Guest Post: Concerns over DMS Schedule Change

Submitted by Natalie Gillespie, Kelly Caracciolo, Dana Kellerman, Lisa Rendall, Beth Ruff, Shannon Smith, Marybeth Dadd, Abby Torres, Lisa Correnti, and Carrie Work on behalf of many concerned parents.

This is a guest blog post.  The views expressed are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the policies or opinions of the O’Hara PTO. 

On February 21, Fox Chapel administration presented its proposed changes and schedule for Dorseyville Middle School for the 2018-2019 school year. We are reaching out to you, parents of elementary students, because your children will be directly affected by these changes. They will attend DMS (sooner than you think!).

We were asked that we focus only on the “schedule change,” “leaving the past in the past.” To us, this means we are being asked to blindly accept a major shift in educational approach, with barely articulated reasons for it. We have repeatedly asked District administration and our School Board to share data demonstrating why such drastic changes in the schedule are needed. We ask that you join us in signing our petition requesting the administration and school board delay implementation until there is thorough review and we know that the changes they are making are best for all children. Sign the petition here.

Here’s what troubles us most:

  1. Double time without a reason why. The new schedule requires all students to take 80 minutes of instruction in Math, Literacy and Science/Computer Science every day, although the district has provided very little data to support that doubled time is needed, why 80 minutes per PSSA-measured subjects is the right amount of time, and how that time will be used. More time does not necessarily equal more achievement. Not only is 80 minutes an extraordinarily long period of time to hold the attention of children age 10-14 (multiplied by three subjects each day) it means less time for other important subjects.
  2. Limited electives give students LESS of what they want.  The new changes are billed as “individualized pathways” with more time for students to pursue what they’re interested in. With 40% less time for non-core subjects, including World Language, arts, music, Family and Consumer Science and Technology Education, our children’s ability to explore new interests and become well-rounded will be significantly limited. With just three elective periods (offered every other day), there is no guarantee students will get their preferences and class sizes likely will be much larger. Reducing by half the amount of time studying a language will have direct implications on student ability and the high school programs. Making kids choose between music and language and FACS because they’re forced to have extended math and literacy everyday feels wrong.
  3. We want the best education for ALL students. The one-size-fits all approach to doubling math, literacy and science actually forces larger groups for intervention, and likely less individualized time for students. When will students have small groups or programs like Math Extension that help help students reach proficiency? How will this schedule help close the achievement gap that is a concern to all of us? And what will students who don’t need intervention do in the extra 20 minutes of Math and Literacy each day?
  4. Created without input. As far as we know, just three parents were consulted on the schedule, and they saw it only two days before it was unveiled. The Fox Chapel Educators Association stated their 2016 task force reached consensus on a 60-minute core class period schedule in March of 2017 (11 months ago!), the last time they had input… and they have not stated support for the proposed schedule, which apparently was shared with them the same day it was shared with parents (February 21, 2018). No other school districts are known to have implemented similarly drastic changes. These are major changes that need to be discussed and evaluated across the entire school community.
  5. Rushing this through will hurt our children and our school. When the schedule was introduced, administration acknowledged much needed to be done for a 2018-19 rollout, including new curriculum to be developed and teachers to be trained. There are so many questions to be resolved: when will teachers get their prep time? How will class sizes be affected? How will elective choices be granted? What if everyone wants one class and only a handful of students another? At every step, there are indications that changes have not been fully thought through and the approach is haphazard. At the Feb. 21 meeting, FACS was identified as an optional elective only to have a parent cite the PA law requiring all students to receive the FACS curriculum. What else has been missed? How have the effects of significant curriculum middle school changes on the high school (such as a 50% reduction in time spent on world language, or students being shut out of music and art programs) been considered and mitigated?

As parents, we want the best for all students in our district. Not only does this mean programs and time allotments geared to their specific needs, it means exposure to a wide range of engaging subjects to spark their interest, engage their creativity, and develop their skills as active problem solvers equipped for whatever developments the future brings. We respectfully ask the administration and school board of Fox Chapel Area School District to develop a clearly defined process for creating the right schedule, and to delay implementation until the 2019-20 school year to ensure we do this right. We owe this to our students and the Fox Chapel Area community.


  1.  Join us! Over 300 people have signed our petition asking for a delay. Go to  Delay DMS changes Petition and add your name.
  2. Talk to us: email or call any of the contributors to this piece. Join more than 500 parents who are part our Facebook group “Parents Interested in Supporting DMS” and be part of the conversation. Share this note with your friends and family and ask for their support.
  3.  Tell our School Board what you think: Send email to:,,,,,,,
  4.  Attend the next school board meetings: Everyone is invited to the Planning Session on Monday, March 5th at Fairview Elementary School (time TBD on March 5– no earlier than 5:30 p.m.) and on Monday, March 12 at Fox Chapel Area High School at 7 p.m.

