff training & development; (3) Student organizations & school culture; (4) Curriculum & instruction; and (5) Policies & procedures. A policy review is also being conducted by the PRSD School Board and administration related to nondiscrimination and the district and school board are reviewing a new policy developed by PA School Board Association (PSBA) - Educational Equity. Used as an assessment tool, the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium (MAEC) Audit was administered to a sample of staff, students, and community members. The results provided the team with key areas of strength and opportunity. While these longer-term, sustainable plans are being developed, short-term actions will continue.
In February, all Pine-Richland teachers participated in a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional development training. The goal of this training was to build awareness across all schools and to ask every person to make a personal commitment to this initiative both inside and outside of their classrooms.
Since the February session, each of our six schools has identified DEI School-Based Leadership Teams. The building teams are working with our core and expanded teams to further integrate DEI best practices and learning activities into each school.
Allegheny Intermediate Unit hired Michael Jones as their Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Mr. Jones will partner with Pine-Richland and help connect us with other people, resources, and school districts throughout the county. The most recent DEI Leadership Council meeting (April 2021) focused on common language, policy and procedures, and in-depth program review recommendations all linked to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In-Depth Program Review Implementation Phase
Building administrators, senior leadership team members, department chairpersons and teachers are implementing the recommendations from the in-depth program reviews in Science (2016-17), Health/PE (2016-17), Mathematics (2017-18), Business/Computer Science (2017-18), Social Studies (2018-19), Gifted and/or Highly Achieving (2018-19), Music (2019-20), Library (2019-20), and English Language Arts (2019-20). Each department is monitoring the implementation process through shared action plans.
We are seeing an increased need to coordinate the work between departments where recommendations are aligned and to be integrated. Examples exist between social studies, library, and English Language Arts, related to social justice, diversity, and current events being brought into the classroom through text, discussion, and resources of varying perspectives. As an example, work on these integrative actions began in the spring of 2021, with the expansion of the core novel list into the 2nd and 3rd grade level from the previously 4th through 12th-grade level only. As we collect information about the works identified as core that we are currently utilizing, we will have a baseline of those texts from which to conduct an audit and identify diverse authorship and texts from across various time periods, including more contemporary literature as well. These selections will be done in conjunction with the librarians, insight from the social studies department members, and through our DEI lens.
We are continuing to engage the ALC members, principals, and teachers across each department that amplifies the impact of the work which allows for the integration of work to be best coordinated for each recommendation with transcending impact. This work will continue in the final quarter and into the following school year.
Budget Awareness and Future-Focused Financial Planning
The development and implementation of long-range financial strategies have been an area of ongoing study and action for the school board and administration for many years through the Pine-Richland School District strategic plan. However, COVID-19 has economic implications for both the short- and long-term planning horizon. Consistent with our annual approach, we are focused on an analysis of the key drivers for revenue and expenditure (e.g., staffing levels, debt service, transportation, capital funding, technology and curricular supplies). Our operational efficiency measures continue to reflect a strong return-on-investment for the educational program at Pine-Richland. We need to continue to refine our systematic and integrated approach to short- and long-term expenditures grounded in the mission/vision/values and strategic plan. A continued focus exists on strategic decision-making to ensure a strong financial position currently and in future years.
For the 2021-2022 fiscal year, our district approved the Act 1 Resolution which limits a possible tax increase to no more than 3%. Consistent with our annual process, the general fund budget for next school year will continue to be refined over the next couple of months. The proposed final budget will be publicly available in May, and the final budget and tax rates will be set in early June.
Primary Schools Redistricting for 2021- 22 (Hance, Richland & Wexford)
During the development of the 2019-2023 strategic plan, the district identified a need to conduct an updated demographic study given the increasing trend in enrollment within the Wexford Elementary School zone. A new study was conducted in the 2019-2020 school year to provide updated information about the 10-year enrollment projections for our school. While the overall enrollment of the district has remained stable for the last 10 years and is projected to remain stable for the next 10 years, our district has seen significant increases in enrollment in the West (Township of Pine), while the enrollment in the East (Richland Township) has been declining over time.
