Harper Woods Schools enjoys productive 2015

By: Maria Allard | Advertiser Times | Published December 28, 2015

HARPER WOODS — As 2015 came to a close, Harper Woods Schools Superintendent Todd Biederwolf shared positive news about the district, citing its currently stable finances and increased enrollment. 

School officials also reported a fund balance of approximately 15 percent of the district’s annual operating costs. Fund balance — also known as a rainy day fund —  basically acts as a savings account and primarily is used in emergency situations. 

Because of a stronger financial base, the Board of Education was able to expand staffing and programming rather than cut services and programs, according to Biederwolf.

“Examples include an additional teacher at Tyrone Elementary to support our Project Based Learning Initiative, as well as an additional math teacher in the high school, and a technology teacher,” Biederwolf said in an email. 

Project Based Learning intends to make content and learning directly relative to students’ lives. It begins with a real-world problem or question. The students go through a process of research and collaboration to generate a solution and share it.

“We have also expanded our technology staffing via the hiring of an additional technology teacher, and the board has approved several new digital media courses, which are intended to serve as high-level capstone experiences for our students,”  Biederwolf said. 

School officials saw an increase in enrollment from pre-kindergarten students to 12th-graders. According to Biederwolf, enrollment was 1,182 during the 2010-11 school year. For the 2015-16 school year, Biederwolf reported enrollment at 1,465 students, which he said is an increase of 24 percent.  

When factoring in additional programs in the district, including the alternative high school and the cyber school, the superintendent reported enrollment at more than 1,800. Harper Woods Schools currently receives $8,169 per student in funding from the state. 

“We are pleased to see this growth, including growth in residential-based enrollment as the community has restabilized,”  Biederwolf said. 

According to the superintendent, the school board also reduced admission costs to athletic and extracurricular events within the district. He said student admissions now cost $3, down from $5, and yearlong family passes can be purchased for $25 per adult.   

While planning for the 2016-17 fiscal year is still in what Biederwolf called “a very preliminary stage,” he said that school officials expect the district to remain financially stable.

On the academic front, the district is using the Northwest Evaluation Association services to track student learning and achievement. Northwest Evaluation Association is a nonprofit, global organization known for its student assessments that measure growth and learning needs. 

“We are pleased to see staff and our families responding well to our implementation of our in-district academic assessment via the use of the NWEA,” Biederwolf said. “The NWEA is a standards-based assessment protocol, administered three times a year, that is used in many districts across the country. In our first year of implementation, the specific knowledge this data provides on a student, subject, grade level and schoolwide basis is enabling us to better focus our instruction on those areas that will accelerate the academic growth of our students. And that is our intended outcome — dramatic improvement in student achievement.”