Archive for September 17th, 2012

Experience the Wonder: CHARGE Syndrome International Conference

TSBVI Outreach and DARS/DBS may be able to help your families who have children with CHARGE with funding to attend this conference. Trouble viewing?   Read here. PROFESSIONAL DAY – Thursday, July 25 – Sessions 8:00 – 5:30 CONFERENCE Thursday &#…

Big News! – Preview of the 2013 State Accountability Data Table

Similar to the sneak peak of the iPhone 5 before it’s unveiling, we at Region 13 have an early look at what your 2013 State Accountability System data table could look like for determining your campus and district ratings in 2013. See below: Alth…

Q&A with Pflugerville Superintendent Charles Dupre

The American-Statesman sat down with Pflugerville school district Superintendent Charles Dupre to discuss the district’s progress and his expectations for the school year. An edited version appears in Monday’s American-Statesman.

What are some of the most exciting new initiatives going into the school year?

In Pflugerville, we don’t speak in terms of initiatives because that typically implies new and expensive in education. Often in education, it implies something that will be here a while and then be gone. So what we try to do is focus our energies on improving our practices and our opportunities for our students. What I’m most excited about this year is we’re expanding significantly our efforts to improve the culture of collaboration on all levels and our student focus and our results orientation. We’re doing that by placing everyone in our organization in something called Professional Learning Communities. They look at student data and they look at the result of the things they’ve been teaching, how students have been performing on assessments. Then they look at how various teachers taught those things, then compare notes to see who is getting the best results, the most bang for the buck for the strategies that they use. Then they share strategies so they can all grow together. We’re also using Professional Learning Communities outside of the classroom to help everyone grow, even in our central office, people are engaged in dialogues in nature to help us all keep growing and improving as an organization.

On an instructional level, I’m really excited about our Geometry in Construction program. We’re teaching geometry in a new way for some students. The students are also enrolled in a geometry class and also enrolled in a construction science class. So they build a real cabin using the principles they’ve learned in their geometry class. We expect that to make a difference in how deeply students learn geometry skills. We’re (also) expanding our dual-language program. We’ve got more students in dual language. We’ve also started a Spanish-language immersion program at one of our elementary schools, so we’re trying to focus our students on language acquisition skills much earlier than we have historically.

Something else we’re doing that I think is really going to make a big difference is we have “technology champions” at all of our schools this year. Rather than have one or two people districtwide who focus on the use of technology in delivering instruction, we have a teacher at every school who have applied for the position, who continue their normal job, who are also very efficient in using technology . They are going to be paid a stipend to help develop the skills of all of our teachers. We believe we will gain greater capacity by doing it that way, by having someone at every school who can support their colleagues. That’s kind of after the professional learning community model.

Finally I would add, we continue our focus on attendance and safety in our schools. We know parents need to feel our students are in a safe environment. Our students need to feel safe and our staff needs to feel staff. The new policies related to bullying. We’re taking those things very seriously. We’re doing a lot of training of our campus staff to be sure they understand what is bullying and what is not bullying. We’re having a lot more proactive dialogs to help eliminate bullying as well. Something we’re doing at the middle school related to that is right now students are often suspended from school when they fight. We’re creating a program that we’re doing at the middle school where students are going to be asked to go to disciplinary alternative education program for their suspension time rather than just staying home. That keeps them engaged in school and keeps us from losing financing from their suspension. So that’s a win-win for the district.

You’re starting your seventh year as superintendent, making you one of the longest-tenured superintendents in Central Texas. What kind of superintendent do you think you’ve been?

I think the success of Pflugerville ISD resides in the fact that we have a strong board who is willing to work with the superintendent as a true team member. We have been able to develop a relationship that is based on integrity and honesty and that is focused on true student success. Our board gets that. They understand what we need to do organizationally. So through our collaboration and alignment as a leadership team, we’ve been able to build systems throughout the whole organization all the way to the classroom that supports strong alignment. That’s what makes me most excited, that organizationally we are so collaborative. That’s our big focus. We include the community in almost every major decision that we make. We include staff in major decisions, even things like our budget reduction last year. Salaries that are paid to staff every year, we have our budget and compensation committee. By demanding that integrity be the bottom line in this organization and operating in a transparent and collaborative manner, we’ve been able to work in true partnership with our Pflugerville ISD community to do what’s right and best for the student of this district.

Most superintendents stay in their districts just a few years. Where do you see yourself three years from now, and what goals do you have, both short-term and long-term for the district?

