Superintendent's Message - April 2016Posted by Robin Smith on 4/5/2016
Going Above and Beyond – I am guilty and I admit it. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demand of our jobs that we don’t take notice of all that our staff does to go beyond their normal job description to, in one way or another, make our district a better place. It may be a teacher volunteering time with a student group/activity, coming back to school in the evenings to prepare labs or lessons, coming to work early to tutor a student, attending a student’s music or athletic performances, or serving on a curriculum committee. It may be a cafeteria employee bringing a smile to a student’s face when she comes through the lunch line or a custodian scrubbing the walls in a hallway or making a 20 year old carpet look new. It may be a secretary greeting visitors with a smile, even when her workload seems overwhelming. It may be a principal sacrificing three nights in a row with his/her own family to show support for student activities. When I take time to notice it, I see on a daily basis the real reason why our school district is such a great place to work. Our students are fortunate to have such a caring, dedicated staff. Thank you all for going above and beyond!
Budget Update – As you are likely aware, HB 1801, the 2015-2016 budget bill finally became law on March 27th without the governor’s signature. The good news is, the remaining basic education funding (BEF), roughly 55% of our 2014-2015 funding level, is being released this week. The bad news is, the governor has announced he will veto the fiscal code bill. This bill would have detailed how the increase in BEF funding over 2014-2015 levels (roughly $150 million) is distributed. So…the political posturing begins about how that money will be distributed. In addition, Plan Con money, promised to districts for reimbursement of past construction projects has also been frozen. To Hollidaysburg Area School District, this means roughly $1 million dollars of expected revenue (and if this continues, an additional million for 16-17). We are holding out hope that this final chapter of the 2015-2016 state budget saga is resolved soon so that we can then set our sights on the 2016-2017 budget due in two months.
Staff Survey – Thanks to all of you who have completed the 2016 HASD Staff Survey. A total of 333 district employees have responded to date (nearly 85% of our staff). I particularly appreciate those of you who took time to enter comments, both positive and negative. The results of the survey are very revealing and will go far in helping us move the district forward. Once the survey is closed (end of this week), I will begin organizing the data and forwarding to principals to report out to their schools. Thanks again for your participation.
Superintendent's Message - February 2016Posted by Robin Smith on 2/4/2016
Thank you Punxsutawney Phil - I was pleased to hear earlier this week that Punxsutawney Phil did NOT see his shadow, guaranteeing an early spring. The warm weather this week is a sure sign that good ole Phil will be right again and the dreadful El Nino winter predicted by some local prognosticators (Baker, Harrington…) is not to be. I, for one, am pleased that 60 degree temperatures and spring flowers are soon to follow. Unfortunately, the Groundhog Day theme is playing out in Harrisburg as the Governor and Legislature continue to squabble over details to a budget that is now historically late (219 days and counting). As wise man/meteorologist Phil Connors said in the movie, “What if there is no tomorrow. There wasn’t one today.” We are hoping that, like Phil Connors, our state politicians wake up from their slumber and produce a budget that meets the needs of all school districts so that we can continue to deliver the quality education our community has grown accustomed to.
ESSA – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was finally reauthorized in December, putting an official end to No Child Left Behind. The new Federal law, entitled the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), makes a historic shift of educational oversight from the U.S. Dept. of Education to the states. The Federal government will no longer have the power to determine consequences for poor standardized test scores. The Federal government can also no longer require states to include student test scores in teacher evaluation. These decisions, and others, will now be up to the states. The requirement for standardized testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school remains, but it is now up to the states to determine how they interpret those results. The Federal government also is requiring states to evaluate the effectiveness of schools on multiple measures, not just standardized test scores. Expect to see changes coming from the state over the next few months regarding how School Performance Profiles (SPP) are calculated. Changes in teacher and principal evaluations are also expected.
The 2015-2016 school year continues to be a smooth and productive one. I am always invigorated when I visit the schools and see the amazing things that are happening. Please take time to read the links below that highlight these accomplishments.
Dr. Robert Gildea
Superintendent's Message - January 2016Posted by Robin Smith on 1/8/2016
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a relaxing and enjoyable holiday. Though I am not happy that winter has finally arrived, it is reassuring to know that it is already January and we only have 72 days until the first day of spring!!!
