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November 2014: AP, State Testing, Safety, and Snow Days

Dear Shaker Families, Staff, and Friends of the Schools,

Whether we like it or not, winter has arrived!

I want to bring you up to date on a few current topics, including our Advanced Placement successes, state testing requirements, proposed changes in state rules on specialist teachers, school safety, and procedures for emergency closings and delayed opening.

Advanced Placement

On November 13, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard A. Ross visited Shaker Heights High School to recognize the excellence of our Advanced Placement program and announce statewide results. We were honored that Dr. Ross chose Shaker as the venue for this event.

I was filled with pride as four Shaker students and three faculty members spoke eloquently about their experiences with AP. Teachers Tim Mitchell, Elizabeth Plautz, and Lori White exemplify intellectual engagement and passion for their students' success. Students Marcia Brown, Nya Hardaway, Matthew Mahoney-White, and Ben Robertson gave different perspectives on the tremendous growth that is possible when students stretch themselves. As Matthew said, success builds confidence.

We have a long tradition of excellence in Shaker, and for many decades this has included a robust Advanced Placement Program. Nearly 400 Shaker students took one or more AP exams last May, with 85% scoring 3 or higher on a 5-point scale. Many also take advantage of our International Baccalaureate program, proving that our students are willing to step up to the challenge when given the opportunity and support.

We want to continue increasing the number of students who take and succeed in college-level courses at Shaker. This makes good educational sense. It also makes good economic sense. With the cost of higher education increasing rapidly, many of our students find that they are able to transfer AP credits and graduate in less than 4 years.

I was pleased to learn that the State of Ohio is showing growth in the number of students taking and succeeding in AP courses. As Dr. Ross said, Shaker's program is an exemplar for the entire state. We're proud to be at the forefront.


As you may know, leaders of the Shaker Heights PTO are spearheading a letter-writing campaign to state lawmakers, urging them to reduce the amount of time our students and teachers spend on state-mandated testing. Parents in other districts are organizing similar efforts.

I believe strongly in meaningful assessments of learning. The information obtained through well-constructed assessments helps teachers understand and address the needs of students. It also helps us, as a District, identify areas where we need to strengthen our curriculum, instructional practices, and professional learning.

The amount and frequency of testing required by the state is the big issue. Alex Liston Dykema, the Board of Education's legislative liaison, and I wrote to state officials in September, asking them to keep the Common Core State Standards but delay the spring testing. This would be a good first step toward the development of a reasonable assessment policy for our state - one that helps teachers make sound instructional decisions and preserves as much learning time as possible.

There is reason to believe that state officials are listening. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction has asked all district superintendents to provide feedback on the amount and impact of state testing requirements. I had the opportunity to discuss state testing policy with Superintendent Ross this morning when he visited Shaker Heights High School. Additionally, the General Assembly is considering legislation that would limit the amount of time spent on testing. These are encouraging developments.

However, we are not going to wait for the state to make changes. As a District, we are working to help our teachers make good use of the information that comes from assessments. We are also examining all local assessments closely to determine whether some can be used for multiple purposes. For example, an assessment that satisfies a state requirement may also establish a baseline to gauge student growth, providing valuable information for teachers. I believe that consolidating where possible will help us reduce "test mania" and provide information that can be used to benefit our students.

In short, our District will continue to meet the state requirements, hope for some relief from the state, and work to make assessments less time-consuming and more meaningful.

Proposed Changes in State Rules on Specialist Teachers

The State Board of Education has been discussing the elimination of a rule that requires schools to have a certain number of specialists per 1,000 students (e.g., art, music and physical education teachers; nurses; counselors; librarians). The stated purpose is to allow districts to make their own staffing decisions. Opponents of the change fear that it will lead school districts to eliminate specialist positions, at the expense of students.

Here in Shaker Heights, we value the arts, physical education, the nurses who care for our students' physical and social-emotional needs, our guidance counselors, and our librarians. Our community has generously provided support for a holistic approach to education that goes far beyond the minimum state requirements. Our parents and students expect and deserve nothing less. I want to assure you that we will not compromise these essential elements of the Shaker experience.

Every child deserves what we are able to offer in Shaker Heights. It is a shame that our state does not provide adequate resources for all districts to offer this range of services.

School Safety

We continue to refine our procedures to ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors to the schools. Here are a few updates:

• School building doors are locked after the start of school, and front doors are monitored. At the High School, visitors are required to provide photo identification upon entry.

• The expectations and responsibilities of our security staff have been updated to provide better coverage of our buildings, with Shaker police officers frequently on hand to assist if needed.

• We have stepped up video surveillance in the High School, with real-time monitoring.

• In collaboration with the Shaker Heights Police Department, we are working to expand the repertoire of emergency response skills for teachers and staff in the event of a safety threat.

Emergency Closings and Delayed Opening

I hope for a milder winter this year, but we have to be prepared for severe weather. Please review our emergency closing and delayed opening procedures so that your family is informed and safe in the event that snow or extremely low temperatures force us to close or delay school.

Thank you for all your support of our students. Stay warm and safe!
Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., Ed.D.
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