I really see myself here in Pflugerville. One the most important things as a leader, that school superintendents have to do, is work with the board to recognize that sustained leadership is critical for long-range success of the district. The short tenures of many superintendents is harmful to school districts. A lot of people know that anytime a new superintendent comes in new initiatives, new programs shortly follow and you can’t ever gain traction with the things that truly make a difference. I’m very stable-minded. Every job I’ve had, I’ve had a minimum of 10 years and it’s my hope to be here for many more years because, frankly, Pflugerville is a great place. We’ve always had outstanding education provided in this district, but we’re in the process right now of transforming learning for our students for the 21st century. One of the biggest things we’re focused on is I just really want to build and sustain systems that focus our energies on student learning, not teaching. We need to know students are mastering the things that we need them to learn. Often in education, a lot of teaching takes place, but we don’t go back and make sure students have mastered material. So that’s really my biggest goal. We want to know, even at the board level, that every student is learning and having value added to their education every single year. That they’re truly being prepared to be successful in life outside the walls of schools.

There have been cuts by the staff, changes in staff, holding off on raises, increased class sizes. How is staff morale as a result of those changes?

At this point in time, morale is good. We’ve struggled in the last couple of years because staff has gone multiple years without pay raises while being asked to do more and more because of the new assessment and accountability systems. We’re suing the state due to the funding issues. Our funds are just not adequate to do what we need to do. We don’t feel like it’s equitable. It’s disappointing to see other districts around us have much more money to spend, yet we’re all expected to obtain the same results with our students. Our teachers here, though, are dedicated to serving the needs of every single student and are working very hard to do that. And I think, frankly, that, our collaborative spirit and the teamwork we’ve built here is helping people feel good about being on our team. … When people can be part of decision making and have a voice in the organization, that does help to overcome things like the lack of a salary increase because they feel valued as a member of the team. That’s not to say they wouldn’t value a pay increase, but it is to say we’re being very intentional to have every member of our team feel valued, so they can feel good about working in Pflugerville ISD and about the challenges we face and about the great outcomes we’re going to achieve together.

As you mentioned, the school district has joined several others in a lawsuit challenging the state’s finance system. Tell me about a little about that and where the district stands at this point.

The lawsuit was filed last October. … It’s set to go to trial Oct 22, 2012. About three weeks ago, I was deposed in the lawsuit. It was a nine-hour deposition, not a pleasant experience but very worthwhile because I was able to advocate on behalf of Pflugerville ISD and share the truth of what is going on in this school district about how lean our budgets really are, about how hard we’re working to achieve the results we’re achieving and to make the case again as to why the state needs to fix the finance system.

Our biggest concern in Pflugerville is that there is no rhyme or reason to the current system. When our elected officials enacted the system back in 2006, there was no methodology. It was just a quick fix that when you look at it today, you cannot compare my funding to other districts’ funding and understand what formula was used to get there. Its’ a disappointment to our overall community. We have a number of our community members who are actually involved in the lawsuit, as well, because they see it’s a community issue. Certainly our students and our staff have paid the price for the inequities and inadequacy of the funding but also our community has. A good example we actually mention is that if we had the same funding levels as another area district in terms of per-pupil funding rate, we would have $18 million more per year to spend in our schools. Well certainly that’s spending in our schools, but if you consider that about 80 percent of all our dollars we spend are salary dollars, that is nearly $18 million that could be paid for salaries that would then be money flowing back into our community, where people could be spending it and growing the Pflugerville community, as they shop, as they eat out, as they engage in entertainment. So this affects us more than just in the classroom. So our whole community is engaged around this and they’re happy that we’re stepping out as a community to lead in this effort.

What do you think the future has in store this legislative session? How are things different or the same from a year ago, when we were just off the passage of all those legislative cuts?

I wish they would take up funding and deal with it before the courts make them, but I don’t expect them to do that. I think they’ll put it off until the courts make them do something. I do think, though, that in the Legislative session we’re going to see a lot more about accountability and assessment, the testing program for the state, because parents are getting more mobilized in the issue. And parents need to be more mobilized because their children are taking too many tests. Their children are being affected by the fact that there are too many tests being given in our schools today. Now, I believe and we all believe we need high accountability for the dollars we’re spending and the time we spend with our students in school. But I think everyone, from parents to teachers to school leaders, and even a lot of our elected officials are starting to understand that it’s gone too far the other way. There’s too much testing. There are ways to assess students and whether they’re learning or not, without consuming so many days of testing during the school year. So I do think they will do something to deal with that.

In addition, I think the end of course testing they’ve implemented at the high school level, it’s presented a number of hurdles that our high school students have to get over to get out of high school. I think in a year or two we’re going to rapidly see increased dropouts. I think that’s one of the unintended consequences but we’re going to see increased dropouts because the kids may be able to get over one hurdle, but there are two or three more they will have to get over, and it’s just too much an it’s overwhelming. The effects are going to be compounding for our students who struggle the most. I think they’re going to just resign themselves to the fact that they just can’t do it, no matter how hard we work to teach and engage and keep them tied in, I think they’re going to struggle. So hopefully, they’ll deal with that. Those are the big issues we expect to see.