State Budget – Strange things occurred in Harrisburg December 23rd. Entering the day, the House was expected to vote on approval of Senate Bill 1073. The bill, approved by the Senate and endorsed by the Governor, included $350 million in increased funding for education as well as modest pension reform. That vote never occurred. Rather, the House reverted back to their own bill, HB 1460, which the Senate had previously voted against. The bill provides significantly less education funding. A vote was taken the afternoon of 12/23, minutes before the holiday vacation was to begin. In a party line vote, the bill was approved by the Senate. The bill then went to the Governor’s desk where, last Tuesday, he issued a line item veto. This means that the bill becomes a law, but certain aspects of the bill remain unsettled, including education funding.
What Does This Mean for Hollidaysburg? – Fortunately for school districts, the Governor did release six months of funding based on the 14-15 budget numbers. HASD received $8.5 million earlier this week. This should keep us afloat until June. HB 1460 increased basic education funding by $150 million. We are projecting HASD’s state funding to increase less than 1% or $105,000. To put that into perspective, our pension increase for 15-16 alone is approximately $500,000. Our local politicians told the business managers yesterday to not plan for any additional funding to arrive any time soon.
Dr. Robert Gildea
Superintendent's Message - December 2015Posted by Robin Smith on 12/2/2015
Happy December! It is hard to believe that another holiday season is upon us and we are only a few short weeks away from Christmas break. The 15-16 school year has gotten off to a great start thanks to your dedication to your jobs and our students. I look forward to receiving the Friday Focus each month so I can read about all of the great things that are happening in our schools.
Public education continues to be the top story in the news as the state budget stalemate extends into its sixth month. We have been working on developing a plan of action once we run out of money to pay the bills (likely February/March). We remain in good financial condition for now, thanks to the foresight of the current and previous board of directors and administration in setting aside a reserve for this type of situation. Despite the unwarranted negativity surrounding education in certain venues, I am encouraged when I visit the schools and see teachers and support staff with the same energy and passion focused solely on providing our students with a valued educational experience. It is important this time of year that we take time out of our busy schedules to appreciate the many blessings we have; talented and caring teachers and support staff, students and families who still value education, a supportive community, and clean and safe facilities. Although we have some work ahead of us, I have no doubt we will reach our goal of becoming a premier school district in the state. The forthcoming holiday break is well-timed and well-deserved. Thanks for all you do for our students.
Superintendent's Message - November 2015Posted by Robin Smith on 11/3/2015
I am certain that all of you are aware of the substitute shortage we are currently experiencing in the district. Though this shortage applies to all professions (secretary, custodial, cafeteria, paraprofessional) I will focus my comments today on the teacher substitute shortage. After only 45 student days, the Hollidaysburg Area School District has had 128 sub vacancies (both full day and half day) go unfilled. We are on pace to exceed our total from last year. The sub crisis is not limited to Hollidaysburg. Other local school districts are reporting similar issues. Two districts in particular who decided to outsource with a substitute teacher service are experiencing lower fill rates than they had before going with the agency. Philadelphia City School District has an average fill rate of 20%!
One theory is that the economy has improved so there are fewer subs available. Another article noted that when education majors graduate from college they are likely to have college debt to pay off. When they don’t receive a full time position, they tend to take a job in retail or another field that can ensure steady work (and in turn a steady paycheck) in addition to the possibility of health care benefits rather than substitute teach.
The topic has gotten the attention of the state legislature. The Pennsylvania Senate and House Education Committees held a hearing earlier this week focused on the substitute teacher shortage. Testimony from a number of school district leaders echoed similar dilemmas as the ones we are facing when principals must scramble to fill vacant classrooms. A number of remedies are being discussed. One would allow anyone with an associate’s degree in education or the credit equivalent to get certified as a substitute. This would allow education majors at local universities to fill sub vacancies that do not interfere with their coursework. Another solution that has been mentioned would remove the requirement of districts to only use retired teachers in an emergency situation. Retirees would be permitted to work up to a certain number of days as a substitute teacher without jeopardizing their pension.
A number of solutions have also been discussed within the district such as increasing the sub rate (currently at $85), providing loyalty bonuses (pay increases) to subs who exceed 20 or 40 days without any cancellations, and hiring more full time day to day subs at the start of the year.
I thank those of you who have offered input/suggestions. Please continue to send ideas my way. Also, take time to thank the substitutes who are in our buildings and let them know how important they are to us. Top quality substitute teachers play a critical role in achieving and maintaining a quality school system. We need to do what is necessary to ensure that part of our foundation remains strong.
