Back to School September 15, 2016

Dear Methacton Community,

I would like to welcome back our students, their families, and our community to what I anticipate to be an extraordinary school year. While the first few weeks of the new school year were filled with many successes and a few challenges, I want to share the first community conversation in a series of monthly communications as a means to convey the areas of focus for the 2016-2017 school year.

The district strategic plan, adopted last May, has been acted upon in various forms. There are measures taking place to highlight the mission, vision, and core values as a means to visually remind our constituents of our focus and path for success.  In addition, much of this early work has included engaging committees to begin work towards the defined goals. As the start of the school year gets underway, we plan to engage students, teachers, parents, and community members to assist us by asking them to lend their expertise so that we may lead together. Specifically, one of the most visible and soon to be released outcomes of our strategic planning efforts is an update to the Methacton School District website. The website will receive a fresh new look by becoming visually more appealing with a responsive design that adapts to the user’s device such as an iPad, smartphone, PC, etc.

In terms of curriculum and instruction, several major efforts planned for 2016-2017 include the implementation of a new math resource in grades kindergarten through four, a Digital Learning and Instruction Initiative, and efforts to further develop opportunities in STEM.

Teachers in kindergarten through grade four began using the newly adopted math resource, Math in Focus.  This text is designed to provide students with a deeper understanding through a focus on the application of mathematics in life and the world of work, which is a critical part of problem solving. We will continue conversations with parents about what the children are learning throughout the year.

An exciting roll out of the district’s Digital Learning and Instruction Initiative began in August and is well underway during the first several weeks of school including curricular efforts, teacher professional development, and the distribution of Chromebooks for all 10th and 11th grade students. The use of this new instructional tool leverages Google Classroom, and is part of our continued effort to provide learning experiences that prepare our students for future work or studies. Chromebooks will be rolled out to additional grades over the next three years so that by 2018-2019, Methacton students in grades 7-12 are equipped with a Chromebook.

Efforts are underway to further develop our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programming districtwide. While this effort is built into our strategic plan, we have our sights on a more pervasive level of programming that leverages collaboration among teachers, students, parents, and private industry to provide unique and enriching educational experiences. We plan to engage the support of the Education Foundation for the Methacton Community through EITC funding and other private contributions. There is much more on this to be told and I plan to elaborate in a future community conversation.

Through the curricula work of our teachers and administrators and the tremendous efforts of our students and their families; 168 Methacton High School (MHS) students were recently recognized for AP testing achievement. Of those, eight students are considered National AP Scholars, having achieved an average score of 4.72 on all AP exams taken. In addition, 15 MHS students were recognized as semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Competition. These students were selected in part as a result of their performance on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. These are tremendous accomplishments for these students, and they will certainly be among many recognized regularly for outstanding academic and extra-curricular achievements this year.

In other important matters, we are on target to provide the Board of School Directors with a new enrollment report that will serve to inform their decisions on the potential consolidation of schools. Any updates on this matter will be shared on the district’s website. Closely related to this matter is a soon to be a Board adopted Facilities Assessment Study that establishes our foundation of understanding for planning and addressing matters associated with our campuses and buildings district wide.

Lastly, our biggest challenge at the start of school involved busing. There is no secret that we have had our share of challenges stemming as far back as last year. Those issues were further perpetuated at the start of this year due to failures with completing routing properly. This led to a condensed timeframe to complete routing and as such resulted in major confusion for the bus drivers, students, and families. While I continue to apologize to our families for this experience, nothing less than implementing corrective measures and backups will prevent issues like these from recurring. At this moment, we have engaged additional experienced safety and routing personnel to review and address stop, consistency, and routing matters.

I look forward to sharing additional updates with our community throughout the school year so that our constituents may be informed. Thank you, and once again – it is a pleasure to welcome back to school our students and parents!

