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Budgetary Lessons Learned from a Pennsylvania School District

CHALLENGE

Throughout the past four years as state and federal resources have declined, the district put in place a focused strategy that has resulted in continued financial resources to support improved academic results. How has the district done it, and what are the results?

Building on Our Strengths: Developing an Effective Planning & Engagement Process to Address the Challenges of Growing Enrollment A Case Study of Arlington Public Schools’ ‘More Seats for More Students’ Campaign

CHALLENGE

Arlington Public Schools, located in Northern Virginia, currently serves approximately 23,000 students in 22 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools and one secondary school. APS enrollment grew at a faster pace than ever —by 18 percent or 3,400 students from fiscal years 2009 to 2012—due to population growth and a demand for high quality education. Based on our current facility capacity, projecting that growth forward would yield a deficit of more than 7,000 seats in 10 years.

Our challenge, then, is to relieve existing overcrowding in schools and to plan effectively for the future in order to maintain the level of quality that we are committed to and our community expects. Our board moved decisively and thoughtfully to develop a 10-year Capital Improvement Plan to fund facility needs of our growing population. We also set out to develop an effective process that provides for meaningful community engagement in making the difficult decisions that surround capacity management—including establishing school boundaries for new schools and modifying boundaries for existing schools to better balance and manage APS resources to ensure a quality seat for every student. This comprehensive effort, known as the “More Seats for More Students” program, has already yielded impressive successes and demonstrated results.

Boundary changes are by their very nature emotionally charged issues, which provide challenges for school administrators, parents and the community. Nonetheless, in any planning effort, addressing school boundaries is an inevitable and critical discussion to have. At the heart of the matter is the school district’s ability to continue to provide quality education to all of its students. However, the long-term success of the effort depends upon the school district’s ability to clearly communicate its challenges and effectively engage the community in the process.

The following is a case study of the initial implementation of the MSMS program, to demonstrate how APS worked through a solution to engage the community in decision making, elicit meaningful feedback, develop a predictable and repeatable process, and create a boundary plan affecting seven elementary schools. The study was presented to the school board without community opposition and received the board’s unanimous approval.

Lee’s Summit R-7 School District

CHALLENGE

Lee’s Summit R-7 School District is seeking ways to effectively educate and inform business and community leaders about the challenges faced by the school district, especially in the areas of school finances and needs.

Sauk Rapids-Rice School District

CHALLENGE

Like many districts, Sauk Rapids-Rice is constantly seeking ways to truly engage students in reading in a way that not only helps improve test scores, but also encourages students to develop a lifelong love of reading. At the same time, the district wanted to find a way to involve families and unite the entire community in supporting education. They were pleased to find a single program that allowed them to accomplish these purposes.

Fremont County School District's Success Story

CHALLENGE

For many years, the students of Fremont County School District #38 were far behind in their reading, writing, science, and math skills and abilities. Students often transferred from one grade to the next, several grade levels behind where data-driven norms suggested that they be. In addition, frequent changes in district leadership meant no sustained systematic approach to addressing achievement by school leaders. Teachers were left to do what they could on their own and students suffered from years of systems' breakdowns. One of the many negative results of the disorganization plaguing the district was that Fremont #38 was continually unable to meet the Annual Yearly Progress goals set by the state under the No Child Left Behind legislation. The lack of strong systems and leadership at the district, combined with the pervasive sentiment around Fremont County and the state of Wyoming that poverty was to blame for the lack of student achievement, called for a bold visionary who was committed to changing the greater community’s mindset about what FCSD #38 students could and should be achieving.

Beaufort Success Story

CHALLENGE

Sustained support for turnaround work is hard to achieve. To effect significant improvements in student achievement requires that hard decisions be made, such as closing schools and rezoning. Through intense training, mediocre teachers become stronger and more focused on rigorous learning. However, staff who do not meet expectations are sometimes reassigned or not invited back. Tough decisions upset status quo and public support for change is hard to sustain.

Gainesville Success Story

CHALLENGE

Although they had been academically successful, Dr. Merrianne Dyer, the Superintendent of Gainesville City Schools, wanted to build a stronger system that would be able reach out to the 20% of students who were still under performing Dyer realized she needed to build the capacity of the whole district system, so that the departure of any individual staff member would not deeply impact any one practice, program or policy in the district.

