I hope all is well and that your family had an opportunity to enjoy the holiday season. As we enter the New Year, I wanted to share several important updates from the past few months in Lower Merion School District.
Curriculum & Instruction
The District's Strategic Plan continues to guide our thinking in all aspects of curriculum and instruction. During the fall, teachers engaged in unit upgrades – taking an individual curricular unit that they teach and enhancing it through closer alignment with transformative goals from the strategic plan. The impact of this work is already being experienced by students across all levels through more engaging lessons and learning experiences. Several additional efforts are underway related to the implementation of the strategic plan. Some of these include:
- Establishment of a coherent K-12 writing portfolio system to include artifacts from multiple disciplines and multiple years. The portfolio would be digital so that it could include public speaking, visual, and print artifacts.
- Review/enhancement of the K-12 computer science curriculum.
- Development of a new elementary report card to include expanded narrative.
- Review/enhancement of gifted services program informed by a year-long program evaluation process that includes multiple site visits and conversations with stakeholders.
- Implementation of makerspaces in each building (as of the start of this school year, each elementary school has a mobile makerspace cart fully-stocked and available to all teachers).
The Board also authorized two new courses for 2017-18 that support the goals of the District's strategic plan. Computer Science Seminar, which will be offered by the high school mathematics department, is intended to provide additional programming and Computer Science opportunities beyond AP Computer Science. It comes in direct response to dramatic enrollment increases in the District's other Computer Science offerings. Communication Design will be offered by the high school art department and will support the exploration of visual literacy through a tech-integrated visual arts curriculum.
Over the past eight years, LMSD has had the second-fastest enrollment growth rate in the Commonwealth and the largest growth by total number of students. In turn, the District has taken a number of steps to plan for increasing enrollment. During the fall, the Board reviewed independent enrollment studies from the Montgomery County Planning Commission (MCPC) and Sundance Associates to help inform facilities planning. While there were several minor differences in the results of the two studies, the findings were generally consistent. Among the takeaways:
- It is anticipated that the District will grow by approximately 1,000 students over the next ten years, with growth impacting high schools the most (almost 700 students added); middle schools will increase by around 345 over the same period.
- In addition to the District remaining an attractive destination for young families, private school enrollment continues to decline and multi-family units continue to yield more students.
- One area where the two studies differ is in their accounting of the impact of new and planned multi-family residential developments in Lower Merion. While it is difficult to predict the full impact of these units, we are already starting to see greater-than-expected student yield from newly-completed developments.
- Elementary school enrollment will stabilize, but some individual schools may have capacity issues. There is some variance between the studies at the individual elementary school level that will need to be carefully monitored.
The Board of School Directors recently hosted another public work session to review possible options for addressing capacity concerns. Some of the options discussed publicly over the past year and again this fall include redistricting, expanded use of modular classrooms, a Kindergarten center, an additional elementary or middle school, shifting grade groupings at elementary schools to K-4 and middle schools to 5-8, and increasing class size, among others. Of immediate concern is Bala Cynwyd Middle School, where expanded classroom capacity is necessary in the short term to maintain existing programs. This month, the Board authorized the District to explore temporary and permanent solutions at BCMS. For more information on these topics, please visit the "Enrollment Planning" section of the LMSD website.
Audit Report & District Budget
The annual District audit by Rainer and Company confirmed that LMSD is in strong financial position and auditors reported no findings or concerns. Auditors stated that based on their experience, the District continues to do an excellent job budgeting and managing funds. Auditors also reiterated the challenges of the school district budgeting process, namely trying to anticipate revenue and expenses more than a year in advance. They noted that it is important for school districts to budget conservatively so that obligations can be met over the short and long term.
This month, we enter the new budget planning cycle and will present our Preliminary 2017-18 Budget on January 23rd. Complete information about the budget process, including public meeting dates will be shared publicly and posted in the Budget section of our website.
Appeal to Commonwealth Court
As many of you know, the District received an injunction from the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County on August 29, 2016, arising from a complaint regarding past and current real estate tax increases. As part of the injunction, the Court enjoined the District from enforcing or collecting a real estate tax increase for fiscal year 2016-17 of more than 2.4% than was in effect for the prior fiscal year. The District previously adopted a budget for the 2016-17 year which included a real estate tax increase of 4.44%. On August 31, the District formally filed an appeal to the Court's decision. The appeal was heard by the Commonwealth Court on December 15 and a decision is expected within the next several months. The pendency of this lawsuit only adds to the uncertainty and complexity of this year's budgeting process.
Awards & Achievements
The District has celebrated numerous achievements this school year. Most occur on a daily basis in our classrooms and we are very proud of the consistent, outstanding efforts of teachers and students. The following are just a few recent highlights that reflect the excellence of our school community:
- Welsh Valley social studies teacher Frances Weaver is one of five national recipients of the Southern Poverty Law Center's 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching.
- This year, 57 LMSD seniors earned National Merit Scholarship recognition. LMSD regularly has one of the largest groups of National Merit honorees on the East Coast.
- The Harriton High School girls' varsity tennis team won their eighth state title and first at the AAA classification (largest schools).
- The Lower Merion Boys Cross Country squad capped its best season in program history with a top ten finish at the PIAA AAA State Championships.
- Cynwyd Elementary School first grade teacher Megan Henry was recently honored as one of 12 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year finalists for 2016-17. The award is the top state-level recognition program for teaching excellence.
- Harriton High School science teacher Mark Ferraro was recently named a "Science Superhero" by the Science Channel, a program spotlighting educators who use science to make a difference in their community.
Happy New Year
I look forward to welcoming students and staff back to school this week and hope you had an enjoyable conclusion to 2016. Best wishes to the entire community for a very happy, healthy and successful New Year!
Thank you for your continued support of our schools.