Thank you for joining us to maximize student learning, achievement, and development. Together, we can make this happen in a way we collectively agree is best.



Meeting Recap: Principal and PTO Board Updates, Planning for Next Year


Thank you to everyone who joined us for the last PTO meeting of the 2016-2017 school year! Here’s what was discussed at the May 19 meeting:

Principal’s Update on STAR and Class Assignments

Students have completed the last round of STAR assessments for the year. Students in all grades will be going home with a copy of their student STAR folder by May 31st. Teachers will be meeting individually with each student to review results, with a focus on celebrating growth and identifying areas of opportunity for the future.

Principals Batis and Edwards have formalized a new data-driven process for class assignments.  The process is designed to achieve balanced classrooms that meet the diverse needs (academic, behavioral and social) of all learners.  Teacher feedback, including input from specialists who work with students at multiple grade levels, will be part of the class roster process.

For more details on STAR and the class roster process, refer to the May Principal’s Update.

Budget and Construction Update

Outgoing Treasurer Tonja Condron provided an update on year-to-date income and expenses.  This year’s income/expenses effectively net out, which was identified as a PTO Board objective for the 2016-2017 school year after careful consideration of the reserve funds held in the PTO account and concerns voiced by families.

Major expenditures for the year include purchase of Chromebooks for students and new art boards.  A significant reserve amount is still set aside for the greenhouse and playground.  Payment to the school has been delayed due to the construction bid process (re-bids are still pending
public school board vote), but construction is still currently slated to begin on June 12th.

Kristina Adams will begin a two-year term as treasurer in the 2017-2018 school year.

Plans in the Works for Next Year

The PTO is working on adding some organized activities to indoor recess.  The plan currently involves several rotating carts that would house various activities, including an option for physical activity designed for the classroom.  If you would like to help,  email Dana Rofey.

Mrs. Johnson also announced plans to increase O’Hara student involvement in the Kids of Steel Marathon Program. Anyone interested in supporting this initiative for the 2018 Marathon should contact Mrs. Johnson directly.

With the school year coming to an end, the PTO Board will be planning out goals and projects for the 2017-2018 school year over the summer. We’d love to hear your ideas!  Comment below or email Sarah Shaffer with suggestions on what you think we should focus on or areas where we can improve.

Committee Chairs and Members Needed

There are several open committee chair and member positions.  Please email Carrie Work if interested in serving on or chairing a committee.

  • Yearbook – Cari Tarasi will be taking over chair position; Interested volunteers should email outgoing chair Lisa Correnti 
  • Hospitality Committee – 3 to 4 members needed
  • Thanksgiving Baskets – Chair needed
  • Book Fair – 3 to 4 members needed
  • Fifth Grade Day – multiple positions open


Join us Friday for the Last PTO Meeting of the Year

Please join the PTO this Friday, May 19th from 9:15 – 10:15 am in the school auditorium.  This will be our last general meeting of the 2016-2017 school year. Items on the agenda include:

  • Principal Administration Update
    • Student Data Binders – May STAR Administration
    • Class Roster Creation/Parent Requests
    • Safety Protocols
  • PTO Board Update
    • Treasurer Report (Budget Status)
    • 2017-2018 Officers
    • 2017-2018 Committee Chairs and Volunteers Needed
    • Updates to PTO By-Law
  • New Business and Committee Updates
    • Teacher Supply Closet
    • Indoor Recess
    • Ideas and Plans for 2017-2018 School Year
      • Kids of Steel Marathon Program in 2018
      • Suggestions welcome!

Attendees should sign in at the school office before heading to the auditorium. Coffee will be provided!

For those unable to attend, a recap and minutes will be shared here after the meeting.  Questions? Comment below!

Agenda for April 21st PTO Meeting

Please join us for our monthly PTO meeting this Friday, April 21st from 9:15 – 10:15 am in the school auditorium. Items on the agenda include:

  • O’Hara Administration Update (Mrs. Batis and Mr. Edwards)
    • Technology Integration Plan – Chromebooks
  • PTO Board Update
  •  Committee Updates
    • District Forum Meeting Report
    • Fifth Grade Day (fundraising, volunteers and class gift)

Attendees should sign in at the school office before heading to the auditorium. Coffee will be provided!

For those unable to attend, a recap and minutes will be shared here after the meeting.  Questions? Comment below!

Meeting Recap: Student Data Folders, Renovations, PSSA


Here’s what you missed at the March PTO Meeting:

STAR Benchmarking Update – Student Data Folders

February STAR benchmarking is complete and Student Data Folders have been created as of February 28th.  Copies of the folders should have been sent home with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders (available upon request for students in K-1). Students worked with teachers to create the folders.  Students were involved with data graphing, goal setting and reflections. Mrs. Batis reported positive feedback from students.  Next year’s Open House will include a Curriculum Night and STAR benchmarking will be one of the topics covered. In the meantime, teachers are available to answer questions and address concerns.