Dr. David Zerbe
Superintendent of Schools


Proposed Final Budget - May 31, 2016

Dear Methacton Community,The topic of my community conversation this month is the 2016-2017 budget. The Board approved my administration’s recommended proposed final budget in the amount of $104,820,741 on May 24, 2016 which includes a proposed 3.35% tax increase.  For a home assessed at the district average of $180,767, this represents a tax increase of $168.83 (total tax bill $5,211.51 based upon a proposed millage rate of 28.83). The budget is now available for public inspection and will be presented for final approval, pending any remaining changes, at the June 28, 2016 meeting of the Board of School Directors. Our work on this budget is a process that began in the fall of 2015. In December, the Board was presented with a “first look” at the budget, laying the groundwork for our conversations moving forward. Based on my recommendation, the Board voted to authorize the administration to seek available exceptions to the 2.4% Act 1 Index tax increase limit during their December 7 and January 26 meetings to address the projected increase in costs to the PSERS retirement system.With 95% of the district’s expenditures categorized as “mandatory,” it is challenging at best to address all our program and operational needs at the same time remain mindful of our taxpayers. Annually, we are faced with forgoing improvements and or not implementing new programs just to strike a balance.As an operation that relies predominantly on people to deliver the services of education, it is understandable that two of our largest expenditures annually are salaries and benefits. Even in these budget areas, my administration has found ways to strike a balance. The district utilized an early retirement incentive which resulted in a reduction of $281,786 to next year’s budget without sacrificing student access to programs.As described in detail in the May special meeting edition of Board Notes, the Board voted on a number of action items, providing direction for me in preparing the proposed final budget. Inclusive of these and many other reductions, we were able to reduce our expenditures from the initial budget proposal in January of $106,866,173 by $2,045,432.Please be mindful that several factors stand to affect our future budgetary landscape inclusive of school consolidation, a transportation routing study, tax assessment appeals, a high school scheduling study, and employee contract negotiations. These are in addition to any funding changes or mandates determined by state and federal government that could affect our ability to adequately fund our public schools.We are continually reminded that our community supports great schools for our children and recognizes that quality public schools impact the overall prosperity of the Methacton community. While a tax increase is never an easy decision, it is however, appropriate at this time as we remain focused on the future of the district and the education of our children.

Thank you for your continued support of what’s important!

Dr. David Zerbe
Superintendent of Schools   


Budget Preparation and Strategic Planning 
May 9, 2016

Dear Methacton Community,

This month brings forward two main matters before the district, the adoption of a strategic plan and adoption of proposed final budget. The budgeting process begins in October for my administration and the budget has undergone many changes since its first public presentation in December. This process is challenging in that each year it becomes more difficult as the process commonly known as Act 1 continues to squeeze school district resources by limiting revenue against mandatory costs increases, thus forcing difficult conversations about preserving programming. While this is an annual process, it is one that we are making reasonable progress on and anticipate that we will be prepared with a balanced budget for adoption as a preliminary final budget at the May 24, 2016 meeting.

A strategic planning process that began in the fall of 2015 has produced a draft document which was presented as our “Blueprint for Success” during the April 27 School Board meeting. This document represents the contributions of more than 80 individuals, including community members, business leaders, students, faculty, school board directors, and staff. The document is now presented for a public review period that will conclude on Monday, May 16. 

Following the incorporation of any necessary changes resulting from this feedback, the strategic planning document will be presented to the Board of School Directors for their final approval during their regular meeting on May 24. Please share your feedback by completing this online form.

Having these two critical items cross paths calls to mind the difficult balance between providing our students with the best possible educational experience, and the need to be stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars. 

I am grateful that our community continues to convey their unwavering support for our students, even in the face of budgetary challenges. As such, no budget that we can prepare will satisfy all of our constituents.

We will however, continue to seek alternative sources of revenue, through initiatives like the capital campaign, and with the support of our own Education Foundation for the Methacton Community. It is my goal, through continued fiduciary responsibility in budgeting and with a supportive community such as ours – we continue to be the example of excellence among Pennsylvania public school districts. 

As always, I am grateful for your support as we continue to learn, lead, and succeed – together.

Dr. David Zerbe
Superintendent of Schools


Extracurricular and Co-Curricular Activities - March 31, 2016

Dear Methacton Community, 

This month’s Community Conversation is focused on the district’s extracurricular and co-curricular activities. As part of our strategic planning efforts, a subcommittee has been tasked with reviewing and establishing goals and strategic objectives to strengthen the district’s extracurricular and co-curricular activities for the benefit of our students.

