VALPARAISO | The Valparaiso schools have come a long way in the past year, but a lot more needs to be done to define and prepare for what education will be like in the century ahead.
That was the message from Superintendent Michael Berta at the school board's annual report to the city council Monday. Berta said the district has reversed the deficit balances of a year ago but faces several major and expensive problems in the years ahead.
Despite the advances in technology, Berta said a classroom teacher is one of few professionals from a century ago who could be transported to today and still be able to perform his or her duties. The methods of teaching haven't changed much in 100 years.
Valparaiso schools have a good reputation for educating students, but Berta said it has begun a two-year process of attaining accreditation for the entire system because of the need for more consistency. He said each school works independently from the others, which means successes in one don't always get conveyed to the others.
In addition to improving communication between the schools, the curriculum needs to be consistent so a student switching schools during the year will find the same lessons at the new school. The teachers also need to communicate between grade levels so each level is preparing students with the information they need at the next level.
The buildings need to be capable of meeting 21st century's education and technology needs from the classroom equipment to their energy use. Berta cited the career center's addition of solar panels on the roof to power portions of its building and said that type of thing needs to be looked at for all the buildings.
The big challenge is funding, and Berta said the state formula pays Valparaiso schools $4,977 per student, which ranks it 336th out of the state's 363 districts in the amount it receives. The state average is $5,707 per student, and, if the school district received that much, it would be an additional $4.5 million a year.
The price of keeping its fiscal head above water is a Rainy Day Fund that has gone from $3.4 million to $1.5 million. Berta said the district has not had to dip into the fund for several months, but it needs to rebuild it. It also needs to develop a plan for its facilities, which will be done with lots of public discussions in the months ahead.
"Our communication (with the public) is good," he said. "Nobody has trouble getting hold of me. My number must be on every wall. I don't know what else we could do to enhance communication."
The school board and Berta will be at the council's April 22 meeting to discuss the report and hear comments from the public on issues and concerns the council needs to consider in making its annual appointment to the school board.