The superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern Schools has meetings throughout the year with a group of parents. Dr. Bourff, the previous superintendent, had these meetings and Dr. Stokes has continued the tradition. While the meetings are often filled with presentations and people speaking on various topics, unlike many other meetings, the participates can generally offer feedback and ask questions. The meetings are a chance for the administration to present topics they feel are important to communicate as well as for the administration to get some feedback on other topics. While with Dr. Bourff there seemed to be more open dialog, his meetings often ran long as a result. Dr. Stokes has timeboxed the meetings out of respect for people’s time, thus many topics that the attendees might bring get written on a board for the administration to be aware of and consider for future meetings.
The meetings generally consist of one or two people from each of the schools within Hamilton Southeastern as well as one parent or community member representing each of the school board members. The representatives from the schools are generally leaders from the PTOs as they are generally more aware of what is happening within a school and often in touch with parents regarding school activities. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to attend the SAC meetings for several years, first as a representative from Riverside as part of the PTO leadership there, and now as a representative for a board member, Michelle Fullhart. In most cases, I’ve tried to share my notes like I am doing now. Being that the board member I represent is not running for reelection, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be included in the meetings. Hopefully others will share what they learn as well.
This week’s meeting was the first of the year, so there were new members. As such, time was spent with introductions of both the attendees and many members of the administration staff.
Much of what was covered in the meeting was information presented in the past including information on the HSE Foundation and on the HSE testing scores and academic excellence.
Hamilton Southeastern Foundation (HSEF)
Justin Hirnisey leads HSEF for our district. This foundation does a number of things to support our schools and the students within. A key example is that in 2021-22 the foundation invested $73,000 into grants for teachers and students. Forty-four grant projects were funded. They also provided 67 scholarships awarded to seniors in the class of 2022 for over $65,000. Some of the other things the foundation has done are:
- Help with creating outdoor learning spaces to expand classroom learning outside at elementary schools
- Fund STEM labs and robotic kits, virtual reality sets, and other technology.
- Create district wide programs on experiential learning, safety, and advanced learning
While Justin leads the organization fulltime, it does have two half time people as well as numerous volunteers. There is also a large board that includes 23 members of the community and 8 kids from the schools.
Justin talked about the Foundation working even closer with the PTOs in town. One thing that has always been tough in the district is the clashing of fundraising, especially when it comes to silent auctions. This not only impacts the schools trying to collect items for such auctions, but also the Foundation. Many of the schools do silent auctions in the fall or spring that can raise thousands of dollars for the PTOs that in turn help fund teacher grants and other programs. The Foundation does a Game Day that also has a huge silent auction that is one of their biggest fundraising events. With everyone asking businesses for donations for “HSE”, it can be overwhelming for business and frustrating for the schools late to the game. I know in the past I’ve suggested that the schools need to coordinate better with not only the auctions but also the Dine to Donate style events. As such, hearing Justin indicate that he wants to help with the coordination of the silent auction solicitations is something that many around town will be happy to know could happen!
The foundation had provided accounting “Finances 101” training to PTOs a few years ago. Justin also offered to bring back this training session for the PTOs. My comments: Many people who step into PTO leadership roles are simply parents (Ha! There is nothing simply about being a parent!) who have volunteered. I attended such a course (fancy word for just a meeting) provided several years ago, and it was insightful with a number of critical tips to keep PTO leaders and parents out of trouble and aware of what they need to do if they are handling money. I know of at least one situation that has happened in the past within a school where there was a money issue with a PTO. It is my opinion that all PTO leader that will be dealing with money should attend or have someone attend such a meeting simply to be aware of the risks they take and how to mitigate them when handling money.
As mentioned, the Foundation does a number of things with a big focus on teacher grants – often for projects larger than what many PTOs can cover and scholarships. They do a number of events including the Mud Sock game that recently happened as well as their Game Day event, and the Geist Marathon in the spring. The Foundation has also started a program aimed at Alumni.
Note: The Class of 2023 scholarships application deadline is in March.
Tigers/Royals Alumni Network
The Foundation has created a program that is free and easy to join. The program is aimed at alumni from the schools, but it was also indicated that the community can join as well. The program can be found at TigersandRoyals.org. The focus is to let alumni connect with classmates through a directory. It also will be used for networking events and class reunions. There is a newsletter to focus on classmates and distinguished alumni (“hall of fame” or monthly spotlight on what alumni are doing) as well as information on how alumni can give back to helping future graduates.
