Focusing on the Future

By Alex Weinstock

After a summer of confusion and chaos, students, parents, and teachers of the FHSD and Normandy communities finally begin to settle into a newer normal– just barely

 In July, 2013, a town hall meeting was held at FHC for parents to ask questions regarding the transfer.
In July, 2013, a town hall meeting was held at FHC for parents to ask questions regarding the transfer.

after the first month into the 2013-14 school year. The outlook on today’s situation is bright for most people, including Head Principal Andy Downs, because many are trying to focus on the positives of the Normandy transfer.

“On a yearly basis, we get a lot of students who transfer here from other schools and do very well in transferring,” Downs said. “We’re very comfortable with our school and climate and the way that we do things on a daily basis.”

At the higher level of the education system, while administrators are positive, they are still trying to finalize the transfer process. There are still many unanswered questions for Superintendent Pam Sloan and the rest of the administrative team.

“It is nothing short of a significant challenge for our community and for our school district,” Sloan said. “For us, we’re going along a specific course of action that we’re going to work on this year. It was a distraction from our work that we do as a school district, so we’re working through it and doing the best that we can. I think the most unsettling for me is, what does the future hold? Is it just for this year? Is it this year and next year? Is it forever? We don’t know. We don’t know if the law will stand, if they’ll make changes in the law.”

The administration is working hard with the information they do have. Currently, they are focusing on the bussing of transfers. Already, the team has split the bus routes in order to shorten the time spent riding the bus and prevent students from having to wake up earlier than necessary.

“You’re building a complete new system,” Sloan said. “How are the students going to get here? You know, the transportation wasn’t really locked in. It’s just a pretty tight timeline to get everything figured out.”

The transportation adjustments extend to the after school bussing of transfer students who participate in after school activities– a ride in which some students find themselves on for a few hours. Sloan wants to work on finding ways to help those students complete homework, and making sure they’re not getting hungry during the long journey.

“It was just a lot of front-end work on how to get the students here,” Sloan said. “We’re still refining those details.”

Along with transportation, the administrative team is also working to find a system they can use to help compare where the transfer students are academically to their new peers. One of these includes a new reading software.

“We’re high-performing and we will continue to be high-performing and we will get some support around these kids,” Sloan said.

In regards to Francis Howell’s budget, not much has changed. The tuition money for the transfer students is going towards everyday materials, and a separate system has been made to help keep the budget in order.

“There’s a very specific calculation of what it goes into,” Sloan said. “So you don’t just randomly come up with a number. There’s specific components that make up that calculation, and so we’re using it for materials, supplies, just the same things we’d spend money on for our regular students.”

As for the future, there are still several questions that are left unanswered. In October, Sloan and the rest of the administrative team will begin preparations for the 2014-15 school year– a year in which many possible outcomes lie. Normandy may gain back their accreditation within the next year-and-half, thus sending the transfer students back to their home school.

There’s also the possibility of Normandy not regaining their accreditation, in which Francis Howell may have to prepare for an even larger number of transfer students entering the district.

“I think the path in front of us is a question mark as far as planning for next year,” Sloan said. “That’s one of the most concerning parts for me right now is how we plan for the unknown.”

While Sloan and the rest of the administrative team continue to work to find a greater structure for the transfer students, the staff at North continue to keep a positive attitude about the situation. Mentor Leader and counselor Stephanie Johnson worked to incorporate all transfer students in the annual Freshman Transition Day so they could get a feel for the school before the first day.

“We had given out shirts to our new students, and a lot of them showed up in those shirts,” Johnson said. “That was nice to see them having pride in our school, being our new students. I was happy they showed up, that we had a good turn-out. I had been positive about it the whole time.”

AP Psychology and AP US History teacher Sean Fowler tries to stay positive himself. But while he thinks the solution for now is working fine, he doesn’t see much hope for it lasting in the future.

“I don’t think this is a sustainable solution,” Fowler said. “I don’t think it’s what’s best for the students. In the short run, I think it may be good for some of the students that came here, but ultimately I don’t think it’s good for the students in the district. The probability when you have some of your most dedicated students leaving the school, it seems highly improbable they’ll re-gain their accreditation; and what if they do? What if they do three years down the line? You have a freshman, say she comes here this year, she’s here through her junior year, and all of a sudden Normandy gets accreditation. Her senior year, she has to go back to a school she has not been a part of for the last three years. So, I don’t know where it goes from here. I think we need to seriously think about, what do we do about schools that are failing?”

Though the worried about how to help the failing schools, Head Principal Andy Downs has had an overall upbeat attitude towards the transfer. He is optimistic about the transfer, thinking of North’s past and current reputation.

“For me, my attitude is always, that we’re in the business of educating kids and any kids that walk through our doors, we’re going to educate,” Downs said. “I’ve always felt confident about this school and about our kids. I think that being in this school, and having a staff and student body that’s very welcoming and very people centered made this a building that any new kids that come in would feel welcomed.”