United School Board fills special education position

| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 9:09 a.m.

United School Board met in special session Dec. 19 to select a replacement for a retiring special education teacher.

With Sandra Mack and Eric Matava absent, the board unanimously voted to hire Francine Ressler for the high school position. She will receive a salary of $41,000, which reflects the first step of the master's degree pay scale.

Board President Don Davis noted Ressler's first date of work will depend upon when she is released from her current position at the Portage Area School District, where she is listed as a reading specialist.

According to Davis, Ressler is set to succeed Marilyn Nesmith, a seventh-grade learning support teacher with more than 14 years of experience at United. Nesmith began a leave in September.

Following the voting session, school officials noted they are pleased with the school-level academic scores, or “report card,” United received for the 2012-13 school year, as measured in Pennsylvania's new School Performance Profile (SPP). Still, superintendent Barbara Parkins said the district is considering ways to improve upon those marks.

United High School received a score of 75.6 points out of 100, which Parkins noted is in the “green,” or “good,” range. United Elementary School's score of 83.2 points placed it in the “blue,” or “very good,” category.

Parkins pointed out that Carolyn Dumaresq, the state's acting education secretary, considers 70 or better to be a passing score for a school.

Parkins added that United's high school score “went up slightly” following a recalculation reflected in updated school performance information posted Dec. 9 on a state Department of Education site at paschoolperformance.org.

According to the site, corrections were based in part on Keystone Exam end-of-course designations and recalculation of accountability measures to meet federal requirements.

In a message posted on the school district website (www.unitedsd.net), Parkins explains that Pennsylvania, through a waiver granted by federal education officials, has established the performance profile as a replacement for the previous Adequate Yearly Progress system — which drew upon student scores on annual Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.

“The new SPP system allows a school to focus on additional indicators in order to measure a school's performance,” she stated, noting, “One high-stakes test did not accurately portray all of the excellent progress that is made within a school.”

In addition to student test scores, the SPP looks at such other data as attendance rates and student academic growth from year to year.

Parkins noted a district can get “extra credit” toward its school performance score based on advanced achievement categories.

In one of those categories, a school can receive points based on the percentage of high school seniors who have achieved a score of 3 or more (on a scale of 1-5) on at least one Advanced Placement exam during their educational career. That percentage is then multiplied by a factor of 2.5 to obtain the school's performance measure for that category — in United's case, a score of 19.48 based on 2012-13 data.

Parkins said United is hoping to increase the number of its students who take AP exams, with all but two who were enrolled in the advanced courses last year opting to take the related test.

While an AP exam score of 3 or higher can give United High School a boost in its report card, chances are good that test result also will qualify the student for college credit.

Meanwhile, United is working to revise all areas of its curriculum, Parkins said, noting, “It wasn't as well-developed as it needed to be.”

United officials also are awaiting final release of Pennsylvania Core Standards in math and language arts that are being reviewed by the state attorney general.

Citing one of the changes under the new standards, Parkins explained, “Some of the things students have been learning in third grade, now they'll be learning in second grade.”

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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