Prior to embarking on the process of developing a comprehensive system of learning supports Gainesville, like every school district, offered student services that addressed many of the same issues but the approach was very focused on individual students already in a state of crisis. Barriers at the high school level included limited basic skills as well as related behavior issues, teen pregnancy and issues stemming from experiences related to the transition from middle school to high school. In the Alternative program for at-risk students, there were challenges such as teen pregnancy and lack of parental involvement, as well as low self-esteem.

West Lafayette, IN

CHALLENGE

In 2009 state legislators removed property tax revenue from school districts’ General Fund. Prior to 2009, revenue for school districts’ General Funds came primarily from two sources: state revenue and local property taxes. Under the new funding formula, the West Lafayette Community School Corporation faced reductions of $500,000 - $700,000 per year over the next seven years. For the 2012 budget year, West Lafayette General Fund was cut by $447 per student or approximately a $900K or 7.6% loss in funds. The 4.5% cut that in occurred in 2010 has never been restored and is based on the state’s new school funding formula and the redistribution of public school dollars to private schools. Watch video at http://www.riseabovethemark.com/.

Chandler Unified School District's Success Story

CHALLENGE

Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary School is located in the downtown, inner-city core of Chandler, Arizona. The free and reduced percentage is 96% and approximately 60% of the kindergartners begin school as English Language Learners. Though we embraced accountability measures and implemented what we believed were all the right programs, the achievement of Hartford Sylvia Encinas students was unacceptable. When the growth scores and school grades were released in the fall of 2011, it became abundantly clear that we were not on the right path. Heather Anguiano, an experienced Chandler principal, eagerly took on the challenge at Hartford Sylvia Encinas. Mrs. Anguiano had taught for a number of years at a school with similar demographics and had always hoped to be able to use her Spanish speaking ability as the administrator of a school somewhere in the district.

Kansas City Success Story

CHALLENGE

The most consistent school predictor of taking steps toward college enrollment is a strong college going climate in their school. A strong college going culture can counteract the impact of demographic deterrents of poverty, race and 1st generation college going. Kansas City Public Schools was committed to improving its college-attendance rates, but realized it needed a shift in school culture to actually see results.

Princeton City School District

CHALLENGE

The demographics for the Princeton City School District (PCSD) are rapidly changing. Specific challenges faced given the district’s unique demographic include: high numbers of students living in poverty, a rapidly expanding population of students with limited English proficiency, a sizeable population of students with identified disabilities, mobility rates exceeding 20% in several buildings, and disproportionality in discipline. Teachers and administrators across the district strive to deliver effective, high-quality instruction for our diverse and urban population of students. Despite its effective rating by the State of Ohio, adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements were not met by the PCSD during 2010-11. Princeton City Superintendent Dr. Gary Pack felt the need to be proactive in addressing the academic risk factors common to the district’s student populations. While each of the four buildings electing to participate in the Success for All implementation serves a unique demographic and set of challenges, the one constant across all buildings was stagnant or insufficient reading achievement for the diverse group of students served within the PCSD.

1-1 iPad initiative

CHALLENGE

During the spring of 2011, the Inman Junior/Senior High School staff and technology committee began having a number of collaborative conversations regarding how technology was being utilized as a tool for learning with students. As a result of that dialogue, staff identified five key issues relating to the existing use of aging windows based laptop carts: 1) start-up time with laptops--staff members noted that it was taking an average of 5 minutes per class period to get machines up and running equating to approximately 35 minutes of lost instructional time; 2) ease of connectivity to the network--even after many hours of upgrades and trouble shooting, laptops continued to have issues with connecting to the network, thus creating frustration and additional loss of instructional time; 3) laptop battery life as the day progressed--by third or fourth hour, if laptops had been used earlier in the day, we consistently fought battery issues; 4) size and portability of the existing laptops--carts are bulky and have to be moved every hour along with the laptops taking up lots of space; and 5) lack of a consistent device for both students and staff to utilize as a tool for learning--students had access to two different types of laptops along with staff having a different machine all contributed to a lack of consistency and ease of use issues. Finally, students had a vested interest in the care and use of the device that they used on a daily basis.