Accolades – Congratulations to the administration and staff of the senior high. Earlier this week, School Performance Profile scores were released for high schools across the state. The senior high score has improved for the third consecutive year, rising to an impressive 89.9. This increase has come as a result of a lot of hard work of the district/school administration and teacher leaders, not just in the tested departments, but from throughout the school. As one teacher put it, “It has been a total team effort.” We all know that preparing our students for standardized assessments is not what we are here for, but it is unfortunately the game we have to play right now. The fact that we are doing it so well while still maintaining a quality educational experience for our students is quite an accomplishment. Congratulations to all.
Superintendent's Message - October 2015Posted by Robin Smith on 9/30/2015
Momentum is Building…
As I prepared to write this article for our October Friday Focus, I took the opportunity to reflect on the past month and couldn’t help but think of the many reasons why I am so proud of the direction our school district is going. In two short years there has been a transformation within the district as administrator and teacher leaders have turned HASD into a Professional Learning Community. Our most recent in-service is a wonderful indication of this. “The most rewarding in-service in years” as one veteran teacher put it. Kudos to Dr. Endler and her committee for the time they invested in planning this valuable professional development activity. The guest presenter and breakout sessions from various law enforcement and youth service agencies helped enlighten all of us to the world in which our students are living. I am also seeing more and more collaboration, sharing between energetic new teachers and reenergized veterans; administrator and teacher leaders willing to step forward and share their knowledge and expertise with their peers. I am seeing teachers who have taught the same content, the same methods, the same lessons for years breaking the monotony and trying new methods, new strategies and engaging students. Momentum is building, and I’m seeing the impact in our schools on a daily basis. Thanks to all of you who are willing to step forward and be a leader of change. Momentum is building…and the future of HASD is bright!
Robert J. Gildea, D.Ed.
Superintendent's Message - June 2015Posted by Robin Smith on 6/4/2015
Congratulations to all for surviving another school year. 2014-2015 was another challenging one as education was in the spotlight during national, state and local elections. Pensions, school funding, Keystone exams, and school performance were prominent topics in the media. Countless hours were spent on PA Core curriculum alignment, SLOs, test prep, Teacher Effectiveness and other initiatives. Through it all, you maintained your focus on what is important, educating our students. You invested countless hours above and beyond what is required to provide valuable experiences to our students through the arts, athletics, and academic competitions. Thanks for your patience, professionalism, and dedication. It is because of you that the future of the Hollidaysburg Area School District is bright.
Curriculum – We have covered an incredible amount of ground in a very short time. Much work remains on PA Core transition and curriculum alignment, but under the leadership of Dr. Endler, the principals, and our teacher leaders, the end goal is in sight. Thanks for your patience.
Technology – The Technology Department, under the direction of Justin Arthur, has made some amazing progress throughout the school year toward establishing a reliable infrastructure to support future tech initiatives. With the help of Robin Smith, our infrastructure plan was proposed and accepted by the school board, which will allow us to establish a reliable wireless infrastructure at all five schools by the end of the summer. I think you will notice and appreciate the improvements upon your return. Research on how to most effectively integrate technology into daily learning will continue while hybrid learning pilot models expand throughout the district in the coming year.
Budget – As noted in an earlier e-mail, the proposed budget for 2015-2016 includes a $700,000 deficit, $500,000 of which is the increase in the district’s pension obligation. Due to foresight by the former administration and school board, HASD has been able to maintain a fund balance while addressing drastic increases in our pension obligation. Thank you all for enduring our many questions about your budget submissions. Money will continue to be tight, but I do believe we will continue to be provided the support and resources to accomplish our goals.
Please take a few minutes over the summer to familiarize yourself with what is happening in our district by reviewing the Annual Report and Tiger Pride. Both publications will be posted to the district website upon completion. You will see that amazing things are happening in the district and, because of the hard work and dedication of our teachers, administrators, and support staff, the future of HASD is bright!
Superintendent's Message - May 2015Posted by Robin Smith on 4/29/2015
Happy Spring! I have been enjoying the past few weeks attending various sporting and music events. While watching one of our sports teams, I had a conversation with a parent of one of our senior athletes. His daughter will soon be graduating near the top of her class and continuing her athletic career in college. He credited her many wonderful and dedicated teachers and coaches who helped her along the way. He pointed out one teacher/coach in particular who invested countless hours helping his daughter and others hone their skills from elementary age through high school.
The conversation caused me to reflect on the many teachers, group advisors, music directors, and coaches who invest countless hours of their own time, helping our children become better students, musicians, athletes….people. We are so fortunate to have individuals working in this district who have a passion for what they do. That passion is making an indelible impact on the lives of our children. On behalf of those parents/students who don’t get the opportunity to do so…thanks for making a difference!
