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Why Mt. Diablo chose to transform low-achieving schools

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, December 20th, 2010 at 11:55 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

This is a follow-up to my last post, giving information included in the Mt. Diablo school district’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) application that explains why officials decided to “tranform” the lowest-achieving schools instead of close them:

“Selection of Intervention Model

Based on the findings of the needs analysis, completed by district leadership, staff, teachers and parents, Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) has identified the following rationale for selecting the ‘Transformation’ intervention model for each of the four participating schools. District leadership, staff, teachers and parents have selected the transformation model because:
The model provided greater flexibility to intensify current practices which have shown positive student achievement results over the past year.
There are pockets of strong instructional capacity with a substantial number of current staff members who have been fully trained in rigorous instructional practices, such as Culturally Responsive Teaching, Explicit Direct Instruction, Response to Intervention (RtI), Board Math, and Board Language, over the past year.
There is evidence of positive growth in response to recent improvement efforts, such as weekly teacher collaboration, a focus on the cycle of inquiry, the use of common assessments, a fidelity to implementing the Board adopted English language arts program, and a focus on grade level standards.
There is a high degree of community commitment and involvement at these sites.

As described above as well as in the school by school description of needs, collaborative partners were involved in the analysis and decision to implement the model and will be key to the development and implementation of strategies and actions to improve student learning and build staff and system capacity. The roles of the partners in the selection process were to review standardized and formative assessment with the school staff, identify the strengths of the current program, to review research and information on high performing schools, decide on a ‘turn around’ model, and to develop a rigorous restructuring plan. MDUSD has been working on interventions, data analysis, coaching models, collaborative processes and articulation across the system over the last decade. While schools have shown improvement, there is clearly a need for a more targeted approach to consistent leadership and effective instruction for all students. MDUSD will continue to strengthen, coach, and build capacity of teachers and administrators at these four schools as part of the SIG grant in order to ensure student learning.

MDUSD feels confident the existing principals at three of these schools (Rio Vista, Shore Acres and Glenbrook) have the skills, knowledge and leadership to make rapid growth and build staff capacity. Each principal was chosen specifically for their experience, skills and instructional knowledge. The principals have been at these schools for less than two years and have begun to make systematic changes, set up clear and measurable outcomes and expectations for students and staff and create a culture of learners. The principal at Bel Air Elementary is retiring in June 2010. On June 22, 2010 the District transferred Nancy Klinkner, an experienced and bilingual principal in the district who has shown success in turning around high need schools to serve as the new principal at Bel Air Elementary.

One of the challenges districts face is that of developing coherence throughout the system. MDUSD’s response to this challenge is to develop a guiding coalition of instructional leaders at the district office, with the express intent of providing support and guidance to all sites. As described above, the Superintendent has created a new division of Student Achievement and School Support, so named to formalize the district’s intent to prioritize achievement for all students and support for all schools.

The Division of Student Achievement and School Support will be charged with ensuring specificity and consistency of best practice through support and training of site principals and staff. Instructional practice that is rigorous, standards-based, and responsive to the needs of all students will be supported through staff development, walk-throughs with feedback, and monitoring. Data will be analyzed in order to inform and adjust instruction. Shared leadership will be encouraged throughout the system in order to provide sustainability of improvements.

MDUSD has embraced the recommendations of Togneri (2003)#, in her key findings of the Learning First Alliance, Beyond Islands of Excellence. Creating a system of success has involved creating the will in the community to begin instructional reform. Superintendent Lawrence has engaged all stakeholders in the discussion of solutions to the poor performance experienced by some students in the district, particularly those who are poor, minorities, or English Language Learners. He has put in place a system-wide approach to improving instruction through the use of data-based decision making, comprehensive staff development planning, and leadership development. District staff is charged with training, coaching and supporting site leaders and leadership teams. Principals are charged with becoming instructional leaders, responsible for the proficiency of their teachers and the achievement of their students. Teachers are charged with providing the best first instruction and the earliest possible intervention for all students. The expansion of leadership will extend to parents and community members. MDUSD intends to support schools, plan collaboratively and reflectively, and translate a vision of success for all students into improvement for staff, communities, and students.

Demonstration of Capacity to Implement Selected Intervention Models:

Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) has the capacity to use SIG funds to provide adequate resources and related support to each Tier I and Tier II schools identified in our application in order to implement, fully and effectively, all required activities of the school intervention model selected.

