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Mt. Diablo district school improvement grant plans

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, December 20th, 2010 at 2:22 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

As the Mt. Diablo School Closure Advisory Committee prepares to present its recommendations to the board next month, questions are arising in the community about why most of the district’s lowest-performing schools aren’t on the proposed list.

The district applied for and received more than $15 million in three-year School Improvement Grants (SIG) for four of its lowest-performing schools: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord. Only Glenbrook is on the list of schools recommended for closure by the committee.

At committee meetings I attended, consultants advised against closing schools in Bay Point because that is one of the few areas of the district that is growing. They said the Monument Corridor around Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord is also growing in student population (Meadow Homes and Oak Grove Middle School in Concord are the other two schools in the district identified as among the lowest-achieving in the state. They chose not to seek School Improvement Grants.)

Here is an excerpt from the district’s SIG application, which explains how it intends to “transform” the four above-named schools:

“….analysis of system capacity at the district level led to a reorganization of the Curriculum and Instruction Department in order to be able to address the needs identified in the School Improvement Plans and to provide essential coaching, technical assistance and support to these schools. As part of a district “transformational strategy”, the Superintendent has proposed and the School Board approved on June 22, 2010 the creation of a new Student Achievement and School Support Division (SA&SS) to meet this challenge….

Included in each school’s Improvement Plan, the schools identified core needs that must be addressed to assure rapid turnaround. To provide more detailed information regarding these needs assessment, a brief description is provided below. A complete description is provided in the school’s PowerPoint presentations outlining their Improvement Plans…

Bel Air
Bel Air Elementary staff has acknowledged the quality of student achievement over the past five years which has caused the site to be placed on the Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools list. Of the four program design options, the Transformation Model has been selected by the school community as the best fit for Bel Air. The Transformational Model builds on the progress the site has experienced as a High Priority School Grant (HPSG) participant from 2007-2009. The current principal at Bel Air is retiring, and a strong core of staff members is well-trained and committed to producing continued increases in student achievement. The Bel Air staff has examined the annual progress meeting the Single Plan for Student Achievement targets and annual goals and has evaluated the site’s program needs through the lens of the Academic Program Survey, the ELSSA and the LRE. The Essential Program Components (EPC) provided a framework for consideration of which strategies would truly transform education for the students at Bel Air.

The LEA [Local Eduction Agency, or district] provided clarification of the options for action through several meetings with the principal and district personnel. Discussions in meetings with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), School Site Council, Leadership Team, and ELAC provided opportunities for a variety of views and opinions to be shared. The Bel Air Alternative Governance Team (AGT) and the contracted External Entity (Alameda Office of Education) offered a wide spectrum of possibilities and options for school improvement and transformation. Notification of the school’s status as a Tier I school was delivered to the entire school community through the Bear Tracks newsletter. The public awareness that three schools in our town of Bay Point were “on the list” prompted a municipal call to action culminating in a large public meeting at the feeder middle school. The entire Bay Point community is committed to Bel Air’s transformational success. In summary, based on staff review of the research and conversations with multiple stakeholders, Mt. Diablo Unified agreed with the school community and supports the Transformation Model as the rapid turnaround model for Bel Air Elementary.

Glenbrook Middle
Glenbrook Middle School (GMS) entered Program Improvement (PI) status five years ago and has worked diligently since to raise the school’s status. The site began a process of change two years ago with the implementation of Fred Jones strategies, a focus on data driven dialogues, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and utilizing the expertise of an External Entities (Alameda County Office of Education) and groups like Riverside County Achievement Team (RCAT). Over the last two years, GMS gained 48 points on the Academic Performance Index (API) and has seen a decrease in incidents of discipline, suspension, and expulsion. This year staff has focused on student engagement and data driven dialogue. Teachers increased the amount of rigorous instruction to ensure that research based strategies are utilized for all students’ learning. This past year GMS hired a new principal and the focus has been on improving core instruction and truly analyzing data to improve student learning. GMS has intensified its focus on student engagement and teaching strategies that will elicit standards-based learning for all students.

Starting in March 2010, when GMS was added to the state’s Persistently Low Achieving Schools (PLAS) list, the site’s leadership team began the process of analyzing the needs for GMS based on student assessment data, discipline data, and teacher input. The LEA provided clarification of the restructuring options for action through several meetings with the principal and district personnel. In the month of April, the leadership team made up of department chairs and teacher leaders, and administration, Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), English Learner Advisory Council (ELAC), Site Council, and staff worked together to draft a restructuring plan for GMS to address student achievement. All groups of stakeholders have shared in the responsibility and ownership for formulating and reviewing research-based best practices necessary to move GMS forward. The leadership team, administrative team, external entities, and district have worked together to formulate a plan that includes prioritization of goals to improve direct instruction, student engagement, and services offered for all students which will improve student achievement.

