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New Mt. Diablo Student Achievement and School Support Division gets generally high marks from principals

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 at 7:06 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Last June, the Mt. Diablo school board agreed to eliminate the Curriculum and Instruction Division at the district office and replace it with a Student Achievement and School Support (SASS)Division.

Tonight, the board will review the results of a survey of school site administrators, which shows the new division received generally high marks. Many principals praised the new division and said it was more responsive than the previous department, which tended to focus on struggling students.

A few principals, said the division was not as helpful as they hoped, especially in the area of alternative education. Some acknowledged, however, that the department is spread thin.

Here are a few survey highlights:

In the area of curriculum, instruction and assessment, 38.3 percent of principals said they received “a great deal of support” from SASS. Another 27.7 percent said they received “a good deal of support,” 21.3 percent said they received “adequate support,” 6.5 percent said the received “some support, but not as much as I would like,” and no one said they didn’t receive the support they needed.

Some principals commented that they appreciated the implementation of BoardMath, BoardLanguage and Curriculum Associates testing. One said more interaction with staff in the area of curriculum and instruction would be helpful, especially with struggling teachers. Another requested: “assessment support – eg. materials, teacher training, bubbling support, moral support!”

The division scored slightly lower in the area of day to day operation or management of the school:
- 26.1 percent said they received “a great deal of support,” compared to 37 percent that said the support was “good” and 30.4 percent calling it “adequate” and 6.5 percent said they received “some, but not as much as I would like.” Again, no one said they didn’t receive the support they needed.

Ten principals commented on this question, with some praising the department for its “invaluable” assistance.

One said: “…what I also appreciate is that after they help you with an issue they often take the time to ask how I am doing and take an interest in me as a person. Which in turn makes me want to do everything I can to succeed and make them look good.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, another said: “I would like additional support on how to manage a large school. I am overwhelmed with the day-to-day activities and can only manage to return emails, contact parents, plan for meetings, etc. after hours. I do not feel that I am an educational leader; I feel that I am barely managing the school and my ed leadership is often non-existent. It is frustrating and disheartening.”

When asked if the department helped them grow as an instructional leader, 23.9 percent said “very much so,” 54.3 percent said “yes, I have made good strides,” 13 percent said “somewhat, but I need more support,” 6.5 percent said “a little, not as much as I hoped,” and 4.3 percent said, “I don’t think so.”

Many principals praised the department for its support, including one who wrote: “This is the first year that i have received ongoing support and an expectation (Rose) that my primary focus as a principal is my role as an instr. ldr. and realize that i still have much to learn; however, i have a renewed energy as a prin. because curriculum has always been my strength and with continued support from the SASS Dept., i will become more effective as an instr. ldr each year.” Another said the department helped with BoardMath, data analysis and “working with my more ineffective teachers at my site.”

Some said they would like more help with “essential standards” (which still haven’t been released to the public) and brainstorming.

The department was rated most highly (76.6 percent) for helping principals with assessment and data analysis. More than half of principals also credited the department for site visits (68.1 percent), weekly memos (66 percent), classroom visits with school support administrator (59.6 percent), coaching/mentoring (53.2 percent), and facilitating getting resources (53.2 percent). Less than half of the principals gave the department high marks for assistance with professional development (44.7 percent) and standards based curriculum and instruction (31.9 percent).

Fifteen principals commented on this question, with many giving kudos to the department for a variety of support. One wrote: “Prior to the existence of SASS Dept., there was no focus for ALL schools. the newly adopted District Goals and inititatives are supported by the SASS Dept. that supports ALL schools in meeting the DISTRICT’s focus for student achievement….”

When compared to the previous Curriculum and Instruction Division, 50 percent said they now receive more support, 26.1 percent said they weren’t in the district last year, 17.4 percent said support was about the same and 6.5 percent said they receive less support.

Six principals commented on this question. One was new to the district and four were complimentary. One, however, stressed the need for better instruction for English Language Learners, saying: “…if the ELD Dept. is a part of the SASS Dept., it does not support ALL schools and continues to promote the same inservices/materials that it has for the past 10 years which have proven to be ineffective and is not providing the ongoing support and focus that is needed to address the expectations of the District’s Goals and Initiatives. Due to the establishment of the SASS Dept., teachers are much more savvy in regards to expecting data to drive instruction; this has placed me in a very uncomfortable spot because it’s a tough sell to enforce the same philosophy/materials/inservices be used to improve academic achievement for our ELL students when teachers know (from letters to parents from the District – that parents have shared with them) has not been effective in meeting the needs of our ELL students in our District; nor do the AYP scores for our site in 2008.”

When asked about principal meetings, 55.6 to 63.6 percent said they were satisfied with their frequency, length and focus of agenda.

There was disagreement about whether to hold the meetings during or after school.

