Dear BKW Community,
We hope you are all doing well. As we look ahead to the next school year, we are very excited to prepare for the renovation work involved with the capital project. The plan is for work to begin on June 26. It will continue throughout the 2019-20 school year, culminating in mid-September of 2020. The project will transform our schools and campus into a 21st century facility, organized around a clear academic purpose, and will be inviting to all members of the community.
Recently, you may have seen an article in the local newspaper with commentary about the performance of our students with learning disabilities. The headline particularly was very misleading. It inferred that our students are among the lowest performing students in NYS on the NYS Grades 3-8 Assessments.
This is not the case.
First, both of our schools have been deemed to be in “good standing” for 2017-18 as defined by the newly implemented federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Second, a review of the NYSED Public Data website reveals that our Students with Disabilities have a higher proficiency rate than students from roughly 400 of the 760 districts in the state, far from the lowest 10% as claimed in the article.
To be clear, we, like most other schools in New York, face many challenges as we strive to meet the new expectations laid out in this new law. We have candidly shared those challenges at public meetings. ESSA places greater attention on performance of students in sub-groups, such as Students with Disabilities and Economically Disadvantaged students, groups who have traditionally “fallen between the cracks.”
We have also been very transparent about the fact that for three years, we have been focusing on this data in our district. A review of year-to-year performance data in those two sub-groups at BKW reveals more of our special education students are proficient on state ELA assessments than ever before. We have seen a 12-point growth in ELA proficiency among Economically Disadvantaged students—from 22% proficient in 2016 to 34% proficient in 2018. Our Students with Disabilities have reached a 10% proficiency rate in ELA for the first time in district history. This growth is the product of significantly deep work in designing programs, delivering instruction, and supporting students at their point of need.
Is there more work to do? Absolutely.
Although we have seen improvement in math proficiency rates 2016-2018, we still need to focus on individual student growth to continue that improvement. This is especially true for Economically Disadvantaged Students and our Students with Disabilities.
Already on a path to improvement
Long before conversations about ESSA, BKW administrators and staff were looking at areas where we needed to improve. We worked to lower our suspension rate, knowing that students do not learn when they are not in school. We invested efforts to reduce the number of students who drop out. We looked for ways to improve our graduation rate without watering down the quality of our education. We built supports that keep struggling students in the least restrictive learning environment—maximizing the time they spend with their classmates, covering the same material.
Another key part of the ESSA plan is to seek greater parent involvement in their children’s educations. We introduced special education parent nights. We invite parents for “coffee and conversation” hours with elementary school principal Annette Landry and secondary school principal Dr. Mark Pitterson. Our school social workers also held coffee and conversation events. As we move forward, we will explore a more formal parent organization focused specifically on special education information sharing.
Looking to a bright and successful future for all students
Equity and opportunity are core values of our school. While observing lessons in classrooms, I see seamless interactions among students and between adults and students. Faculty are specifically designing instruction for individual learners, and students are up to the challenge.
Over time, each learner is becoming a stronger reader, thinking more deeply about math, and applying skills and knowledge to science and social studies topics as well. While focusing on students, faculty have broadened our curriculum to move beyond the Math/ELA only, test-based approach we have seen in NYS since the inception of the Common Core Standards in 2010.
With the implementation of the Next Generation Standards we will be able to teach in a manner more consistent with how children learn. Doing so yields a variety of results beyond simply a test score. Evidence of the shifts that have already taken place in our schools includes the fact that more than 100 elementary school students will participate in the STEAM Fair, and high school students are being tapped to represent our district at regional and statewide conferences, while others are being recognized for their Career and Technical Education work.
We know that change can be complex and difficult to grasp, especially when it involves many moving parts. As parents and community members, please share with us your concerns and we will find a way to help you with those. We are committed to making sure that each student has every support and opportunity we can provide them. It is an exciting time for the district. I look forward to the coming weeks and months as we make this new progress.
Dr. Timothy Mundell
Superintendent of Schools