Personnel among school budget needs

WOODSTOCK – Instructional personnel needs were among needs discussed at the Shenandoah County Public Schools School Board work session on Thursday night.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley said that the needs of the students and personnel change over time.

“The needs of our school division have changed significantly over time, and the fact that in many ways we are operating a school division based off of 2008-2009 funding levels and staffing levels,” he said.

The student population has changed over the years, impacting what the division needs to provide to meet the needs of all students.

“We’re a much more diverse population than we’ve ever been,” he said.

“The issues facing students in poverty are different than the students who come from a middle class home and the issues students with disabilities face are much different than students who are in a regular education program,” he added.

Among the instructional personnel needs is the need for additional English language learner teachers.

Raley said that there are an increasing percentage of limited English proficient students in the school division and 60 percent of these students are on the central campus.

The language most prevalent among these students is Spanish, with 96 percent of them  speaking Spanish as a first language.

In addition to English language learner teachers, the preschool program needs two paraprofessionals for pre-kindergarten, one for Sandy Hook Elementary and one for Ashby Lee Elementary.

“Preschool is an investment,” he said, “We have the need to be able to expand our preschool program to be able to meet the needs of some additional students with disabilities that we can’t right now.”

Selena Rhoades, coordinator of preschool services, added that more paraprofessionals would allow students to receive more individualized support.

“As far as needing the additional help in the classrooms, it would help with the inclusion so all the children are better to be evenly dispersed so we can meet the needs of all of them,” she said.

Raley said another personnel need is an English content coordinator who can help English teachers and improve testing scores.

“We’re limited from this office in the amount of support that we can provide down to the classroom level,” he said. The School Board office spends more time working with principals than with teachers directly.

Among the needs at the classroom level is additional support to reach writing and reading proficiency levels required by the state. An English content coordinator would be working side-by-side with teachers to make improvements in Standards of Learning scores, establishing writing rubrics and assisting in the literacy program, he said.

In regard to the gifted program, Raley said testing is a major concern. He said testing all first grade students for eligibility into the gifted elementary resource pool would allow for fewer students to be missed in the screening process.

The testing would use the Naglieri nonverbal ability test to identify possible gifted children.

“This would be a standardized nationally used assessment that would give us more information and be a good tool for identifying the needs of students who are gifted,” he said.

A gifted program coordinator who would need to be hired would administer the test. This would help alleviate the workload of the current teachers who are screening students through a checklist.

Another way to better assist students, especially in their future career goals, is a program called career cruising, which is a school counseling software program that helps students with their academic career plans.

Raley said that if they board chooses to fund this program, students and their parents would have access to information and videos on various careers they may be interested in, as well as what classes they could take to prepare themselves for a future in these careers.

As education continues to change, staff members need to continue to evolve with the times and use new ideas and teaching methods in the classrooms.

“Classrooms in 2016 don’t look like they did when I was principal,” he said, “Education is changing in a positive way but we need to provide that support to our teachers.”

Professional development can lead to new practices and an increase in student achievement. Raley said training for teachers needs to continue and additional staff support needs to be provided to implement more project-based learning, STEM activities and technology-based instruction.

To help with professional development, a peer-coaching program would allow veteran teachers to assist new teachers and provide feedback on what they can use in the classroom.

Raley said they currently have staff members who mentor new teachers, but they aren’t being paid for their time and it only lasts for the first year.

“The greatest impact on a student’s success is the teacher in the classroom,” he said, “We need to attract the best, we need to train the best and we need to keep the best.”

Also discussed as school division needs were:
• A speech language pathologist.
• A full-time nurse at Strasburg High School.
• Additional funding for the fine arts program.
• Probeware for science classrooms that are required by the state.
• Furniture replacement to meet the needs of the 21st century student, such as tables that promote small-group discussions.

The School Board will vote on the budget at its March 10 meeting.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com