Greater consequences for vaping; plus a mixed bag on academic scores

Greater consequences for vaping; plus a mixed bag on academic scores
Posted on 12/20/2018

Good evening and Happy Holidays! There is a lot going on throughout Quakertown Community School District.

December has been an incredibly busy month with school activities outside of the classroom in all of our schools - concerts, winter sports, TSA competition, and more! One of the most exciting opportunities was experienced by our high school Varsity Singers singing for Governor Wolf at the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in the Pennsylvania Capitol Rotunda. The acoustics in that majestic building made their voices sound angelic and classical. It reminded me of the quality of the sound when I sang in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, back in the day, while in the Cadet Protestant Chapel Choir at West Point. A tour group from Bucks County was there to see the Tree Lighting Ceremony and listen to our Varsity Singers. Many of those in the tour group were from Quakertown. A very special memory for all!

The Board of School Directors held its Reorganization Meeting on December 6. The Board unanimously re-elected Steaven Klein and David Ochmanowicz Jr. as President and Vice President, respectively. Also, Robert Diliberto was appointed Chairman of the Finance Committee. The Board voted on its new meeting schedule for the 2019 calendar year. With five new members on the Board since November of last year, everyone has come to learn their roles and responsibilities through numerous workshops, retreats, lots of study, and attendance at a score of meetings. They have formed a very strong governance and leadership team.

During a recent meeting, a student representative highlighted the concerns of many of his high school peers who complain about students Juuling/vaping in bathrooms. This is not news to the Board, nor to the Administration. But those at the meeting found it quite insightful since the student brought up the topic. He claimed that many students do not go to the bathroom during the school day because of it! The Administration maintains the problem is widespread and growing. Some students who are caught vaping at the high school have THC in their possession.

Vaping by students in grades 6 to 12 is skyrocketing, on and off campus. We know from the 2017 PAYS report that 37 percent of our high school students have tried vaping. Last week, The Intelligencer ran a front-page story on the issues of teenage vaping. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a similar story. To assist in your understanding of the challenges, related health hazards, and discipline issues tied to vaping, we are providing a web page full of resources for you and encourage all parents to check it frequently.

We are taking this problem and health risk to our students very seriously. Previous consequences have not worked for us. To aid in deterring this health-threatening activity, effective January 2, 2019, any student in possession of vaping material or vaping on QCSD property will be fined $50 for the first offense, $100 for each offense thereafter, to be paid within five days of the offense or be subject to other administrative consequences. This new Administrative Regulation is similar to what other school districts are doing across Bucks County.

Early last fall, Dr. Hoffman, the Assistant Superintendent for the Office of Teaching & Learning, presented a report on Academic Year 2017-18 student performance as measured by the PSSA, Keystones, SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement exams. The Board asked for a longitudinal look back of COHORT/year group performance on state assessments. We went back to 2014, the first year that the PSSAs were aligned to the PA Common Core Standards. Remember, the student performance standards are now aligned with an upward progression of rigor that leads to freshman year college readiness.

There are reasons for celebration for how our students are performing relative to other high schools and districts across Pennsylvania. For example, on high school Keystone exams, QCHS students jumped from 97th best performance in the state in 2017, to 45th in 2018. It is a dramatic improvement, but only a snapshot of one year group - last years seniors! Also, high schoolers have greatly benefitted by stepping up to the plate and taking Advanced Placement (college level) courses and passing the national level AP exam for the courses they take. We have had a four to five fold increase in participation and success. In turn, student performance on the SAT and ACT dramatically increased because of the hard work students and teachers are putting into these rigorous courses day-in and day-out.

But there is still a lot of work to be done by all - students, teachers, parents, and the administration. In looking at student performance in Quakertown - over time, in grades 3 through 8, we have not yet "broken the code" on declining student performance on academic standards in mathematics and now, in reading language arts. For example, last year only 38 percent of Quakertown's eighth graders were proficient or advanced on the PSSAs. As PA Common Core Standards are aligned through high school for college readiness, this means that 62 percent of our current ninth graders have a lot of catching up to do to be ready for college.

At the Dec 6th meeting, Board member Keith Micucci asked if the Board should panic! I said no, but we definitely need a sense of urgency at all levels of the school district, from the classroom to the district office. Historically, 60 percent of our graduating classes attend a four-year college institution, and we need to continue to prepare them to be successful. Working together, there is no doubt that we move mountains for our students. In the meantime, over the Holidays, please take a few moments to study your child's past performance scores and talk with them about how they are doing. Then share what you learn with us! I am very much interested in your thoughts, as I am sure your teachers and principals are.

Have a wonderful Holiday! It's supposed to be a record year on America's highways, so safe travels in all that you and your family do.

Bill Harner

Email: wharner@qcsd.org

Twitter: @BillHarner

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