Last updated on 2013.01.28
James Cutshaw, superintendent of the Wolsey-Wessington School District, testified against Senate Bill 85 last Thursday. In his five minutes (starting at 2:38:00 in the hearing record from SDPB) He many a number of comments relevant not only to the debate over open enrollment but also to the broader debate about education reform in South Dakota.
Superintendent Cutshaw came to Senate Education to ask the committee not to reduce the funding it currently receives under the small-school adjustment thanks to the increased number of open-enrolled students that come to Wolsey-Wessington. Cutshaw says that when he started in Wolsey-Wessington in 2007, his school had 209 kids, 20 of whom were open-enrolled. Today Wolsey-Wessington has 305 students, 116 of whom are open-enrolled. Over a third of the district's kids come from elsewhere.
What's changed? I don't put advertisements in newspapers. I don't take out radio ads. I don't put up billboards.
Here's what I did. the teachers who weren't doing their jobs are gone. Regardless of tenure, they're gone. ...We changed the culture of our school. We focus on academics. We focus on behaviors. The other day I had some kids who weren't behaving right, so I suspended eight kids from our school because of bullying. We don't put up with bad behaviors.
Parents who are looking for that atmospehre for their children send them to us. Parents who are looking for good teachers who focus on the students send their kids to us because we do a great job. My recruitment tool is the job we do with kids [James Cutshaw, superintendent, Wolsey-Wessington School District, testimony to Senate Education Committee on SB 85, Pierre, SD, 2012.02.09].
"Tenure" and continuing contracts haven't stopped Cutshaw, an administrator relatively new to the district, from getting rid of teachers who wouldn't perform to his standards. He didn't need Pierre to take away due process from all teachers to clear the decks and assemble a staff good enough to attract eager parents and increase his district's enrollment by 50%. He also doesn't appear to have needed some in-house competitive merit bonus plan; he needed a team of professionals dedicated to academics and discipline.
To maintain services for all those open-enrollees, Cutshaw needs to not lose the funding SB 85 would take away. He points out that his open-enrollers come primarily from lower-income families, and lower-income kids tend to have more educational needs. His open-enrollers tend to leave their home districts because they are struggling academically, because they are being bullied, because they aren't getting the services they need. Those open-enrollers thus tend to bring higher needs. They cost more to teach. Cutshaw and his board scrimp on sports and secretarial staff to spend more money on math and reading help for those kids outside of class. Cutshaw can thus make a strong case that extra money the small-school adjustment attaches to each new open-enrollee that comes from a larger school to his district acknowledges the extra work Wolsey-Wessington then does for those generally higher-need kids.
Senators Bradford, Rave, and Rampleberg listened to Cutshaw; Senators Johnston, Kraus, Schlekeway, and Gray did not. The latter four moved SB 85 on for passage on the Senate floor today.
More legislators ought to listen to James Cutshaw. They ought to take a couple days off from session and travel to Wolsey to see what Cutshaw and his staff do each day to create a successful school district. Maybe our legislators would realize that Wolsey-Wessington's extra efforts are worth extra money. Maybe they'd also find some practical policies Cutshaw is using that are already doing more good than Governor Daugaard's wishful thinking on bonus pay ever will.