The Glenbrook community has found through feedback and data from students, parents, teachers/staff, PTSA, leadership team, Alternative Governance Team (AGT), and Site Council that the focus for GMS needs to be on a transformational model focused on providing rigorous instruction, student engagement and experiential learning. A focus on instructional program and strategies will be continued and intensified. In addition, staff selected the Transformational Model for its fit with the Response to Intervention (RTI) implementation framework which will provide the structure and accountability to make instruction targeted, coherent, and ultimately successful for all GMS students, the vast majority of whom are at risk academically. Professional development for staff, coaches hired, and common pacing/lesson planning will be utilized to ensure the instructional program is more rigorous, engaging, and standards based. Needs analysis, program design and strategies aligned to the Nine Essential Program Components (EPCs) of schools are described in detail in Glenbrook’s Transformational Plan.

Rio Vista
Rio Vista Elementary (RVES) exceeded its Academic Performance Index (API) target in 2009. Rio Vista’s target was 8 points; however, the school gained 24 points overall and increased its API from 647 to 671. RVES also met its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) target in Mathematics but did not meet its target in English Language Arts by one subgroup. RVES is in Year 5+ of Program Improvement (PI) and receives funding from State and Federal grants.

Rio Vista Elementary staff and parents began the transformation process nearly two years ago beginning with the hiring of a new principal in November of 2009 and making a commitment to increase student achievement. RVES staff and parents were ready and committed to implement new programs and teach current programs with consistency and fidelity. For the past year, staff and parents have had several conversations relative to new programs (BoardMath and BoardLanguage) and new instructional strategies that focus on student learning. This transformation intervention model mirrors, supports and strengthens the changes and strategies already in progress or planned.

The decision to continue with their restructuring activities was revisited after learning that Rio Vista was on the state’s Persistently Low Achieving Schools list. LEA provided clarification of the restructuring options for action through several meetings with the principal and district personnel.

In the month of April, the leadership team made up of teacher leaders, administration, English Learner Advisory Council (ELAC), Site Council, Alternative Governance Team (AGT) members and staff worked together to discuss restructuring options for the site. It was decided to continue with the restructuring effort that was currently being put in place by the new administrator, staff, and the Alternative Governance Team.

Based on staff review of the research and conversations with multiple stakeholders, Rio Vista supported by the school community decided chose the Transformation Model for Rio Vista Elementary.

Shore Acres
Over the past three years, Shore Acres Elementary’s API has grown 20 points from 600 to 620. In 2008-2009, Shore Acres did not meet its Academic Performance Index (API) target which decreased 15 points from 635 to 620 nor met its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) target. Shore Acres (SAE) is in Year 5 of Program Improvement (PI). Funding from State and Federal grants provide valuable resources (including an External Entity as a guide) for raising achievement. The 2009-10 Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) is designed to support all students and all subgroups in meeting each AYP target. Within the last 5 years, Shore Acres has been involved in several significant reform and improvement efforts which have not led to significant student achievement growth. While participating in the Reading First Grant some progress was made in the implementation and delivery of the language arts program. However, there was inconsistent implementation until the last year of the grant when new administrators were assigned to the site. Literacy coaches were expected to take on administrative roles causing discord amongst the staff and the inability to create substantial change in instructional practice. During the first year of implementation of the High Priority Schools Grant, Shore Acres made gains in student achievement. However, the state cut funding for the third year of the grant at the same time the funding was eliminated for class size reduction. These funding shifts resulted in a significant loss of staff including the literacy coach, the intervention coordinator, and several highly trained classroom teachers.

Shore Acres Elementary staff and parents began the transformation process nearly two years ago beginning with the hiring of a new principal and making a commitment to school-wide restructuring to increase student achievement. Starting in March 2010, when SAE was added to the state’s Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) list, the site’s leadership team began the process of analyzing the needs for the site based on student assessment data, discipline data, and teacher input. The LEA provided clarification of the restructuring options for action through several meetings with the principal and district personnel. In addition to the Academic Program Survey, the Shore Acres staff used a tool called the Needs Analysis and Section of Intervention Model to assist them in determining the strengths and challenges of their school. The tool assesses school information, student data, as well as the system processes and protocols of practice that are in place to support student academic achievement. The Needs Assessment consists of three components- School Data Profile, School Data Analysis, and Academic Program Survey.

