This is not an easy task, but it is one we pursue earnestly. With today’s growing challenges throughout our community, we know our students are not entering school kindergarten-ready. A student's socioeconomic status should not inhibit his or her education. While we are fully aware that the stress of a toxic community affects students, it is our goal to limit their educational deficiencies. We strive to ensure our schools are outfitted with what they need to impact students’ success. However, it is no secret that a student’s non-academic life can affect their academic outcomes.
OCPS is responding to the diverse needs of the district by creating a tiered system of support for our schools. We have developed a School Transformation Office (STO) and Corrective Programs (CP) aligned with our Learning Communities (LC) that provide different levels of support to better meet the needs of our 191 schools. Our STO team operates under the direction of turnaround experts, one associate superintendent and two area executive directors. The CP team operates under the direction of our chief academic officer in alignment with the leadership in our Learning Communities.
In 2014, we had 20 STO schools; today we have nine. Using research from The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, OCPS focused on the Six Quality Indicators of high performing schools to create our tiered system:
- Effective Leadership
- Aligned and Rigorous Curriculum
- Effective Instruction
- Formative and Informative Assessments
- Positive School Climate Focused on Student Achievement
- Family and Community Engagement
Transformation occurs when leaders, teachers, or coaches are provided opportunities to observe, co-teach, confer, study, research, and reflect on practices based on behavioral evidence.
For schools identified by the district and state as “persistently lowest achieving,” STO provides comprehensive support. Goals are accomplished through initiatives that focus on teacher quality, leadership capacity, parental involvement and community partnerships. The turnaround office aims to improve teacher performance as it has a direct impact on student achievement.
In order to improve teacher performance, instructional coaches work daily with teachers to support student learning. Coaches provide professional development that expands and refines the understanding of effective instruction in our classrooms. To meet STO’s purpose, coaches provide personalized support through a coaching cycle (e.g., coaching, modeling, observation, conferencing, etc.) based on the goals and identified needs of individual teachers. Instructional coaches provide support in analyzing student assessment data and making instructional decisions based on student need.
To assist schools in showing growth, the STO team monitors and supports the School Improvement Plan (SIP), monitors a multi-tiered system of support, conducts instructional rounds with principals, and creates a network of best practices across their learning community.
Executive area directors and senior administrators work collaboratively with school leadership teams to utilize data to inform decisions, help leaders foster and implement innovation, and provide customized assistance and training grounded in real-world experience and evidence-based practices. In addition, they help schools form partnerships with families, neighboring schools and the community. Then, STO works with community members to coordinate events and provide training, workshops and learning experiences for parents (e.g., Parent Academy and Academic Nights).
While not mandated by the state, OCPS was proactive and developed the Corrective Programs (CP) model to support schools whose data showed a need. It is a means of preventing schools from becoming a “failing” school, and for those schools who exited STO status, it is the gradual release of monitoring back to the school-based leadership and instructional team in the respective learning community.
To meet the needs of schools in Corrective Programs, OCPS provides three layers of support. The support each school receives is determined based on factors that include: school grade, historical data, and input from CP, district leadership, and the learning community. The level of support may change depending on needs that arise throughout the year.
Schools in CP have consistent oversight and collaboration between the school-based leadership team, Corrective Programs senior administrators, curriculum and instruction program specialists, and district leadership from the Chief Academic Office and learning community. The consistency of the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” structure of the CP process helps the school and principal maintain their focus throughout the year. The instructional coaches work side-by-side with content area program specialists all year which helps streamline their focus and strengthen their content knowledge.
The action plan guides the work of Corrective Programs. School system leadership conducts walk-throughs with the collaborative support team to create a step-by-step action plan that is broken into leadership and content area sections. The team revisits the action plan and updates it after each walk, and throughout the year as action steps are completed, adjusted or added.
Corrective Programs are a consistent presence on campus. While the CP team and Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) team are not officially part of the campus leadership, they have the same goal–to increase student achievement.
Those schools that are not STO or CP status also have monitoring for accountability within their Learning Community. The School-based Leadership team, an area executive director and a C&I program specialist will walk classrooms throughout the year to ensure effective instruction is focused on the standards. Additionally, they monitor formal and informal data to address the areas of need.
We have learned that when a school system has a school in need, it cannot operate in isolation; it takes the collective efforts of a variety of resources and pooled talent to improve student achievement. Last year’s data reflects a decrease of D and F schools by 45 percent from previous years. This is often a laborious process, but by continuously reflecting on our practices, OCPS is getting closer to being the top producer of successful students in the nation.
Note: Dr. Jara was recently named superintendent of Clark County Schools in Las Vegas.
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