recent workshop-style meeting, the board received the first
draft of an 'action plan' produced by four committees of the
Vision and Priorities Taskforce convened early this year to
chart a future course for the district. Formation of the
taskforce was part of the confidence-rebuilding effort which led
in May to overwhelming approval of a state record-tying bond
issue to help finance an ambitious building renovation and
modernization program and in October to a strong expression of
support for efforts to avert unwanted consequences of the
Neighborhood Schools Act.
"The taskforce started with about 70
people; 40 of them are still active. I have to say I'm surprised
at how many have
committed and enthusiastic," said Michael Stetter, director of
accountability and research and taskforce facilitator.
If sticking to the assignment
through a series of Saturday and summer meetings is unusual, the
depth to which the committees delved to come up with its
recommendations is even more so. Taking a page from corporate
practice, many school districts, including Brandywine in the
past, have come up with long-range plans. Generally speaking,
they more often than not contain broad-brush statements that are
hard to dispute but open to a range of interpretations.
The plan now on the table before the
All students are able
to reason, to learn and to achieve beyond state
are developed through their exposure to enrichment
courses and activities
learning community characterized by mutual respect
and trust is effectively promoted among parents,
students, board members, staff and community
environments are provided for all members of the
different. It gets down to plain-language specifics.
how to make motherhood, apple pie and the flag come to life,"
Some of the specifics likely to have
the greatest impacts:
teacher salary schedule to support "aggressive recruitment" of
top-level job applicants;
least 3% of the total district budget to professional
support for libraries, information resources and literacy
the state student assessment program to provide continued
reporting of progress, or lack of progress, throughout the
full-day kindergarten program for 'at risk' children;
comprehensive early reading and mathematics programs in the
the amount of counseling and guidance services in the high
schools with particular reference to other than college-bound
incentives to increase the number of students at the middle- and
high school levels taking higher-level courses and participating
in state and national academically challenging competitions and
foreign-language education to include kindergarten through the
'community partnerships' to provide opportunities for courses
and extracurricular activities directed toward career awareness
and community service;
a district speakers bureau and possibly a weekly television
Set up an
alternative-education program for students in grades four
through 12 with emotional and disciplinary problems.
said those and other recommendations are not intended as a
pick-and-choose laundry list but a package of interrelated
components. He also said that the recommendations are intended
to be implemented throughout the district no matter how the
controversial Neighborhood Schools Act plan about to be
submitted to the state Board of Education plays out.
said that, although it contains about 100 recommendations and
sub-recommendations, the plan as now written is not compete, he
in-house critique before it was presented to the board on Nov. 5
determined there are at least three areas where it needs further
development: provisions for serving students who are not going
on to college; fleshing out the views on how technology is to be
used; and determining to what extent students should participate
in decisions which affect them.
'focus group' discussions and larger group meetings are planned
to sample public opinion concerning the plan.
course, the biggest question of all is how much it will cost,
coming as it does on top of looming budget crisis involving
basic day-to-day operation of Brandywine's 18 schools.
The district has said that its
surplus will be virtually exhausted by June 30, 2002, the end of
this fiscal year, and that it will need increase revenue to
avoid program and staff cuts in the next academic year.
at the workshop charged the district administration to address
the questions surrounding the plan and come back with answers
before its Dec. 20 meeting, at which is it expected to set a
date for the referendum and determine how much of a tax increase
it will ask voters to authorize. Those decisions, in turn, will
depend to a large extent on what pricetags are put on strategies
derived from the plan for the 2002-03 and subsequent academic
said it is too soon to attempt to apply even a ballpark estimate
of the cost of implementing all the recommendations in the plan.
"It's a five-year plan. We realize it can't be accomplished all
at once or even over the first year or so. ... What we have to
do is 'prioritize' [the recommendations] and come up with the
most efficient way to accomplish them. We have to see how much
Emphasizing that no decisions have been reached on a staff
recommendation, he confirmed that consideration is being given
to asking voting residents to establish a new operating-tax
ceiling with the understanding that the rate will be increased
in annual steps to that level, as opposed to the past practice
of putting the entire authorized rate into effect during the
first fiscal year in which it is available. The current
operating rate is 79.4¢
for each $100 of assessed property value. That is the largest
component of a total tax rate of 97¢.
further characterized the strategic plan as anything but an
educator's wish list. Rather, he said, it is intended as a way
to give back to the community the kind of public education that
the public is said to want. "Every student and every teacher
will be held to a higher level of expectation than they have in
the past," he said.
certain, he added, is that there will be more "active learning
opportunities in the classroom." In addition to
participatory projects and activities, there will be more
computer-based instruction. Teachers will be given more
practical professional-development opportunities and youngsters
will be directed toward more challenging courses and activities.
"Students have to be prepared to that the high-stakes [state
assessment] test, but they also have to develop life skills," he
other hand, he said, the committees which formulated the plan
avoided inclusion of what might be termed special-interest
provisions. "We've ruled out things that would only benefit a
few but which all taxpayers would have to pay for," he said.
"We have been listening to the
community," he added. "What has to be determined now is whether
[residents] are willing to pay for it. What I'm hearing is,