This year’s HSEF Game Day event will be February 24th, 2023. This event draws 300 to 400 people from the schools and community for fun raising fun and activities. The HSEF has a huge silent auction that includes baskets donated from the schools, which you don’t have to attend to bid on. There is a fee for attending, but it is a fundraising event.
Academic Excellence and School Scores / Data
Dr. Stokes had Dr. Kegley talk about the school board goal related to academic excellence.
Dr. Kegley started by stating, “HSE is an ‘A’ school district in the state of Indiana. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.” This statement was clearly to address the loud messaging that is being presented in the community by a few people that HSE is failing. Most schools ranked at an ‘A’ level are considered far from failure. Can a district with an ‘A’ improve? Of course.
The primary focus of what Dr. Kegley presented centered on the goal of getting HSE into the top 5 with test scores when compared to the top 10% of schools in Indiana based on size. HSE is the 4th largest school in the district; however, our demographics and other characteristics are different from the top 3 schools that are more urban. Additionally, comparing HSE with over 21,000 students to districts with under 1,000 students is not a balanced comparison either. The sizes of the top 10% range from roughly 29,000 to Anderson’s 5,500, which is still a big range in size. The top 10%, however, pulls in schools that are considered similar such as Carmel, Noblesville, Westfield, Avon, and others.
The numbers and other information that Dr. Kegley presented were the same as what were presented in the August 18th HSE School Board meeting. One of the key things he pointed out is that some of the information being shared in the community is not being presented accurately. If you look at the iLearn test scores this past year, the data shows that HSE predominantly improved, but in a few cases remained the same. (My comment: This past year would be the only year that Dr. Stokes would have impacted as part of HSE, so in her first year of being tied to the tests, the test scores went up.)
The following are some of the slides that were presented. These can all be found on BoardDocs as well as part of the August 16th HSE School Board working session meeting.
Goal is to be in top 5. For ELA, the district improved in all but one where they remained the same.
for Math, ranking did go down in four grades, but increased into the top 5 for three grades.
The combined iLearn E/LA and Math score went from 43.5% to 49.3%, an increase of almost 6% and the rank increased from 8th to 7th when compared to the top 10% of schools based on size. This is out of 41 schools. This is still not 5%, so the district will continue to work to improve the scores.
The following chart shows the percentage of change for E/LA scores from 2021 to 2022. As you can see, HSE’s improvement is notably higher than many of the other schools we are generally compared to:
For Math, HSE again showed a positive change; however, many other schools had a greater improvement. This helps to illustrate the fact that a ranking can go down, not because a district did a worse job, but rather because other schools improved at a greater level.
There have been comments within the community that areas within HSE are being neglected. The implication is that areas are failing because the school district is focused only on certain kids or areas. A couple of slides were presented that break out the students. The following breaks out the E/LA scores by demographic group. As you can see, regardless of race, the scores in 2022 showed an improvement across the board.
The same is true with the math scores broken out by race:
The district broke out the test scores using the dashboard / data warehouse that was built a couple of years ago. This allowed them to look at the iLearn data by various demographics. The result was that regardless of what might be said in the community, the demographics show growth in all groups such as race, socioeconomic, non-English Native Language learners (non-ENL), and more. The data indicates that there isn’t a failure of a group being ‘overlooked’. One person did ask if the district could break out the data by High Achievers since that was not a category shown. The answer was that High Achievers is not a group in the data warehouse, but they should be able to go back and tag all the kids in that category to see the result. (It wasn’t said that they would do this, only that they could.)
If you look at the breakout by other demographic factors such as socio-economic status (Paid versus “Free and Reduced” [f/r] lunches), non-English, and other groups, you can see the same results — increases across all groups for both E/LA and Math from 2021 to 2022.
The scores that most people focus on are the iRead/iLearn. At the High School level, testing has changed to now use the SAT test as a measurement. This past year was the first year that all Juniors in high schools across Indiana were required to take the SAT. To be clear – it is now a state requirement. This means that instead of only those wanting to take the SAT for colleges, everyone is taking the test including those with no plans to go to college and thus who don’t care how they score. This changed the number of people taking the test from 22,000 to 55,000. Because of this change, there is no way to correlate past years scores to this year’s. The averages were expected to drop for schools.
The scores for HSE were presented in the following two charts. Note that Brownsburg was included because it is referenced in some of the other comparisons on social media even though it isn’t within the 41 cohort schools the district compares against.