Superintendent's Message - April 2015Posted by Robin Smith on 4/2/2015
Superintendent's MessageApril 2015Spring Has Arrived!
I recently spoke with a close mentor who is a veteran superintendent of arguably the top school district in Pennsylvania. When expressing my disillusionment with recent events, he offered this simple advice; Stay In Your Lane. Stay focused on the important things and don’t get caught up in the things you can’t control.
The sky is blue, the birds are singing, and 60 degree weather has arrived (hopefully to stay). Easter break is a great time to take a deep breath, reenergize for the final push (44 days and counting?), and take notice of how much we have accomplished this year. You have worked hard through some pretty demanding changes with curriculum and teacher accountability. Additional state and federal mandates have added work to teachers, administrators and secretaries. Custodians and food service employees are trying their best to be patient as we attempt to settle their contract. Education has been the political focus at the federal, state, and local level, often painted in a negative light. It is enough for even the most optimistic person to become jaded. Through it all, you have maintained a positive outlook as we focus on offering our students a warm, safe environment as we prepare them for the challenges of a global society. You have certainly stayed in your lane.
Spring is a time to reflect upon what we have accomplished and where we are going. I am excited about the future of Hollidaysburg Area School District because of the dedicated people we have working with our children. Thanks for all you do. Happy Easter!
Superintendent Message - March 2015Posted by Robin Smith on 3/5/2015March 2015Superintendent Message
Anatomy of a Snow Day
Dr. Delay, Dr. Snowdea, No Delay Gildea….funny. I have enjoyed all of the e-mails, texts, wise comments (from adults and kids, even my own…daily). No one is looking forward to spring more than I. So, you ask, what exactly goes into a weather decision? Yes, it does involve more than me looking out my bedroom window, making a phone call and going back to bed. Here is a typical morning.
Monday, March 2, 2015
4:00 a.m. – Awaken to alarm. I purposely set the alarm an hour early because I had been told the night before during a 20 minute bombardment of text messages from the other Blair County supers that we would be talking at 5; well, all but Altoona since they already announced their delay.
4:15 a.m. – With coffee in hand, I hit the road. I start in Frankstown Township. Roads are bare for the most part, good shape. The snow ended last night by 8:00 p.m. I expected them to be clear and in Frankstown, they were. I travel through Loop Station past the car shops into Gaysport. Roads here are not quite as good. Looks like they were plowed at some point Sunday, but need hit again. I then turn to head into Penn Farms. BAD! The roads haven’t been touched. Even Newry Lane, the main road is still snow covered.
4:30 a.m. - I travel down Forsht Drive. Duncansville is better, but still snow on the roads. I travel through Duncansville and into Maple Hollow and Carson Valley. Allegheny Township roads are typically in the best shape of all. They look good with only some minor drifting. I return to Hollidaysburg to see the Borough has multiple trucks out plowing. Ever since I called the mayor last week to grumble about the crews not getting out early enough they have been great.
4:50 a.m. - A brief stop to talk with maintenance Chris (or was it Kenny) as he plows the junior high lot (compliment him on another great job) and I head back home. I’m prepared to go either way with this decision (delay or no delay). Some roads were in good shape, some were just getting plowed now.
5:00 a.m. I await the barrage of text messages from the other supers. While waiting, I call the director of the bus garage. She feels we should go on time. First text… Bellwood, roads are bad…thinking of a delay. And so it begins. 5 minutes of texting madness. I usually sit back and enjoy the entries as the supers report their opinions and what their township supervisors and transportation directors are advising them to do, throwing in my two cents worth here and there. I tend to be on the more liberal end of the group, preferring to send on time and not delay/cancel. We try to come to a group consensus, but because of different terrain and location, conditions from district to district vary. One thing I have learned, if all other Blair County schools decide a certain way, regardless of the conditions in your district, don’t do the opposite!
5:15 a.m. – The decision is made. Surprisingly, the group agrees to go to school on time. I call the transportation director and text Dwight and the principals. We are on time!
6:50 a.m. – After a shower, breakfast and quick drive through Penn Farms (still not plowed), I arrive at work. As I sit down to respond to the two (yes, only two today) e-mails from angry parents living in, you guessed it, Penn Farms, a co-worker (who shall remain nameless) arrives and asks if I have seen the forecast for tomorrow. ICE! I love this job!!!