Prior to the start of the school year, Canfield Superintendent Alex Geordan joined several other superintendents from Mahoning and Columbiana counties for a meeting with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson. The meeting was held to discuss the direction education is heading and the challenges facing school districts today.
"We talked about No Child Left Behind that led into a discussion on common core," Geordan said. "Our staff will have to be prepared for that."
Common core is what is expected for students to learn in order to be college ready. Geordan said common core hasn't changed much, but is moving towards giving teachers more flexibility in how they present lessons.
Canfield Superintendent Alex Geordan
"It's no longer about memorizing facts," he said. "It's more about understanding why."
He said teachers in the Canfield School District have trained under the new common core instruction and it does make a difference. The example was given regarding history. In the past, it meant learning about an important battle or event and memorizing the time line. Today, teachers can go in depth as to what led to the event and why.
"It's no longer about what happened, but now deals with why we got into the war and the events that led up to it," Geordan said.
While the common core in education is not a problem for Canfield, Geordan and the other superintendents at the meeting did deal with problems facing the district, namely unfunded mandates and funding issues.
"Because of our social and economic status of our residents [in Canfield], we don't qualify for many federal programs," Geordan said. "The unfunded mandates are one of the reasons we are back on the ballot in November."
One mandate, Geordan said, requires districts to educate students with disabilities by a certain level. While it is ordered, the government only provides 60 percent of the funding to meet the requirement. The balance comes from the general fund.
"That is 40 percent that affects our bottom line," he said.
Geordan told the congressman that Canfield has a lot of gifted students and the district would like to offer more for them. That is difficult to do when a lot of the budget has to be used to meet federal requirements. Canfield is currently ranked 35th out of 871 Ohio districts, but is ranked in the 600's as far as what is spent per student.
The final issue that was brought up at the meeting involved the new system of rating districts. The state of Ohio has changed the State Local Report Card system and will no longer issue ratings such as Excellent with Distinction, but will instead issue letter grades (A, B, C, D, F) for districts and buildings. The composite letter grades will not be fully used until the 2014-15 school year. The system features a number of additional components and complex calculations to arrive at a letter grade for various components, and a composite letter grade for schools and districts.
"Data from the 2012-2013 school year indicates the District met all 24 indicators of success, earned an "A" for its graduation rates, overall value-added, along with value-added for students with disabilities and achieved all-time high scores in performance index (107.8) and ACT composite (23.6) giving us a ranking of 35 out of 871," Geordan said. "This is the highest ranking Canfield Local Schools has ever received."
The new rating system also raises the bar for all districts in Ohio. Across the board, all Ohio districts are going to be in the same boat when it comes to these higher standards.
"We welcome this opportunity and we accept the challenge of helping our students succeed at even higher levels," Geordan said. "It is the vision of the Canfield Local Schools to meet each student's individual learning needs, leading to a top 10 ranking in the state of Ohio by 2017. We intend to meet this vision and have much growth throughout the district in doing so."
The challenge for Ohio schools will be to meet the challenges and continue to offer the very best education possible. The challenge is to do it with a budget that won't support it. Three weeks ago that challenge was dealt with in a levy committee meeting where a variety of issues were addressed. Among some of the issues brought up were all day kindergarten, building security, reinstituting kindergarten through 12th grade transportation and removing pay-to-play.
In looking at the issues, Geordan said the committee determined the high school busing would cost $83,000 annually. Door-to-door kindergarten bus stops would cost the district $93,600. All-day kindergarten would add another $200,000 to the budget.
Over the coming months, the committee will be working at getting the word out about the 5.9-mill levy that will be on the November ballot. Geordan said the committee feels it is important to inform the public exactly what the levy money will go towards.
"We want to make sure our voters are educated," he said. "We want them to know what the money will be spent on."
In the meantime, Geordan and the other superintendents who met with Johnson are hoping he has a better feel for what Ohio school districts are facing, and the funding problem is at the forefront of those concerns.