Race to the Top (RTTT) has arrived in full force. School districts across the country are already feeling its impact. In New York State, RTTT is driving the Board of Regents reform agenda focusing on three areas:
- Common core standards
- Data driven instruction including school-based inquiry teams
- New teacher/leader evaluation systems based, in part, on student performance
Just a decade after the adoption of No Child Left Behind, the educational ship of state is once again charting a new course. The challenge to each school district? To climb aboard the ship and not be lost in its turbulent wake.
Districts will thrive if they can overcome inertia without a substantial expense of resources, including wasted time, energy and budget. District leadership will need to adjust their current trajectory and redirect resources to a new set of priorities quickly and efficiently.
A model plan
Chenango Forks Central School District provides a model of planning dexterity that other school districts may want to emulate. For the last seven years, the Forks has followed a disciplined comprehensive educational planning process that includes a set of strategic performance targets, rolling priorities and long-term strategies. Typical human behavior would have suggested that the Forks district team would hold tightly to the plan they were heavily invested in and resist change.
Instead, Associate Superintendent Kathleen Dixon posed the challenge very clearly: how do we incorporate the work required of us by RTTT while maintaining our distinct local character and priorities?
The district team embraced Mrs. Dixon’s challenge from the start, looking with open, flexible minds at how to accomodate the RTTT requirements while making the plan uniquely Chenango Forks’. The first task was to swap some new performance targets for old ones. They added
- NYS Grade 3-8: ELA & math % proficient, disaggregated by all students, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students
- Regents ELA: % cohort college ready (> 75)
- Regents Math: % cohort college ready (> 80)
At the same time, they eliminated five performance metrics from their plan while modifying another three (see Figure 1 – click to enlarge).
The Forks breakthrough
The real breakthrough came as the team prepared to take a fresh look at the district’s improvement strategies. The facilitation plan was to have the group explore a wide set of possible new strategies and then converge on a final set of priorities and strategies. However, as the team broke for lunch, Nicole Knapp, the Forks elementary school principal, approached the facilitator and said, “I think I can speed up this whole process.” She left an outline of a brand new way to articulate the district’s strategies.
In effect, Mrs. Knapp had completed a matrix analysis that identified
- New strategies required by RTTT.
- Current district strategies that complimented the RTTT strategies.
- Current strategies that reinforced the district’s recent investments and unique priorities.
All other strategies were jettisoned, allowing the Forks to emerge from the planning session with a tight, focused plan that redirects scarce resources to a new set of priorities that align with RTTT, the Regents reform agenda and the district’s distinct local character (see Figure 2 – click to enlarge). For example, the plan retains these unique priorities:
- Use the Chenango Forks’ Writing Continuum to guide curriculum planning and all instruction.
- Implement the five-year technology plan to increase achievement and to promote 21st century skills for students, staff and parents.
- Incorporate measures of 21st century skills in both the APPR and local assessments.
When the district team returned from lunch, they immediately resonated with Mrs. Knapp’s work and were quite excited by it. She had achieved what Edward DeBono calls “the insight re-arrangement of available information.” The team tweaked her work, approved the plan and adjourned about four hours early.
Yes, the Forks is aboard the ship of state and settled into a state room that they find very familiar and quite comfortable.