When looking at the SATs and the performance of the schools, College Readiness is a good benchmark to review. Below is a table that is also included in the presentation. From this chart, you can see that HSE had 74.4% of the students enroll in a college program. While some people are painting this as low number, the state average is reported at 53.4%, plus not all kids go to college. In fact, HSE has been adding programs and classes that focus on helping those kids that don’t plan to go to college. For me, the big number on the following graphic that indicates how HSE is doing is the “Did not need remediation” percentage. When starting a college program, if a student is not at a certain level the college can require them to take a “pre” class to get up to the level then need to be in order to take the courses for their focus area. Less than 5% of the student going to college needed to take a remedial course.
The other scores in the chart show on-time completions and other numbers. For the 2 and 4 year completions, those would be for students that graduated from HSE previously. While the numbers are lower, than past years, this out of line with national averages of kids that delayed or took gap years due to the pandemic and related requirements at colleges as well as those that simply took extra time or chose not to complete college. Of course, once a student starts college, it is more a reflection on the college if the students don’t complete the program timely. After all, 95.8% of the students HSE sent had everything they needed to start the programs without any delay or extra courses.
Dr. Kegley presented the following summary of key takeaways for this data:
- Continued strong showing in IREAD-3 scores.
- Overall, ILEARN results demonstrate increased proficiency and improvement when compared to other districts around the state.
- 5% increase overall in E/LA and Math
- 6 of 7 areas in E/LA improved (1 stayed the same)
- 3 of 7 areas in Math improved
- All demographic areas demonstrated an increase in scores over last year in E/LA and Math.
- In the first year of statewide SAT administration, HSE performed very well against other districts in the state. (3rd in Cohort)
He also indicated the action steps they were taking:
- Implementation of new literacy curriculum.
- Work with individual buildings to understand their school scores.
- Discussions with elementary and junior high leadership to determine
- context for math performance.
- Determine changes to SIP if needed.
- Update results of other metrics as they become available.
This was a lot of data. Additionally, it was a repeat of what had been presented to the board before. Overall scores for Dr. Stokes’ first year of impact as a superintendent were flat or in most cases went up. There is definitely room to improve, but as was said at the beginning of their presentation – HSE is rated as an “A” level district. That isn’t a score given to failing districts.
Other Academic Goals
Dr. Stokes mentioned that the district has other academic goals as well. This includes creating more opportunities for kids to learn outside of the buildings. The AgriPark program and the Hub & Spoke program were two examples of new things the district has done to create academic learning experiences outside of the normal buildings. There was an indication that it would be great if the district could create an out-of-the-building learning program for each grade level. That sounded like a wish list item.
It was made clear that with the testing, the district is “not looking to reduce a kid down to a test score.”
The information above took up the meeting time; however, Dr. Stokes did open it up to any questions or concerns. Two areas come up in the little time we had:
Courses, course catalogues, and finding information
One person raised a concern about the ease at which courses within our schools can be found. It was stated that the course catalogues are online and all courses should be listed. It was also stated that the catalogues can be viewed within the schools as well in a printed format.
Police Officers in Every School
Another person indicated that they though there should be a police officer in every school. The officer in their child’s school is split between multiple schools. It was asked how these officers are funded and what could be done to get more.
It was stated that the SROs (School Resource Offices) are funded between the schools and the Fishers Police Department. There are limited funds for such positions. Having said that, another person indicated that officers in the district are required to do their paperwork in their cars in the parking lots of a school. This means that non-SRO officers are likely to be on or around school grounds as well. (I didn’t verify if this is accurate, but I’ve heard it said before). As to school safety, it was mentioned that that Mr. Johnson is now on staff from the police department as well. The district has done School Safety presentations in the past. Additionally, I mentioned that Mayor Fadness and the City Chief of Police have done a couple of School Safety Town Halls this past year or so which should be available online.
At this point, the meeting was already on overtime, so things ended.
It was also stated that HSE is hiring. They are looking for people in food services, transportation, teaching, instructional assistants, and more.
This post is based on my notes from the meeting. I do my best to report on what I heard, but I am human, so I might have caught something wrong. Most of this information is not new, but rather on the school sites and repeated from other meetings. The data presented was the districts. If you disagree with it, then I recommend talking to Dr. Kegley or someone within the district. Of course, I will say that the data does not support the hyperbola that HSE is failing. HSE might not be running at levels pre-Covid, but they are fair from failing. Additionally, there are many that blame Dr. Stokes for the current status of score; however, she has just recently taken over the roll of superintendent. There is really only this year’s data that can be associated to her, and those numbers are what are presented above. Overall, the numbers averaged up – not down, so it would be difficult to say she failed based on the overall data.
Additionally, when it comes to questions and issues with the schools, all school staff and administration can be reached via the staff directory or by calling the schools. I have found that if you are nice, they will almost always respond and try to answer your questions.