After reviewing the results, several contributing factors were identified which have led to Shore Acres’ current trends in student achievement. Some of these factors include:
Students enter the system without prerequisite skills in math and language arts.
Overall, language and literacy levels of students and parents are low.
Students enter Kindergarten without the prerequisite skills and there is limited class time to allow for acceleration and remediation.
Early and appropriate interventions are not currently in place.
Although students achieve higher scores on the standardized test in math, they are still below proficiency.
There is a lack of consistent implementation of the core and supplemental math programs, and a lack of coaching support for teachers in this content area.
The current English Language Development (ELD) program does not meet the needs of English Learner’s in poverty.
Students need more time and access to foundational skills in language development.

The school made intensive efforts during this process to reach out to the parent community, including translating all information sent to families into Spanish, and meeting with parents to discuss specific education programs and activities used for English learner students at the school. The school provided multiple opportunities during the evening for families to participate in activities and events at the school to keep community members informed of all restructuring efforts.

In the month of April, the principal hosted Coffee Chats, School Site Council meetings, Alternative Governance Meetings, several staff meetings, and a parent and community meeting in order to gather input and information regarding how Shore Acres could be restructured to best sit students’ needs. During these meetings, the recommendations provided by the Needs Analysis and Section of Intervention Model Tool were also discussed with key stakeholder groups.

Based on this extensive needs analysis, Shore Acres staff and community have selected the Transformation Model of intervention as the model that best fits the sites needs and the one that allows them to continue the foundational work that has begun over the past year.

District
MDUSD leadership strongly supports each school’s restructuring (school improvement) plan and commits to continuing to work regularly with its union leadership to identify best practices for students and teachers. MDUSD is confident that the district will be able to negotiate the necessary contract changes to support the grant requirements. MDUSD is currently at the negotiation table with the Mt. Diablo Education Association (MDEA) teacher’s union. MDEA’s current teacher contract will end June 30, 2010. Now is the perfect time to begin these conversations.

The plan development process allowed schools to establish their priorities and timeline in implementing identified improvement strategies. Schools were given sufficient operational flexibility such as staffing, calendars/time, and budgeting to implement fully a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student achievement outcomes and increase high school graduation rates.

Integral to the district’s ‘transformation model” and embedded in each of the schools’ improvement plans, staff and stakeholders have identified seven areas focus that must be addressed to turn these four schools around and improve student learning. They include:
Rigorous instructional program and practices
Intervention programs and services
Common assessments/data analysis
Increase instructional time
Teacher collaboration, coaching and training
School climate/Parent involvement
Improved English Language Development (ELD) program…”

The application was submitted in June. I don’t know if these plans were presented to the School Closure Committee.

Do you agree with the committee’s recommendation to abandon the “tranformation” plan for Glenbrook and instead close that campus, while proceeding with the transformation plans at the other three SIG schools?

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  • Doctor J

    So what MDEA contract provisions have to be changed to meet the grant requirements ? We already saw the union put up a stink about bubbling on the test forms.

  • Linda

    My guess…increased instructional time.

  • Doctor J

    Here is a link to a Fordham study that was posted on MDUSD Parents blog and quoted by a poster: “We conclude that it is easier to close a low-performing school than to turn one around. Rather than pushing dubious turnaround efforts, charter authorizers and education policy makers alike should ramp up their efforts to close bad schools, particularly in cases where higher-performing schools are nearby.”

    http://www.edexcellence.net/publications-issues/publications/are-bad-schools-immortal.html

    .

  • tharrington

    The district is using some grant money to help pay for the Curriculum Associates (tests with the controversial bubbles) materials and training at the four schools.
    The district may need to negotiate additional instructional time both during the school year, as well as in the summer.
    I believe the original plans also may have called for stipends to attract and retain highly qualified teachers at these schools.
    The application says the district will use the SIG to:
    “Assist principals in hiring teachers and coaches to support implementation of improvement plans as well as negotiating with collective bargaining units to extend the learning time after school and during the summer and modify or provide flexibility in hiring and transfer of teachers for SIG schools.”
    I will post more of the application shortly, explaining why the district chose the “transformation” model for these schools, instead of school closure.

  • Tired Parent

    Fine, close a low-performing school. Where will we send those children? They still have to be educated somewhere.