More than half of principals were also satisfied with communication from the SASS Department.

Many praised weekly memos from the department, but one complained that they were disjointed and included too many attachments.

Nearly 85 percent said the response from the SASS Department was timely when they sought assistance, 54.3 percent said it was helpful, 6.5 percent said it was “difficult to get response” and 2.2 percent said they didn’t seek assistance.

Ten principals commented on this question, with many raving about the improvement. One said it depends on who they reach in the department: “Some persons are very responsive; others are not.”

Thirty principals gave general comments, including many that were very positive. But one said: “….I do have a concern that there is still a small, but active undertow that is not happy with the restructuring of the C & I Dept….” Another requested assistance in the area of alternative education. And one said: “…It would be helpful if the roles of the SASS team were more clearly defined so that all members of SASS understood their relationship with each other so that it was clearer to the sites who to contact.”

Do you understand the role of each member of SASS?

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  • Md teacher

    Is there any evidence that this new department is helping students or teachers. I don’t see it at my school. Our principal is off campus more than ever these days, and we see a much bigger focus on teaching to the test coming from the district now.

  • Doctor J

    It felt more like a sales presentation that should have occurred last August at the start of school instead of towards the end of school. By now, where is the data from all the testing that should show progress ? I was surprised there weren’t more probing questions from the Board, especially Gary, in light of his previous questions.

  • Theresa Harrington

    MD Teacher: Are you at an elementary, middle or high school? Based on the PowerPoint presentation, it seemed that progress was touted more at the elementary level than at secondary schools: http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/92e833fb-6eb3-4f78-b2b4-09321d1b631f.pdf.
    Many elementary teachers have been trained in data analysis, BoardMath and BoardLanguage. Middle school teachers are beginning to have department level meetings to collaborate on curriculum, but it sounded like high school teachers haven’t really been involved in this yet.
    The PowerPoint also shows how there is a focus toward teaching to the test through the data analysis. However, this also helps to assure that students are learning what they are supposed to, SASS administrators said.
    Teachers identify “focus standards” based on how many questions are on the CST, as well as which standards their students are struggling with. They also stress “essential standards,” which have already been developed at the elementary level (but not shared with the public) and are still being developed at the middle and high school levels.
    At some schools, teachers collaborate and divide students in the same grade level into different groups based on their test scores, rotating them as they improve or regress.
    According to the PowerPoint, students in grades 1-5 progressed in Math after each Curriculum Associates test was given, with first graders achieving 70 percent correct and 5th-graders getting 56 percent correct on their last tests. Results for English language arts, however, weren’t presented.
    According to a “Data Team Survey,” principals rated the data analysis higher overall than teachers. When asked to rate this sentence: “The data analysis process has helped with my grade level collaboration,” on a scale of 1-5 with 5 highest, teachers averaged a 3.9 compared to 4.6 for principals.
    The two were a little closer on the following statements:
    “The data analysis process has helped make a difference to my students and their learning.” Teachers gave this 4.1 compared to 4.6 from principals.
    “Time spent on data analysis was valuable and helped inform my instruction.” Teachers gave this 4.2 compared to 4.7 from principals.
    The presentation only focused on the district’s Educational goals and objectives and didn’t mention how the district is doing toward meeting board-adopted goals related to Communications Plan and Community Relations, Personnel Services, Fiscal Services or Facilities.
    It also focused only on Math and English language arts. In response to a board question about writing, SASS administrators said they are still searching for good materials for this.
    They also said they are working to improve instruction for English Language Learners, after being required by the state to create a “corrective action plan.”
    One of the next steps is: “Professional development for all administrators and teachers on effective first instruction.”

  • Doctor J

    Abstract test scores in a vacumn are pretty meaningless. Of course students progressed — 2/3 of the year has gone by. I am sure they progressed last year too. The $64 question is whether the students are making a significant leap in progress from prior instructional methods to justify the huge commitment of funds and human resources. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t see the data to support that conclusion.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The answer to that question may not be known until the district receives its next batch of STAR scores.
    And yes, it makes sense that students have progressed because Curriculum Associates tests them on end-of-year standards.
    Board President Gary Eberhart asked Superintendent Steven Lawrence to “fill in the numbers” on the budget cut list, including costs for the SASS Department: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=3787&mtgId=300.
    Under “impact,” the department description tells how positions are funded, but doesn’t give the total cost of the department, including Curriculum Associates materials and training. It states that the district is saving $246,000 from last year’s budget, based on the elimination of the Associate Superintendent for Educational Services position and SASS restructuring, but does not give an accounting for how this was determined.

  • Doctor J

    Lawrence promised “The members of this new department will be annually evaluated ” on May 11, 2010. As we near the end of the first year of SASS, it will be interesting to hear his evaluation of this new department based on the criteria he set forth.