Extracurricular and co-curricular activities are designed to enhance or compliment the curriculum and are an integral part of a well-rounded school experience. These activities provide students with opportunities to explore their talents, interests, and abilities outside the classroom. The Methacton School District offers its students an array of activities and athletic programs to engage in, as well as co-curricular programs in music and other expressive arts. 

Tailored to the needs and interests of our students, these programs reward hard work, commitment to excellence, grit, teamwork, and drive. They teach valuable life lessons of leadership and endurance. More than half of the Methacton School District’s students elect to participate in one or more of these activities. 

Most recently, Methacton High School’s campus was enhanced with two new synthetic turf fields with lights, and softball and baseball fields. The warmer weather will allow us to welcome the community to our schools to cheer on our athletes. As is tradition this time of year, each of our schools will present spring music concerts throughout the months of April and May.  

Look to the weekly “Methacton Happenings” e-newsletter, as well as the Warrior Athletic website at www.methactonwarriors.org to find an event that fits your schedule.

The Methacton High School junior and senior prom will take place on Friday, April 29, followed by the amazing 17th Annual Methacton Post Prom Party – an all-night event that is completely community supported and run by parents. The community is invited to view this spectacular one-of-a-kind event during the annual Community Walk-Through event, beginning at 6:30 p.m. This much-anticipated event is free for students, and provides them with a safe, fun place to celebrate prom night.

The support of our community is central to the culture in the Methacton School District. I’m looking forward to attending many of these fantastic events, enjoying a part of what makes Methacton such a unique and special place to live and work. I hope you will join me!

Dr. David Zerbe
Superintendent of Schools  


 
College and Career Planning - February 1, 2016

Dear Methacton Community,

 
This month's Community Conversation is focused on the district’s College and Career Readiness and Planning activities. Our mission as an educational organization is to challenge all students to achieve their greatest potential. We accomplish this through programs, curriculum, and services focused on technical skill development, problem solving, critical thinking skills, social and emotional development, perseverance, teamwork and more. Our ultimate purpose can be summarized to that of preparing all students for future careers – the world of work.

Methacton’s school counselors design programs to assist students with career awareness, preparation, acquisition, retention, advancement, and entrepreneurship. This process begins at the elementary level, where fundamental skills, socialization, and team work are integrated with math, reading and science to pique student interest, talents, and knowledge development. Students write their first resume in elementary school.

The career discussion becomes more apparent and direct as students progress into Skyview and Arcola. There, counselors help students explore the world of work, and post-secondary options through classroom lessons and career days. Special activities include evening programs for financing and planning for college. 

Arcola counselors organize a College and Career Awareness Week in March including a College and Career Readiness Night event for parents. The goal of the week is to inform students about post-secondary options, motivate them to set and achieve academic and career focused goals, and to increase their awareness of the process of attending a post-secondary school. These events culminate with the annual STEAM Career Day on March 22 at Arcola, designed to promote opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics; followed by the annual Skyview Career Day on April 29.

In grades 7-12, counselors, teachers, students, and parents utilize Naviance, an online tool to facilitate the career programming and college planning process. Students are introduced to Naviance in seventh grade when they begin building their career interest portfolio that follows them up to and including graduation. This same tool is used to facilitate and streamline the college search and application process, with support from faculty and counseling staff.

Beginning in eighth grade, students learn about programs and opportunities offered through the North Montco Technical Career Center (NMTCC). Counselors from NMTCC visit in January to describe opportunities and answer student questions while helping students explore potential career paths. Students visit NMTCC in February and participate in an open house with their families. Interested individuals can attend this year’s open house on Thursday, February 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at NMTCC.

Integral to this process is the development of a Student Success Plan. All Methacton High School students complete this portfolio-based project as a requirement for graduation. The project centers on each student’s individual aptitude, interests, and desired career pathway. The process of developing and accumulating information for this culminating project begins in grade seven and continues throughout high school. These resources include the writing of goals, resumes, and the completion of on-line assessments designed to help students connect their interests to careers.

As we continue our District-Wide Strategic Planning process, we have considered the value of these current efforts and have discussed what more we can do to help students and families make these important life decisions. Our ability to accomplish this is tied to our ability to fulfill our mission. It is an enormous responsibility, and one that our School Board, administration, faculty, and staff share with parents, guardians, and students alike.

