By Megan Decker
VASSAR — The Vassar School Board of Education heard a report from Vassar High School principal Jason Kiss regarding the school’s “priority school” status during its regular session on Monday.
Kiss said that he has formed the priority school committee which is now comprised of teachers Jamie Strauss, Kyle Trisch and Kelly Kiss, teacher and union representative Ann Auernhamer, school board members Randy Middlin, Ben Guile and Jill Baase, school counselor Kyle Boros, Dr. Elaine Makas of Curriculum Connections, Jason Kiss as well as one community member who has not yet been selected, Kiss told the school board.
Kiss also spoke with a representative from the Michigan Education Association regarding what the school will need to do in order to improve upon its priority school status.
“Although the first year is more of a planning process and the remaining two years are to implement our plan, we plan to do as much this first year as possible. If we are able to pull up our scores the less our school will be monitored (by the MEA).”
The committee will meet each Wednesday and Friday through Oct. 6 when the district’s plan is due to the MEA for consideration.
Due to Vassar High’s new status as a priority school, district leaders must adopt one of four reform plans outlined by the state. The school board hasn’t chosen its plan yet, but must submit a plan to the state by the first week in October.
One reform plan — the “turnaround” plan — requires the release of no more than 50 percent of school staff. The “transformation” plan, if adopted by the board, doesn’t require layoffs but Kiss said state officials indicated “No one has ever made it out of (the) transformation plan without at least 35 percent staff turnover.”
The other two plan options, as outlined by the state, are to close the school, or to close the school and reopen as a charter school, explained Superintendent Thomas Palmer.
Palmer explained to the Advertiser that the Vassar High School and Middle School building became a priority school this summer due to declining scores on academic tests during a four-year period. In 2011 and 2012, Vassar High “had two of the highest-scoring classes that we’ve seen in years,” Palmer said. That caused what Palmer called an upward “spike” in test scores, though those scores fell in 2013 and this year, according to the superintendent.
“This past year, this testing class … dropped us completely,” Palmer said. The state looks at test scores from each year’s junior class when determining a school’s four-year performance trend, he said.
“Although each class’s testing showed an improvement in each student from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, the state only compares each eleventh grade class over a four year period,” Palmer added.
Two years ago, Vassar High was labeled a “reward school” by the state, Palmer said. A reward school is one that makes adequate yearly progress academically, and also is identified in one of several other ways, such as making the greatest gains in achievement or outperforming the school’s predicted ranking and/or similar schools.
“One of our goals (of the priority school committee) will be to look at our test scores and see where the disconnect is occurring,” Kiss told the Advertiser.
Among other action, board members heard and accepted the district’s 2013-2014 audit report which was presented during the meeting by Dave Quimby of Weinlander-Fitzhugh of Bay City.
During his presentation, Quimby told the board that all of the district’s reports were reported accurately and up to their standards.
During the session, board members also accepted the resignation of paraprofessionals Rebecca Gorleski from Central Elementary School and Kelly Hartwick of Pioneer Work and Learn and the retirement of Deborah Dewey. Board members also approved the hiring of Dianne Stresman as high school Spanish teacher.
The next regular meeting of the Vassar School Board will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 13 in the high school media center.