MDUSD will use the SIG funding and all other available resources to implement the “transformation” model. The SIG funding will be used to implement the following activities to support implementation of the proposed school improvement plan…

The overarching strategies include:
Create the Student Achievement & School Support Division at the district office to support the implementation of the school’s Improvement Plan, build leadership capacity within the system and provide professional development and coaching to the schools. Each member of this division will receive intensive training in coaching and leadership skills, organizational development and strategic planning, high-leverage instructional practices, assessment literacy, and effective systems of intervention.
Contract with outside entity, Region IV System of District & School Support consultants (R4SDSS) to provide training, coaching and support to build staff capacity and provide sustainability.
Provide an intensive system of professional development and coaching to the four SIG principals, site leadership teams and SA&SS staff in the areas of leadership, data analysis and assessment, effective interventions, school culture, BoardMath and BoardLanguage, and walk-throughs with feedback to support implementation of improvement strategies and capacity of staff.
Provide support and training for staff to help schools identify professional development needs based on student assessment data, ensure collaboration time for staff is built into the work week, and facilitate and/or schedule training opportunities.
Assist schools in developing personnel to support implementation, coaching and monitoring of interventions at the school site.
Assist schools in identifying effective English Language Development (ELD) lessons and programs, and provide training for teachers to support the increase of ELD time at each of the schools from 30 minutes a day to 45 minutes a day.
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.
Assist and monitor expenditures at the four schools to ensure alignment and coordination among funding and the improvement plan.

MDUSD’s capacity to implement the Improvement Plans and SIG grant includes ongoing dialogue, training, monitoring and regular communication with collaborative partners both at the school site level and district level. These partnerships will ensure all stakeholders continue to be involved and informed of the efforts of the school and progress being made via School Site Councils, Alternative Governance Teams (AGT), English Language Advisory Committee (ELAC), Parent meetings and School Board meetings.

The SIG grant will be monitored by the Directors of the Student Achievement and School Support Division (SA&SS). An Administrator School Support and secretary will be hired to support implementation, program evaluation, and expenditures under the supervision of the Directors of SA&SS. Furthermore, two additional FTE (full time equivalent) English Language Development teachers will be hired to increase each sites ELD support, coaching and curriculum development from a .50 FTE to a 1.0 FTE.”

This application was never presented to the board for approval. Instead, the board authorized the district to submit it, without actually seeing it.

Do you think the board — and the public — should have had the opportunity to review and comment on this application before it was submitted to the state Department of Education?

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  • Doctor J

    The Board abdicated to the Supt. and staff to make educational policy changes as contained in the SIG grants. We have already seen some pushback from the Board with regard to questioning the policy changes in assessment testing, the bubbling, and some other areas. Clearly the union was not consulted before the application was submitted. I guess the real irony is that the Board gave the Supt carte blanche to make educational policy changes but the next meeting withheld from him the power to make administrator appointments over the summer without Board approval [that was the night of Nugentgate]. Since the district was awarded the grant, it is required to impliment the plan. The Board may not be sold on the plan, but they gave the Supt the power to do it.

  • tharrington

    A major element of the plan is the new Student Achievement and School Support Division restructuring, which the board approved: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=2503&mtgId=268.
    Also, the policies were generally outlined in the Goals and Objectives approved by the board Sept. 28: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/
    Of course, these goals and objectives were adopted AFTER the district submitted its School Improvement Grant application. Also, the goals and objectives did not spell out implementation plans in as much detail as is included in the School Improvement Grants.
    So, it appears that the grants were written with the expectation that the board would approve the goals and objectives.

  • MrBudget

    Do not kid yourself. This Superintendent does nothing withoutpermission from Gary & Paul. The rest of the Board may not have been updated but those two were always included. It will be interesting to see what happens now.

  • Rigpapooh

    Switch the principal and staff of a “failing” middle school with that from Diablo View Middle School and the state test results would likely remain the same at both schools or they would diverge a little more. DVMS skates along because there are so few English learners and students with learning differences (special ed) that their failure does not impact school scores. Its feeder school, Mt. Diablo Elementary, is no better at effectively educating its very few English learners or students with special needs.

    What is needed is transformation starting at the district level with the belief and will to teach all students the different ways they learn.

  • Anon

    MrBudget… Certainly a smarty pants like you must know Paul is no longer on the board. Good grief… Now what say you? What’s the newest conspiracy?