 
Sincerely,
 
Dr. David Zerbe
Superintendent of Schools 
 

Strategic Planning - December 15, 2015
 
Dear Methacton Community,

As I outlined back in October, I plan to continue updating the community each month regarding important matters impacting our students, our district, and our community. This December 2015 installment of my Community Conversations shall provide you with a summary of the Methacton School District’s strategic planning process to date.

The formulation of a strategic plan is a process designed to set priorities, focus our energy and resources, strengthen operations, and to ensure that all stakeholders within Methacton School District are working toward common goals aligned around intended results. This effort will outline fundamental decisions and actions that will shape and guide how Methacton School District can move in a direction commensurate with the community’s needs and desires.

strat plan

Above, Ms. Perotti goes over introductory procedures with the committees on December 9. 
 
In summary, we formed a Strategic Planning Steering Committee in September (info found here); we engaged a consultant by the name of JoAnn Perotti from the Bucks County Intermediate Unit to lead our planning process; established focus areas and sub-committees (info found here); and recruited over 80 participants to serve on the planning committees (list found here). These volunteers represent a wide variety of industries including education and higher-education, healthcare, law, business, information technology, research, finance, human resources, marketing, and real estate; and include students, parents, and alumni of our schools. The committees participated in an initial planning meeting on December 9, 2015. That first meeting concluded with introduction of committee members; the outline of the planning process; and committee work on the mission, vision, and shared values of the district.

strat planning work

Above: Working groups review the district's Vision, Mission, and Shared Values as part of the beginning stages of the strategic planning effort. 
 
There is much work ahead of us. The committees are scheduled to meet again on January 9, 2016 for a half-day session to determine strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats to each of the defined focus areas (see focus areas listed below). 

I am pleased with the response from the community. This outstanding group of volunteers may need to hold additional meetings and or seek additional input via surveys or focus groups to drive out the high level goals. Once the goals are firm, the district administration, likely in March 2016, will address each of the goals with actions, responsibilities, resources, and timelines. The Strategic Planning Committee will then review and make comments, changes, or further recommendations to ensure that we can produce a document that inspires support from within our greater community toward accomplishing our goals. 

The final plan is to be presented to the Board of School Directors by April 30, 2016.

From my perspective, this process is critical to all that we do. It shall serve as a guide that determines where we focus our staff and our resources. It shall establish a fundamental focus for the following areas:

  • Student Growth and Achievement/Staff Professional Development and Growth/Pupil Services/Educational Technology
  • Safety/Operational Technology/Facilities/Infrastructure
  • Co-curricular, Extra Curricular Activities, and Athletics
  • District Operations/Financial Management/Human Resources
  • Communications and Community Relations 

I sincerely appreciate the continued support of our community, and I look forward to additional opportunities for our wider community to participate in this important process.

Sincerely, 
 
Dr. David Zerbe
Superintendent of Schools 
 

Academic Program - October 23, 2015

The Methacton School District has a long history of success. Our success as a district can be witnessed in our many academic, music, arts and athletic accomplishments. As with any public school system, our fundamental business is based on providing a program of education centered on the core values of our community in concert with state education regulations and our collective desire to help our children grow into highly productive, responsible, and successful members of society.

Methacton students demonstrate many accomplishments as a result of our strong core curriculum supported by modern and traditional elective program offerings. They achieve as individuals and as members of teams as a result of our dedicated professional and support staff that truly cares for all of our children. Among the Commonwealth’s highest ranking public school districts, Methacton really prides itself on its ability to provide a high quality, well-rounded program of academics, music, arts, and athletics to meet the diverse needs of our community.

The foundation of this success, I believe, is rooted in the strong alliance built within our district and community among our parents and our teachers. This strong alliance exists in an effort to provide opportunities for our children. Our teaching staff is committed to helping each and every student reach his or her highest potential.

While we have much to be thankful for as a district, there remain many important topics before us that are core to our educational mission. As I mentioned in my letter to the community, I will be addressing several of these items in a series of communications centered on providing information to everyone as the district prepares to begin a comprehensive organizational strategic planning process. This week, I want to briefly address standardized testing, curriculum alignment with PA Core, technology integration, STEM, and career readiness. I then plan to follow up with more in-depth conversation on each of these matters in the coming months. 

