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.