Additional Lunch Monitors Added

Mrs. Batis shared that two additional monitors have been added for increased coverage during lunch/recess.

Renovations to Begin in June

The O’Hara Renovation project will be going out to bid (it’s really happening!!).  Mrs. Batis shared an overview of the proposed Phases and Timeline (tentative and subject to revision, of course!):

  • Phase 1 (Begins June 2017, Ends August 2017):  Office, Commons, Cafeteria,  Library, Art Rooms, Playground
  • Phase 2:  (October 2017) 5th Grade Classrooms/Hallway
  • Phase 3:  (November 2017) 3rd/4th Grade Classrooms/Hallway
  • Phase 4:  (December 2017) 1st Grade Classrooms/Hallway
  • Phase 5:  (January 2018) 2nd Grade Classrooms/Hallway
  • Phase 6:  (February 2018-August 2018)Kindergarten Classrooms/Hallway, Auditorium, Gymnasium, Music Areas

For additional information on the planned renovations, attend one of the upcoming Principal Coffee Hours (RSVP requested):

  • April 19, 2017 (9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.)
  • April 20, 2017 (4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.)

Please click here to RSVP.

PSSA Administration Begins April 3rd

The PSSA schedule for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders is as follows:

Mrs. Batis emphasized that the goal is to maintain a sense of normalcy throughout the testing period with a slightly modified schedule.  Testing will begin promptly at 9:10am.  Families are asked to avoid scheduling appointments during the testing periods (students arriving late are not permitted to enter their home room if testing has begun).

Sample PSSA materials are available online at the Pennsylvania Department of Education Website

Save the Date – The next PTO Meeting is Friday, April 21st!

Meeting Recap: PTO Budget Approved, Renovations to Begin in June


2016-2017 Budget Approved

At Friday’s PTO meeting, Treasurer Tonja Condron reviewed the 2016-2017 Budget.  The budget, which was unanimously approved by those present, includes allocation of over $100,000 to the renovation of the school playground and greenhouse, as well as $16,000 for the purchase of two Chromebook carts to be shared among grades.  These expenses will largely spend down the “reserve funds” carried over from prior years.  Tonja also shared allocation of funds to several new programs, including: a mini-grant fund for teachers, a scholarship fund for extra-curricular activities, and the creation of a teacher supply closet that will be stocked with Kleenex, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and other consumable items.

The beginning bank account balance at the start of the school year was $128,808.  The anticipated ending balance will be $17,539.  The remaining balance will include reserve funds held for the library and Shawn Neville Character Award, as well as $5,000 in operating expenses to start out the 2017-2018 school year.

Additional Lunch Monitors Added

Mrs. Batis shared that two additional lunch monitors have been added to the staff, with two more anticipated.  She also noted that concerns raised at the January PTO meeting have been addressed, and the lunchroom is notably less chaotic (a sentiment echoed by several other attendees).

Schedule Changes Implemented

Changes to the master schedule that were announced in January have been implemented. The changes have resulted in an additional 10 minutes of valuable instruction time as well as an uninterrupted 60 minute block for math.

Renovations Slated to Begin in June

Construction is tentatively set to begin the day after school ends and will follow a phased approach culminating the following summer. Phase 1 will include the Commons Area, Library, Art Rooms, Administrative Office Area and some soundproofing for the cafeteria to reduce noise in the computer lab. The current plan for the Commons Area is to create a flexible learning area to better utilize space available.  The Art rooms will be moving to the lower level so that all homerooms (where students spend the most time) will have classrooms with windows. The classrooms will be receiving less visible but much needed improvements, including updates to the mechanical/HVAC systems and lighting.  While this will result in the need for  “swing spaces” as classes are temporarily relocated, every effort will be made to minimize the disruption to student learning environments during the renovations.

The playground and parking lot will be included in the renovations. Facilities representatives will be providing additional details at the March Principal Coffee Hours (dates/times to be announced).

Online Spirit Sale Begins February 13th

A two-week, online Spirit Sale kicks off Monday, February 13th. Sales will be open through February 27th and items ordered will be delivered before the end of March.

Volunteers Needed

The Hospitality Committee is seeking new members.  The committee is responsible for organizing refreshments for Open House and planning the Teacher Luncheon. Contact Faith Moser or Tonja Condron  for additional information or to express interest.

Library Volunteers are always appreciated (clearances required)!  Find open time slots at (search by the email “”).

Upcoming Events

PALS – The next PALS meeting will be held February 22nd at 9:30am at the Market District Café.  More info at

District Forum – The next District Forum will be held Tuesday, February 14th at 9am in the LGI room at the Fox Chapel Area High School.  The topic will be technology.  More info at

Click here for a full list of upcoming events and the district calendar.