My April message begins with a challenge. I know, no surprise! However, I have found myself using a particular phrase more recently than I have in the past. Before I share what my phrase has been, let me ask you: What is your most frequently used phrase in recent weeks and months? And, what does that communicate about your leadership? What message does it send to your students, staff, community, and others? My most frequently used phrase recently is from Heraclitus: “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.” In 2018, I believe no phrase is more accurate given our current environment.
As many of our communities prepared for, or were experiencing spring break, March did not go out like a lamb. As many of us returned from our break in early April, we experienced very strange and untraditional weather, even by Indiana standards. As I type this month’s message, tax day is just around the corner and I woke up to snow on my lawn and bushes. Not to mention, just last week, temperatures were in the 60’s and we were experiencing torrential downpours that caused significant flooding across Indiana. These major swings in weather are not far off from what we are witnessing in all areas of our profession. And, as such, I am proud of the leadership among the IAPSS membership to guide our students, staff, and communities towards maintaining a focus on the education of our children.
I was reminded just how quickly things change after submitting my March message for publication. In the short time period between my submission and its publication, several things had already changed and the information in my newsletter was inaccurate. I just had to laugh and was reminded of how flexible we must continue to be as we navigate the rapid changes.
First, members of the General Assembly may have concluded the 2018 session but they were not finished with the business at hand. While the House and Senate both adjourned on March 15th just past 12:00 a.m., they left several key pieces of legislation unfinished. We now know that Governor Holcomb has called the General Assembly back to Indianapolis in May for a one-day special session to address just a few key bills. It will be important for us to remain engaged with our legislators through this special session.
Before moving away from legislation and the General Assembly, hopefully you had a chance to attend one of the 10 meetings held regarding 2017 HEA 1009. The information shared by IAPSS, IASBO, DLGF, and the SBOA was very important to our success as we make the first significant transition in school budgeting/accounting in over 30 years. A special thank you to J.T. and Denny for partnering on these presentations around the state. Also, thank you to all the sponsors who made these meetings possible without any registration fees associated. Updated information that was presented during these meetings can be found at http://www.indiana-asbo.org/
Secondly, in March, I encouraged you to be engaged in the public input process with the State Board of Education for the newly proposed school accountability rules. After hundreds of comments were submitted in person and through email, and following 6 meetings held throughout Indiana, the SBOE held one of their shortest working sessions to date. On March 21, the SBOE came to consensus that they desired to throw out the proposed changes to the accountability model and explore something different. And, although they did not take official action during their April SBOE meeting, they did receive an update on the Accountability Rule from SBOE staff. Keep an eye out for an upcoming work session to decide how the SBOE would like to proceed with a new accountability rule. The SBOE will need to adopt a new rule prior to March of 2019 if that new rule will apply for the 2019-2020 school year. For 2018-19, our current accountability system will remain in place.
Third, my March message prematurely celebrated the final administration of the ISTEP+. Unfortunately, with some changes at the end of the 2018 session, the pause in the creation of a new/revised accountability plan, and the transition to the new Graduation Pathways, 10th Grade ISTEP+ lives on for a bit longer.
Speaking of the new Graduation Pathways, Dr. Coopman and the IAPSS members on the Graduation Pathways Superintendent Focus Group continue to meet with the SBOE staff as we work towards implementation for our future graduates. Also during the April Board Meeting, the SBOE approved guidance on the locally developed pathway component of the Graduation Pathways. The guidance for locally created pathways may be found here. In addition, you will want to give particular attention to the FAQ document and the 52-page draft Graduation Pathways Policy Guidance Document. The SBOE staff hope to have this process completed, and guidance finalized, by July, 2018.
Just recently, results from NAEP were released. As you know by now, reports show that national trends are mostly flat. It’s now been almost a decade since we’ve seen strong growth in either reading or math, with the slight exception of eighth grade reading which was up 4 points compared to 2015. An exciting data point from this year is that the gap between white and black students on the eighth grade math exam narrowed. I find it interesting that when scores go down, it is a major crisis. However, when the increases are modest, the reports say that this year’s scores don’t have “statistical significance” from 2015. The best news from this data is the assertion that since Indiana’s scores on the NAEP have stalled policymakers should start asking themselves what impact the frequent policy changes in Indiana have had on stalling these scores. Mike Petrilli, executive director of the Fordham Foundation said, “Indiana, in the beginning of this decade … showed some of the best progress in the country. Has the chaos over the last few years, with all the debates about standards and tests and all kinds of changes, has that kept Indiana from moving forward?”
Another recent issue that has likely generated discussions in your district is teacher pay. With the recent teacher strikes across the country, teachers are finally being heard on the issue of pay. Reports indicate pay for Indiana teachers has suffered the biggest inflation-adjusted drop since 1999-2000, according to the Department of Education. They now earn almost 16 percent less and the average annual pay is about $50,500, slightly lower than the national average. Many of us are having trouble finding enough qualified teachers to fill vacant positions in classrooms, with some pointing to pay as a significant factor. It will be interesting to see what Indiana teachers do as the 2019 General Assembly convenes.
Recently, with the retirement of Dr. Jim Freeland, the Executive Committee approved the development of the IAPSS Associate Director position. The individual filling this role will be assisting J.T. and the IAPSS membership is accomplishing our goals and preparing for the future. An application will be forthcoming and we look for the successful candidate to begin in August. This is a great step forward and only serves to make us stronger and more of a presence.
As I conclude April’s message, this is one of my favorite times of the year. Enjoy all of the awards ceremonies, end-of-year presentations, celebratory banquets, and other events culminating another successful year. Your leadership is a significant factor in the accomplishments others have achieved and the accolades they are receiving. Thank you for what you do to provide so many opportunities for success. The Superintendent’s job is the greatest job ever!
Jeffrey K. Butts, Ph.D.
M.S.D. of Wayne Township Superintendent
2017-18 IAPSS President