The first of these areas, standardized testing, in one form or another, has been a constant reminder to our students, our parents, and our staff that we live in the age of accountability and that our performance is constantly being measured. I recognize that the frequency of testing is a concern of many. While our successes cannot be minimized to simple numbers or data, I am a firm believer that standardized testing can be an important tool for assessing understanding of curriculum. It can also challenge us to strengthen our weaknesses in a natural and healthy manner of business.

Critical to our success in standardized testing, specifically with regard to the PSSA and Keystone exams, is the alignment of our curriculum to the PA Core. The PA Core is the basis of what these exams are designed to measure. While we are instituting a curriculum revision and adoption cycle that is aligned with PA Core, we must constantly monitor our work to ensure that our students remain highly competitive.

In the coming months, I will also take aim at sharing information about all the technology initiatives in the district. It was just a few years ago that the Methacton School District was one of just several districts in our area without wireless network connectivity. In the last three years, the district went from being one of the few districts without, to a district that now has guest and “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) wireless networks that enable students to utilize their smartphones and other mobile devices to support their work at school. To a greater degree, the integration of technology in the curriculum can be seen through the use of Google Applications For Education (GAFE) programs and through the high school’s recent 1 to 1 computing initiative among many others.

As a result of my entry plan, it was clear that an organized focus in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) must be institutionalized in order to leverage the will of our community, the expertise of our teachers and parents, and to best prepare our students to be problem solvers. STEM can pay huge benefits in how our schools prepare students for future careers. While the STEM initiative has a set of core subject areas, its basis is centered on the scientific problem solving methodology which can be applied to just about any discipline or issue. This is an exciting initiative that I look forward to delving into in greater detail in the coming months.

Lastly, strategic planning is an organizational activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, and to ensure that stakeholders are working toward common goals aligned around intended results. I have created a steering committee and plan to invite members of the community to assist me in setting the course for our future. More information on how to participate in this process will be provided soon.

We have a great deal of opportunity before us as a school district and community; however, seizing these opportunities will require a great deal of work. Our success will be achieved by working together - students, parents, teachers and the community. As you read this and future communications in this series – please consider how you may want to work with us to Learn, Lead, and Succeed – Together.

Dr. David Zerbe
Superintendent of Schools
 

October 6, 2015
Dear Methacton Community,
 
As your Superintendent of Schools, I plan to provide information over the next several months regarding important matters impacting our students, our district, and our community, including student performance and programming, finances and budgeting, capital improvements, and several other important areas. These communications are centered on providing information to all as the district prepares to begin a comprehensive organizational strategic planning process.
 

More specifically, I will touch upon the recently approved 2015-2016 budget, which included no tax increase; the district’s capital campaign efforts, which have thus far resulted in private donations of more than $1.4 million to offset the athletic field improvements at the high school; and our developing efforts to bolster our STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) programming. In addition to these good news items, I will also discuss topics that are challenging for our community including the evaluation of a potential school closing due to declining student enrollment.

 

In order to realize our mission as the Methacton School District, we must have a strong alliance between our community, our students, our parents, and our teachers. Here in Methacton, I believe we have this alliance, and that it is tremendously strong. It is my duty to ensure that our students come first and that I consider the interests of our families and our community. Our teachers must have access to needed resources, our parents must remain informed and be given a voice in our educational decision making, and those who contribute to funding our programs must be assured that I have considered them in my decision making as well. 

 

The larger community of 11,000 plus households has a vested interest in the success of our schools. While academic, music, art, and athletic successes are the norm in Methacton, the educational, social and fiscal landscape challenges us to focus our conversations and energies on sustainability and growth for your children, my students, and our community.

 

These ongoing communications will be posted to the district’s website here in the superintendent's section, with paper copies available in all district schools and the Lower Providence Community Library. To receive an email notification when updates are posted, simply register by clicking the "register" button in the uppermost right-hand corner of the screen, creating a username and password. 

 

Thank you for your continued support of our students and our schools. 

 
Dr. David Zerbe
Superintendent of Schools 
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