Everett Public Schools Launched a Comprehensive Wellness Program

CHALLENGE

Like all public sector organizations and private business, the district faced increased health care costs. Those who come to work in Everett Public Schools, stay there; thus, the district has a mature staff naturally facing more health issues. As a result of the district’s staff demographics, absenteeism and medical costs were rising. For 25 years, the employee-managed health benefit trust contained medical costs as compared to other districts. Doing so consistently and into the future required the district to focus on wellness for staff.

Innovative System For Hiring New Teachers

CHALLENGE

The adoption of a more advanced curriculum framework necessitated hiring new South Lyon teachers who could effectively instruct students on these new standards. Tougher curriculum and assessments necessitated better quality teachers capable of meeting these increased expectations. SLCS, whose per pupil allocation is barely above the state minimum, needed to find a way to attract, hire, and retain quality teachers with limited resources. An additional challenge was the sheer number of teachers being hired when the district was growing rapidly. However, due to the economic downturn, South Lyon had to reduce the average number of teachers it hired by more than a third. South Lyon decided it needed to reevaluate their recruitment and retention process for teachers to ensure their teachers were able to meet these advanced content standards and understood the district’s vision and expectations. To spearhead this effort, Melissa Baker, the Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services developed a truly systemic process that reviewed and refined the district’s hiring process.

East Grand School District (EGSD)

CHALLENGE

With East Grand being a part of a rural community, our greatest challenge continues to be the limited resources within our community, budget reductions, and time needed to get our staff and students moving. So often what is heard from classroom and PE teachers is that their “plate is so full” that they are not able to take on one more thing. We developed wellness teams in each of our buildings as a way of motivating and challenging staff to incorporate opportunities to integrate healthy education and physical activity into their schedules in a non-intrusive way. The team has provided staff with resources, tools, and professional development that shows them ways to implement strategies in an already full day by showing them the importance of activity to meet their academic goals. By encouraging and modeling healthy eating habits, creating classroom snacking policies, and engaging in “fun” activity breaks, their students are happier and healthier. Our teams have also found creative ways to sustain their efforts by enlisting their community and school parent groups to assist with their programs. One example is asking classroom parents for their help in providing healthy snacks. The days of “crackers” and “cupcakes” in the classroom are few and far between; instead parents are teaming up to bring bags of fresh fruit as their snack of the week. It takes a “whole team” to meet our ever growing challenges and finding healthy solutions.

Henrico County Public Schools

CHALLENGE

The Henrico County School Board examined student performance data by group and found an achievement gap between white and Asian students and black and Latino students as early as 2009. To close the achievement gap, the school system implemented instructional strategies based on research and best practice, but despite these efforts, standards have not been met to ensure all students are learning to their highest potential.

By reviewing student achievement data, administrators understood that the gap started to widen in third grade. But the reasons for this gap are still unclear. They also found that there was also a gap in pass rates between black and white students on AP exam scores as well as state standards.

“We are building the leaders of tomorrow and we must do all we can to make sure our educational system is fair and equitable to all, regardless of a student’s race or family’s economic standing,” said HCPS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Russo.

Newton County School System

CHALLENGE

In an effort to increase student achievement in the 2010-11 school year, Newton County Schools embarked upon a large pilot project that focused on audio enhancement of classroom instruction.

ABC Unified School District

CHALLENGE

In 1995, then Assistant Superintendent Mary Sieu noticed that immigrant parents were frequently absent from parent-teacher conferences and other opportunities where they could engage with school administrators, teachers and students in the classroom. She wanted to understand why these parents were not actively participating and to change the culture of the school district, so they could actively participate in their children’s educational process. After meeting with a small group of parents, Sieu decided the best course of action would be hold a meeting with two dozen immigrant parents who seemed willing to be more involved at the school.

Montessori Success Story

CHALLENGE

In 2008-2009, CREC Montessori Magnet School was identified as a “School in Need of Improvement” because it did not meet the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards for Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years. Academic achievement was on the decline, and it had become the lowest achieving school in the district. As a school recognized by Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), continued accreditation was questioned by the organization. The school did not meet the NCLB requirements for making Adequate Yearly Progress, and was the lowest performing elementary school in the district, parents and staff were displeased, and several teachers left.

