Here's what this campaign is about:
Ensuring equal opportunities in curriculum and programming for all students
Providing our students and faculty with safe, healthy, technology-driven learning environments
Committing to our neighborhood schools
Guaranteeing responsible stewardship of public funds
Celebrating the diversity within our district
Engaging parents to become active participants in the schools
Making data-driven decisions with measurable results
Sunday, August 18, 2013
How to NOT Reinvent the Wheel
Free or reduced lunch (FRL) is how we measure poverty in schools. Years of education research show that when a school creeps above 40-50% of the children qualifying for FRL, that school performance, as measured by standardized test scores, begins to fall (the merits of theses tests is a WHOLE different discussion). Due to No Child Left Behind, this can lead to schools being labelled as a School in Need of Assistance (SINA). Having even one SINA school should be unacceptable to us as a district and as a community. Our recently passed Diversity Policy is an attempt to limit the percentages of FRL in any one elementary to 15% above the district-wide mean, which, at this time, would be mean a target FRL in the mid-40's or below.
Tackling disparities in poverty to improve school performance is not a new concept. This issue has been dealt with by 80 other school districts across the country. Many, like LaCrosse WI, were pioneers in this realm, so our task is not nearly as difficult as theirs was. The good news is that we can go to them to find how they tackled this issue and what pitfalls and problems they encountered without bringing in more expensive consultants.
Since magnet programs are a hot topic, lets discuss those. Magnet elementary schools are essentially schools that provide K-6 education along with some added incentive. On a smaller scale this might be as simple as having a prairie field campus similar to the one at Shimek. Or perhaps an outdoor classroom and arboretum like at Coralville Central.
On a grander scale, this might mean asking the teachers and the public what types of programs might interest them and entice them to consider enrolling their child in a school other than then one closest to their home. Some examples of this are a year-round calendar school, a Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) school, a young writers workshop school, or perhaps a language immersion school where children receive a multilingual education. The idea is that we could design programs within the walls of existing elementary schools that would entice and give incentive to parents to enroll their children there.
Champaign, IL is a community that is especially interesting to me. It's a Big Ten university town. It had elementary schools that had been labelled as failing. It had similar issues regarding high concentrations of poverty. It had many facility needs that had to be tackled as part of a long term plan. They are currently going through phases of new construction and renovations just as we will be in the near future. Sound familiar?
After involving the community to determine what types of magnet programs might be successful, they decided on starting a STEM program, an international education school and a MicroSociety school. Check it out here: http://unit4magnets.org
The enrollment process is easy to understand and the process of assigning children to facilities is transparent. In other words, the parents have choices and the rules are clear and transparent to the community. Interested yet?
There three stages to the process: Review, Rank, Request.
REVIEW: In January and February, parents get the opportunity as their child enters a grade school to visit the different schools and meet the administration, teachers and parents already there to learn about the different programs.
RANK: By March, parents submit their FIVE top school choices in order of preference. Each family may use different criteria for their choices. It's up to them.
REQUEST: Submit the registration forms. The district then uses four criteria to assign children based on Proximity, Siblings, Transportation and Waiting Lists. See here: http://www.unit4registration.org
OR...if you like video instead of reading the web site, try clicking on the picture of the little guy with the yellow binoculars on the upper right of the page at the link above.
The point is that most parents get their first or second choice. In addition, the administration has been able to level the FRL statistics across their district and previously failing schools have shown vast improvements in test scores. They are also able to limit class sizes and limit busing which provides a better classroom experience for students and teachers while committing to decreased transportation costs.
This may not be the way that we decide to go as a community, but the status quo is not acceptable. We are on the verge of big shifts in our thinking about schools. The good news is we don't have to go it alone. Other districts can help us learn from their experiences. We just have to be willing to ask.