GRAVES: Seven key findings from school district's report card explainedWe put out the district report card as an executive summary of the Mitchell School District’s performance.
Each year, sometime in October or early November, the Mitchell School District publishes its district report card. Doing so is an attempt to objectively (and we do strive for this but not always completely successfully) summarize the school district’s performance in a wide number of areas including enrollment, student achievement, academic offerings, performance on annual goals, characteristics of our faculty, community support, student discipline, auxiliary services, extracurricular offerings and finances. We do it because, although all of the information could probably be ferreted out by someone who was particularly industrious and knowledgeable, that frankly isn’t likely to happen and it is important that we communicate with parents, students, taxpayers and other constituents on our progress or lack thereof. Thus, we put out the district report card as an executive summary of the Mitchell School District’s performance.
But, as anyone who has ever picked up a copy and read it can tell you, it violates the first rule of the executive summary: brevity. Typically, when you are trying to apprise the boss of a problem or issue, you want to do so as pithily as possible. Mitchell’s district report card is 36 pages long, which is anything but terse. True, it includes a great deal of historical and timely information. True, it presents much of this information in the form of easy-to-read/digest graphs and charts. But still, 36 pages?
Given that obvious fault, allow me here to provide an executive summary of the executive summary. Here are seven highlights from the fall, 2012 Mitchell School District report card:
1. Enrollment is up. Last year, in fact, it jumped by 58 students. And, while final, certified numbers are not yet available this year (head count day was last Friday), we may very well see a similar increase this year. Enrollment increases come with their own growing pains (opening new rooms, purchasing furniture and books and supplies, hiring teachers, etc.) but these are far better than the pains that come with declining enrollment and more soothing to district finances as well.
2. Student achievement remains strong and is stronger this year than last. While our graduation rate fell just a bit (from 96.1 percent to 94.1 percent), this is largely due to new, restrictive federal definitions of just who constitutes a high school completer and who doesn’t. Of our seven schools, six saw net increases in student performance in math/reading while the seventh remained essentially unchanged. Our percentages of student proficient in math and reading remain high both compared to students in our state and nation. Our average score on the ACT, the most commonly used college entrance exam in the Midwest, increased again, while state and national averages remained both flat and even further below Mitchell scores.
3. Mitchell’s faculty is well-qualified. This year, the highest ever percentage, 64 percent, of our teachers held master’s degrees and 100 percent were identified by the State as highly qualified. The median teacher in our district has been teaching between 16 and 20 years, making them not only well-qualified but well-seasoned. They are also the ones producing that excellent student achievement described in the previous item.
4. The Mitchell community is highly supportive of its schools. It requires five pages of narrative just to briefly list the people and organizations who contribute goods and services to the District at no cost. One of these is the Mitchell Community Scholarship Fund which has now awarded Mitchell grads in excess of $500,000 in scholarships over the last 10 years.
5. Our facilities provide a good school climate and are improving. Our oldest elementary building is just 18 years old. Building utility costs fell by 14 percent last year due to efficiency measures instituted by our maintenance department as well as a mild winter and lower natural gas costs. The Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy opened in August with several CTE courses. Nevertheless, we do need to do something to provide a better fine arts facility to our students and to plan for a new high school around 2025.
6. Food service remains solid (and tasty) but is facing challenging times. Our fund balance dropped a bit again this last year and for the second year in a row. New federal menu requirements are making it increasingly difficult to maintain the program in good fiscal health because the new menus are less appetizing and less filling to many students and so will probably cut participation rates. Mitchell’s food service employees, however, have worked hard to find ways to meet the new requirements while holding participation rates high. They have arguably done a better job than most at this task.
7. District finances remain strong. The general fund solvency ratio at the conclusion of last year was 28.9 percent. Given recent, severe cuts by the State, this has been difficult and has come at the expense of employee compensation and the use of the opt-out. The challenge now is to simultaneously meet employee compensation needs, lower the opt-out rate in the next few years, and still keep the financial house in order. While this is a tall order, past history suggests Mitchell will be able to fill it.
That’s it, the executive, executive summary. I see, however, that it still exceeds an 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper if put into memo form. So what would an executive summary look like? To do that, I suppose you could just read the seven numbered, underlined items above.
Still too long? In that case, I’d have to throw even the least semblance of impartiality out the window and borrow from the motto emblazoned on a sweatshirt I saw the other day: Life is good.