Clarke County School District

CHALLENGE

The district's graduation rate has risen significantly since 2004, from 50.3% to 70.8%. In addition, the graduation rate for subgroups has increased and the achievement gap is closing. In 2004, 35.9% of black students graduated; in 2011, 65.6% did the same. In 2004, 77.6% of white students graduated; in 2011, 81.1% did the same. Successes are also evident in state testing results, as student achievement continues to increase and gaps in subgroups continues to decrease. Even with these gains, though, Superintendent Philip D. Lanoue felt that some of the community conversation still quoted old data as if it were current. Also, Clarke County has nearly 80% of its students that receive free or reduced lunches, but people are misinformed about the achievement of the district’s economically disadvantaged students, despite 73.7% of them graduating high school in 2011 – higher than the overall district average.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Success Story

CHALLENGE

The Regional Extended Learning Camps offered by Pittsburgh Public Schools had been ineffective in stopping summer learning loss. The Camps, structured as a typical, punitive “summer school,” had low attendance rates. Pittsburgh Public Schools needed a new type of summer learning camp that would effectively engage youth in exciting, educational programming and create an environment that would lead to academic gains. Administrators also wanted to offer unique activities that would lead students to develop new hobbies and passions.

De Soto Success Story

CHALLENGE

De Soto 73 School District is a rural, low socio-economic school district about 50 miles south of St. Louis, Missouri. In 2009, the state eliminated funding for an important program where teachers would receive stipends for tutoring students afterschool. In response, Superintendent Andy J. Arbeitman decided to try a new approach that would provide teachers with a little additional income and engage parents more meaningfully.

Lee Summit R-7 School District

CHALLENGE

Since 1990, the R-7 School District has nearly doubled in size. Approximately 20 years ago, the district had just one high school, one middle school and eight elementary schools. Today, the district has three high schools, three middle schools, 18 elementary schools as well as an early childhood center, alternative school, special-education day-treatment program and technology center. With this type of growth, it became more difficult to communicate with our citizens in a personal, "small-town" way. In particular, Superintendent Dr. McGehee wanted to do a better job in reaching out to our senior-citizen population. Lee's Summit is home to approximately 10 retirement communities, including a large community of close to 1,800 older adults. To this end, Dr. McGehee offered his enthusiastic support of a goal in the district’s strategic plan that focused on further involvement in schools by our senior citizens. A team of employees and citizens working on this goal came up with the idea of a day tour for seniors to re-acquaint them with the positive aspects and the challenges of public education.

Greendale School District Success Story

CHALLENGE

In just the last few years, the Greendale School District has seen a significant increase in the needs of their students. Once considered a primarily upper middle class community with a substantial tax base, Greendale now has 22% of students qualifying as economically disadvantaged. With the changing needs of students and families in mind and in an effort to prevent an escalation in achievement gaps, Greendale Schools decided to proactively rethink how to best meet these needs, increasing the odds for all Greendale students to be successful in school, work and life.

The majority of Greendale students in need are at the elementary level with an average of 28% compared to the high school level where only 16% of students are considered economically disadvantaged. These numbers may seem incongruous to urban districts, but this was a drastic change for our community.

Bibb County Success Story, GA

CHALLENGE

Less than a year ago, Romain Dallemand became Superintendent of Bibb County School District in GA, where he entered a system fraught with both academic and disciplinary problems. By rallying and mobilizing the entire community to support high-quality teaching and learning, Dallemand is moving forward to fundamentally change the status quo in Bibb County.

Bibb County’s biggest challenge is building a system that is committed to educating all children, not just a select few that we believe can learn. Only 24 of our 40 schools made Adequate Yearly Progress, and eleven of those made it under a growth model. A high percentage of our 3rd-8th grade students are not meeting minimum proficiency levels, including 3,287 (21%) for Reading/Language Arts and 6,358 (40%) for Mathematics. At the high school level, only 44.6% of students in the 2007-2008 ninth grade cohort graduated in four years.

Even knowing these numbers, many Bibb County students are being pushed out of the classroom by the District, which has a direct impact on their ability to learn. In 2010-2011, 493 students were expelled, 7,914 were suspended, and 703 dropped out. In just the first 30 days of this school year, more than 750 students were suspended.