Given the new projections and a list of established decision-making criteria about which the administration and board achieved consensus in the spring of 2020, third-party demographers (Thomas & Williamson and Davis Demographics) developed two viable redistricting scenarios for consideration of the administration and school board. After a Town Hall and board discussion, Scenario B was recommended and approved for implementation. Starting in December 2020, the focus shifted to logistics and strategic planning for the transition of impacted students to their newly assigned Pine-Richland elementary school. Senior Leadership Team members, the primary principals and counselors, and key partners (e.g. Student Transportation of America) have been collaborating and created action plans and benchmarks for key item completion. To date, families impacted have received a new letter of assignment via direct email. STA has redesigned their primary school routes and utilized the week of January 11th to have drivers test the routes to provide feedback regarding safety and efficiency improvements and adjustments.
Multiple building level communications and activities have been implemented to support the successful transition of impacted students to their new school, including video introductions of key staff members, scavenger hunts at the new building, and the completion of an “All About Me” activity to help school personnel, including principals and counselors, select buddies for the students at their new school based on common interests. Additional opportunities will exist in the 4th quarter for students to correspond with and meet their buddies, as well as convene at the new school building to build familiarity and comfort. Through our annual staffing process, we are identifying those staff members, who will be transferring buildings to support the students. These staff members will also have transition supports and the opportunity to connect with their colleagues at the welcoming school to facilitate team building.
Student Information and Financial Software System Evaluation
The Student Information System (SIS) and Financial Software System (FIS) form a backbone for day-to-day operations within the district. Following a detailed project migration plan by the technology department and the human resources/business office, both new systems - SapphireK12 (SIS) and Tyler InfiniteVisions (FIS) - went live on July 1, 2020.
Initial support from the SapphireK12 team has been positive. The selected system has enabled different uses for our district. In the past few weeks, the Pine-Richland Sapphire Community Web Portal (CWP) opened and over 7,600 users (students and/or guardians) have logged in to view student bus assignments, class schedules, homerooms, and complete forms. Year-to-date, over 5,000 forms have been completed and submitted electronically at the high school level. In years past, these forms were completed on paper. We will continue to evaluate data processes and the integration of the Sapphire system into our workflows. Currently, the SIS administration team is refining the online process and workflow for the student registration process with the intent to allow parents/guardians to electronically enroll any time throughout the year. Additionally, the system has been used to organize feedback from families that can be tied to a student record.
Throughout the summer, the business office ran two parallel systems. The former system, eFinance, was used through March 31, 2021, in order to close out audit entries and accruals and complete calendar year 2020 W2 processing and reporting. The Human Resources / Business Office staff have been taking additional courses in specialized processes throughout the year. Future configuration sessions have been scheduled for June 2021 for fiscal year-end processing. In addition, the Human Resources department will be scheduling additional sessions to build additional workflows and configurations to assist in streamlining the processes for reporting of full-time equivalents, new hire data entry, and position control.
School Safety & Security
The district continues to take a strategic approach to the topic of school safety and security. Fostering a safe and positive school environment sets the foundation for learning. As a district, we focus on a wide range of actions to strengthen that culture. In addition to the steps identified above, In May 2020, the District reviewed, amended, and the board approved a revised Memorandum of Understanding with NRPD providing for the creation of a School Resource Officer position within the District. Starting in the 2020-21 school year, the SRO has worked in conjunction with the District’s Safety and Security Coordinators to provide additional safety and security measures as well as a greater police presence at the secondary campus. It is our goal to create a positive, welcoming environment for our students and families. As we prepare for 2021 - 2022, the district’s Emergency Operations Plan is under review. The public portion of that plan and updated MOU with NRPD will be approved by the end of the year.