As my fourth year running our school district winds down, I’d like to thank everybody on staff and in the community that have helped our school thrive during what has been an unprecedented period in public education. I spend a lot of time thinking about the impact we have on our students on a daily basis and I believe that Peck Community Schools has done a great job responding to the changing needs of our children both before and after the pandemic. That being said, I am far from satisfied and we are continuously challenging our organization to enrich the experience at Peck Schools for every student.
One of the first objectives we set out on when arriving in the district was to enhance our early childhood education programs and offerings. We did this at first by creating a tuition-based preschool program driven by the hard work of many great staff members (some of whom have moved on to other opportunities). This program has helped fill a need and expand the opportunities for families to have a school-based setting for their children. Next, we added a latchkey program to assist parents who needed flexible options for their children. This past year, by partnering with Emily Jones and Auntie Em’s Daycare we have brought that vision to completion and can now accommodate children ages 0-5 years old with an option that best fits their family’s needs. As I sit here today, the enrollment in our preschool is the highest it has been in the seven years I have worked in the district, an exciting outlook for the future.
The major focus of our bond renewal was updating the facilities, but another aspect was creating a balanced approach to utilizing instructional technology. It is a nationwide trend in schools to advertise the implementation of 1:1 technology, which simply means having a device in every student’s hands. We approached it with a different viewpoint-by giving our classroom instructors access to the devices and allowing them to determine how to best integrate the use of Ipads, Chromebooks, and laptops into their instruction. We also installed state-of-the-art “smart monitors” (or as I call them-the world’s largest Ipads) in our K-12 classrooms in an effort to increase collaboration through the use of technology. In that regard we are on the cutting edge, working with several companies to create the most flexible system possible for this technology in our classrooms. One area where increased technology can have a great impact is in communication. We have added a beefed up website and a mobile app that will help all families and community members access the information they need.
Another challenge that we faced when I came on board was creating a challenging curriculum for students that were excelling and highly motivated to continue their education past high school. Many larger districts offer advanced placement programs or honors classes that can really add value to a student’s resume. With our small class sizes and limited staff, we decided to focus our energy and resources on creating more opportunities for students to pursue dual enrollment classes through St. Clair County Community College. By partnering with SC4, we have been able to enroll students as young as freshmen in college courses to receive credit toward post-high school degrees. We have had several students graduate with more than 30 credit hours toward a degree or transfer to a four-year university. This is all at minimal to no cost to the students’ families.
Following the pandemic, we turned our attention to getting students “caught up” from the learning loss that took place during the closure and interruptions that followed. This has been a daunting task, but we are pleased with the growth our students have shown over the past two years-even seeing our highest test results in several grade levels since coming on board in 2016. More importantly though, we saw a need to address the social-emotional and mental health needs of our students. We went from having a school social worker on-site one day a week in 2016 to having two social workers here four days a week. Our speech therapy offerings have also increased over the course of the past four years. We implemented a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum in grades K-12 to assist students in building soft skills and becoming resilient adults. On top of that, we have begun implementing teen mental health first aid training for sophomores for the past two years.
One major concern in all school districts is staffing. The teacher shortage is a real threat to the public education system. I am happy to report that we have hired five teachers this spring. The average class size in our elementary school will be 15 students. We have a wonderful paraprofessional staff that makes the ratio of adults to students in our elementary 8:1. We believe this is the recipe for success-striving to give each student the attention they deserve. We have added additional administrative staff as well. We currently have two full-time building principals in the district as well as a K-12 Director of Student Services to run our counseling department.
We have a world-class staff and board of education. They have risen to the challenge of refocusing our students in our return to education. I could not be more proud of what we have accomplished in the past four years and more excited to see what the future holds for our Pirate family. It is easy to see on the outside all the hard work our staff has put into this district, but more importantly, we need to shed a light on the great work being done in our classrooms on a daily basis. As we pack up from the 2021-22 school year and take a break to get ready for the 2022-23 school year, I would like to wish you and your family a Happy 4th of July! Thank you again for making our school such a great place to learn and work.
Bill Kerr Superintendent Peck Community Schools