We’re hearing some discussion on flexibility-related issues as well, things like how they fund. Because now we’re funded on whether students are in school during a certain time of the day; that’s based on our average daily attendance. Virtual learning is something we read a lot about. Most people have heard about the idea of virtual learning. A lot of universities and higher eds are doing it. Some high schools are doing it more. But in Texas the way we’re funded prohibits us from implementing virtual learning at the levels we need to, so we’re hoping they’ll be able to give us more flexibility in how and where students can learn so they don’ t necessarily have to be in a classroom learning, perhaps they can be online at home part of the day or some days. Because that also helps us with our financial issues, because that means we have to have fewer teachers in the building to address the number of students in the building.

The way things are the same is that we’re all dedicated and are working hard to do what’s right and best by every student. Teaching has never been stronger or more effective in Pflugerville ISD. Our teachers continue to amaze me every day and the lengths they’re willing to go to make sure our students learn and our principals are doing a remarkable job in leading every school.

The ways things are different, though, is we are just perpetually looking for ways to better utilize our community’s money. We recognize that we’re stewards of the public’s dollar. For example, over the last two years, we’ve saved $12.5 million in interest costs that will never have to be repaid by refunding outstanding debt. We’re saving almost $3 million a year every year in utilities because we’ve done some things like we replaced all our urinals with flushless urinals. We’re putting in big fans to circulate air. We’re replacing light fixtures and toilets and things like that. We’re using 21 million gallons of water less than we did a year ago. That translates into significant, millions of dollars, of savings for our community. So we are going to continue to invest in those kinds of things so that we can always drive any of that money back into the classroom. To answer the question most directly, I would say we’re still educating our kids to the best of our ability but our awareness of efficiency and spending has just heightened to a level. We look at every single dollar carefully before we approve any expenditure.

The district has talked about a bond election for 2013. Tell me about those plans, and are there any plans for a tax rate election?

The bond referendum, we’ve been discussing it for a 2013 option, but at this point it’s very much in the air. A number of things have transpired in the last month that have caused us to go back and reflect whether the economic conditions are right for a bond referendum in 2013. … What we’re seeing and hearing in our community is the idea that it may not be time for a bond referendum. So we’re carefully studying our growth needs, our property maintenance needs, our technology needs to determine can we bridge a little longer before we go out to the community for a bond. There are no plans or discussions at this point for a tax rate election. We believe that our taxpayers already carry too heavy of a load. We’re a bedroom community working hard to grow our business community, and our city is doing a good job of that. But in the meantime, every tax enacted to support schools is carried predominately by homeowners, and we don’t think it’s fair or right to add even more to their tax burden when the state is not doing their job to fund Pflugerville ISD in a way that is equitable or adequate.

What are the district’s plans for a fourth high school?

We know we’re going to need a fourth high school at some point, likely in the next six to eight years in the eastern side of the district. But as of now, we’re considering ways to address growth at our newest and largest high school, Hendrickson High School to get a few more years out before having to build that school. High schools cost a lot of money, so it’s a major community investment, and we want to make sure the true need is there to build it and to use it in an efficient manner before we put that before the voters. So for now, we’re considering a number of options on how to address growth. Those options include everything including rezoning the entire existing district to get better use out of our existing high schools, to things like flexible scheduling, ways to use existing buildings in a way to get better use. That kind of refers back to the virtual learning I mentioned earlier, all the way to just building the (new) school. There are six or seven things on the list that we’re looking at that we’ll be engaging the community in identifying what their priorities would be, as we work with the board to move forward with any kind of proposal as to when that high school would be developed.

Is there anything else I didn’t ask you that you wanted to discuss?

The city of Pflugerville was ranked 43 in the best places to live in Money magazine. We consider that to be a big deal because we partner well with our city and we believe, and as our city mayor says, “So goes the school district, so goes the city.” We just believe this whole community in Pflugerville is an environment that is ripe for success. It’s been recognized statewide and nationally on many levels. This year we’ve had two national award-winning teachers, a Milken award winner from Connally (High School) and a presidential award winner in science for a teacher in Pflugerville High School. Our students travel and compete on the national level in athletics, in fine arts, in debate, in academic areas. It is thrilling to me to work in a district that has so much community support, where everyone is dedicated to the success of our students. Our staff is just outstanding here. So I’m always happy to tell the Pflugerville story anywhere and everywhere I go because I think we’re doing it right and we’re doing it well. We’re working hard focusing on our vision of truly preparing each child for their future in our world.

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