NEW YARDSTICK

How can Memphis schools reach long-term goals? One month at a time, say leaders

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
The Shelby County Board of Education reviews the Memphis district's Destination 2025 goals.

After four straining years, the ruling body over merged Shelby County Schools finally has the right timing to think long term about how to measure district progress, says board Chairman Chris Caldwell.  

Since December, board members have been working with two national education groups to identify data-based priorities that can be monitored on a monthly basis. They range from pre-K enrollment to ACT scores to suspension rates broken down by subgroups.

Called “key performance indicators,” the data points not only will help the school board and administration stay on the same page, Caldwell says, they’ll help the board track the district’s progress in reaching its goals.

PHOTO: The Commercial Appeal
Chris Caldwell

“Things at times seemed disjointed,” Caldwell said Monday. “This is an effort to connect all the dots and to keep us focused on the goals we’re trying to accomplish.”

Two years after the 2013 consolidation of city and county schools, the district set its goals with a strategic plan called Destination 2025, which aims to raise reading levels, graduation rates and career readiness. But reaching them has been challenging as leaders have struggled under budget shortfalls, state takeover of low-performing schools, and shrinking enrollment, among other things. Now facing its first budget season in the green, the school board wants to hold the administration accountable for proposed new investments.

“We went through the process of listing data that we felt would show us if we are continuing to improve the district and getting where we’re supposed to be,” Caldwell said. “We boiled down to items that help us get a good feeling of our process academically in the school district.”

During a training last month, board members were optimistic that shared goals and data points will improve communication with the administration.

“This gives us a timeline of what we’re going to expect and when,” said Stephanie Love. “I think it’s aligned right.”

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told the board he’s “totally on board” with sharing the data, which he said is already being tracked by his administration.

To set its long-term agenda, the board worked with the Council of the Great City Schools and Center for Reform of School Systems.

The groups also helped to hone the board’s mission, vision statement and core beliefs crafted following the 2013 merger by a 23-member combined school board. The large board was dissolved in 2014 when six municipalities pulled out to form their own school systems. Now the district’s nine-member board is seeking to make those their own.

The vision statement reads: “Our District will be the premier school district attracting a diverse student population and effective teachers, leaders, and staff all committed to excellence.”

The board is scheduled to review its revised objectives on Tuesday and vote on them later this month.

You can view the board’s key performance indicators below.

 

New role

Principal Donna Taylor retiring from Brooklyn School of Inquiry, moving to DOE

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry

Brooklyn School of Inquiry Principal Donna Taylor announced this week she is stepping down from her position next month.

Taylor, who has been with the Bensonhurst school since it opened in 2009, will take a position with the Department of Education, where she will support principals implementing progressive education and gifted and talented programs — two focuses of BSI. The school, which runs from kindergarten to eighth grade, is one of five gifted and talented schools open to children citywide.

“BSI was created by a team who believes that students need an inquiry-based, arts-infused curriculum, steeped in technology, where everyone is encouraged to think critically,” Taylor said in a statement. “We came together down here in Bensonhurst to grow our practice and build capacity. I am proud of the work I’ve done together with the school’s community to build and grow BSI.”

Her announcement comes the same week that BSI graduated its first cohort of eighth-graders. Moving forward, Taylor is working with other school staff and her superintendent, Karina Constantino, to ensure a smooth transition. A new principal has not yet been named.

BSI is the only citywide gifted school that participates in the city’s Diversity in Admissions program. The admissions pilot allows principals to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are low-income, English learners or meet other criteria. In the case of BSI, the school set aside 40 percent of its available kindergarten seats for low-income students.

While it met that target in its admissions offers this year, it had few open seats because siblings of current BSI students get priority. That meant that only 20 slots were reserved for low-income students.

It will be up to Taylor’s successor, alongside city officials, to decide where to take the pilot program next.

“We have no way of knowing what the new leadership will do or who they will be or what their position will be on the program,” said Sara Mogulescu, the parent of two children currently studying at BSI. “But I know there is a very strong core of commitment to that pilot and to continue to strengthen our community in all kinds of ways, regardless of whether Donna is the principal.”

Despite her many accomplishments, Taylor’s eight years at the helm of BSI were not without controversy. In 2014, Taylor made headlines for a comment she made at an open-house meeting at BSI. She remarked to prospective parents, “If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to clean your own house.” Taylor subsequently apologized.

Mogulescu said Taylor had built a solid foundation at BSI, and she and other parents were confident about the school’s future — and Taylor’s.

“As much as we are all sad to see her go,” she said, “I think the parents take solace in the fact that she is going to be spreading her wisdom and experience to other schools.”

planning ahead

Big assignment for group of Colorado education leaders: rethink the state’s education priorities

File photo of student at Marrama Elementary School in northeast Denver. (The Denver Post)

A newly constituted group of educators, lawmakers and state officials led by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne will be charged with creating a sweeping new strategic plan for education in Colorado.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week giving that task to a reconstituted Education Leadership Council, which formed in 2011 but has become inactive.

The new-look council will identify statewide priorities for how to better educate the state’s children so they can contribute to Colorado’s workforce, according to the order.

In an interview Thursday with Chalkbeat, Lynne said she expects the plan to include recommendations for how the governor’s office, relevant state departments, the legislature or others can work toward the state’s goals.

The group will begin meeting in August and will spend its first year setting priorities. It is supposed to give recommendations for possible legislation by 2018 or 2019.

Lynne said various state departments and groups already work on initiatives tied to education, but “we don’t have a place where we weave it all together.”

For example, Lynne said, the group could examine whether certain districts still need help getting access to the internet, whether students are being introduced to STEM careers early enough and whether graduates are prepared for the workforce.

Having a strategic plan and clear goals for what schools should be accomplishing could also give officials a better chance of changing school finance, Lynne said, if the group determines that is needed. Reports routinely rank Colorado near the bottom in per pupil funding among states.

“I think it’s hard when people want to talk about changing school finance or they want to address things like compensation for teachers, if you don’t have the core foundation of what do we want to achieve and how do we get there,” Lynne said.

Bipartisan legislation introduced this spring would have created a group with similar goals, but Republicans killed the so-called “vision” bill. Critics said the bill would have created more state bureaucracy and potentially conflicted with school districts’ strategic plans, and called it a ploy to ultimately ask taxpayers for more money.

Lynne said the group commissioned by the governor — which will have as many as 25 members — will include a diverse group of people representing different interests across the state to ensure local districts have a say in the statewide work. It will include directors from five state departments, a superintendent, a school board member, a teacher and a principal.

The original Education Leadership Council was commissioned in 2011 by a Hickenlooper executive order. Recently the group stopped meeting. Members’ terms had expired, and excitement had decreased after the 2013 defeat of Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes for schools. The council helped push for the measure.

When Lynne succeeded Joe Garcia as lieutenant governor, she said she knew she wanted to revive the group.

Her office started planning to regroup the Education Leadership Council in late 2016 before the legislature considered the same work, but she said she paused while legislators considered their bill. When that effort failed, Lynne said her office got back to organizing the council.

The group, Lynne said, will work under a shorter timeline than the one outlined in the failed bill.

Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican who sponsored the “vision” bill, said the council is the right avenue for this kind of work.

“The legislature is not suited for long-term strategic thinking,” Rankin said. “It’s more about shorter-term action. This is a better way to do it — with our involvement.”

Sponsors of the vision bill, including Rankin, will be part of the leadership council.

Here is a copy of the executive order:



EO Education (Text)