The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 27, 2014

My Turn: Now is the time to begin change


The Daily Item

— Contrary to published information, the Selinsgrove Area School District is not on the verge of collapse, padlocking the doors, nor is it unstable. My annual State of the District presentation, which is posted on the district website at www.seal-pa.org, looks at current factors and trends that impact the district. Some of the identified factors are under our local control and others are not. This annual examination of the district allows us to anticipate and plan for future needs so that we are proactive rather than reactive as much as possible.  

In analyzing the long term five to 10 year projections, the district’s expenses will outpace revenues. This is a trend occurring in most districts. The district’s existing fund balance (financial reserves) will be able to help carry us through this period but unless changes are made to the factors under our control, our current model of providing a quality education will be unsustainable.  

District operational expenses for salaries, healthcare, retirement, transportation, extracurricular activities and instructional materials all continue to climb. Funding from the state and federal government has been declining and reliance on the local taxpayer has increased, all while the economy has remained relatively stagnant.   

I view this as an opportunity for us to closely examine how we educate students and make improvements to provide not only a better education, but one that is affordable for our community. Our current model, which is used by most school districts, is one that originated in the 1800s and is based on an agrarian calendar and an industrial approach. We treat students as a product to move through the assembly line of education. We work “on” them for approximately six hours a day, 180 days a year for 12 to 13 years. At the end of the process, we expect a well-educated individual to emerge.  

This model may have worked in the past, but the times have changed and the educational structure we call school has not kept pace. The expectations being placed on schools today ask us to do more, to do it better than ever, and as efficiently as possible. Our faculty, staff, administration, and school board are doing a great job of educating students given the current method of schooling, but we can do better.  

Our students are entering school with a completely different skill set than ever before, including technology skills and an “anytime anywhere” learning mentality.  The disparity between skills of students entering school is also greater than ever and educating them in the same way as in the past does little to address individual student needs. We need to support all students to be their best.  

I believe we can and must change our model of education to allow us to more effectively meet the individual needs of all learners. The changes needed are major.  They involve greater utilization of available technologies, more flexible scheduling, reallocation of staff, and increased customization based on individual student needs. The result should be one that allows our students to be top competitors in the global workforce at a cost that is affordable for our local community. Now is the time to begin the change so that Selinsgrove is and continues to be an excellent educational system.

Chad L. Cohrs is the superintendent of the Selinsgrove Area School District.