Blue Valley School District

CHALLENGE

The Blue Valley School District has been, and continues to be, committed to making a continuous effort to reallocate resources, adopt innovative programs and critically evaluate current practices to ensure academic excellence. In 2005, the district challenged itself to develop an innovative program that would increase the relevance in our high school curriculum and propel students interested in International Business, Engineering, Bio-Science, and Human Services.

To give district students an advantage in their post-secondary education and professional careers, Superintendent Tom Trigg knew the program would need to be grounded in project-based learning and that collaboration with business and industry and partnerships with post-secondary institutions would be essential. Blue Valley’s challenge was to develop a program that focused on emerging economic markets and workforce development by engaging students in real project work for real businesses using real tools of the industry.

Rutland High School, VT

CHALLENGE

As a large high school, by Vermont standards, we have struggled with the question of how to transition students smoothly from middle school into the ninth grade in a way that personalizes their experience, provides effective support, and makes new learning relevant to them and the larger communities in which they are members. Not all students arrive at the High School with a supportive network of family and friends, and we felt we needed to work toward building a community of learners out of our ninth grade class.

Edwards Middle School

CHALLENGE

Just a few years ago, Boston’s Clarence Edwards Middle School was on the verge of being shut down by the Boston Public Schools. With only 40 percent of eighth graders proficient in reading and only 12 percent proficient in math, it was one of the lowest-performing middle schools in the district.

Springfield Success Story

CHALLENGE

The Springfield School District educates 3800 students from the communities of Springfield and Morton in southeastern Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. In 2001, the Springfield Board of School Directors and Superintendent Dr. James P. Capolupo agreed on the goal that every child in the Springfield School District who entered the school system in Kindergarten would be able to read at grade level by 4th grade.

Westfield Washington Schools

CHALLENGE

There is no greater superintendent challenge than increasing the capacity of the school’s key leaders. Westfield Washington Schools (WWS), like many, needed to do a better job of preparing students for a highly technical, global post-graduate world. Superintendent Mark F. Keen’s challenge was to guide leadership in becoming a world-class learning organization capable of continuous improvement, a requirement in a rapidly changing world.

Patton Springs ISD

CHALLENGE

Patton Springs is a rural school district of 396 square miles, 70 miles east of Lubbock, Texas, with a student count of approximately 100 students. Over 70 percent of Patton Springs students are economically disadvantaged, and 32 percent are at risk. Superintendent Larry McLenny’s challenge, starting in the early 1990s, was to become an academically successful school (with their high economically disadvantaged and at risk student population) under a state rating system tied to high-stakes testing. This goal seemed lofty in a school district rated as Academically Acceptable in 1990, but they chose to directly meet the challenge by creating an innovative “adopt-a-student” program.

Renton School District

CHALLENGE

In 2006, the year Mary Alice Heuschel took over the reins of the Renton School District in northwest Washington state, more than three in 10 students were failing to make it to their high school graduation day. That fact clearly concerned Heuschel, who had spent the previous seven years in the state education department.

Aware of the poor finishing results and achievement gaps of the diverse 14,500-student school district located 11 miles from Seattle on Puget Sound, Heuschel came to the job to make a difference.

Anna Booth Elementary School, Ala.

CHALLENGE

On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated Bayou la Batre, a small fishing community in southern Mobile County, Ala. At the Anne Booth Elementary School in Bayou le Batre, more than 70 percent of students were left homeless. In a school where 18 percent of students are English Language Learners and 83 percent meet federal poverty guidelines, the challenges to improve, little less maintain, academic achievement under these new, unforeseen circumstances appeared insurmountable.

Cross Country School District

CHALLENGE

Shortly after Matt McClure accepted the superintendent’s job of Cross Country School District in Arkansas, a high poverty school district of 700 students in a rural agricultural community, seven new board members took office and the state placed the district in “fiscal distress.” “We cut 14.5 positions to balance our budget before I officially started the job,” says McClure. “We got out from underneath that in a year – the fastest in the state’s history.”

The immense challenges forced McClure and the board to think hard about what they viewed as a successful school. McClure, his leadership team and school board studied the work of Jim Collins, Thomas Friedman and Ken Robinson. “Schools were designed for the agricultural age but now the majority of the jobs are in the service and creative industries. We were going to make sure our kids were savvy in technology and were better prepared when they graduated.”


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