LRSD behind the scenes | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

LRSD behind the scenes

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 11:19 AM

The strategic planning committee study of improvements to the Little Rock School District is a process with unavoidable political overtones. Its findings figure in ongoing evaluations of Superintendent Linda Watson. The group has begun hearing from experts on ways to improve the district's performance and a division among committee members has begun emerging -- systemic change on the one hand versus protection of the status quo (meaning administrative employees) on the other.

Some tension is brewing.

Below is a summary of the last strategic planning commission's meeting. The committee and the district have a full plate. The summary was distributed to School Board members this week.

One bone of contention that has arisen recently: Should one-time federal stimulus money go to instructional programs recommended by the superintendnet when district finances don't hold promise for continuing new programs? (I happen to favor putting stimulus money into construction.)

But about instructional spending: A sharp letter from lawyer John Walker takes exception to the administration's plan. The letter suggests that who you know might be important in getting consulting work with the district. He wants a public hearing.

Walker's conflict with the superintendent is yet another indication, as I've written before, that it is a mistake to assume that every decision in the school district, including evaluation of leadership, falls along racial lines.

TO: LRSD Strategic Planning Commission Members
FROM: Jim Argue and Terence Bolden, Co-Chairs
DATE: September 1, 2009
RE: Summary of 8/31/09 LRSD SPC Meeting
Below is a summary of the discussion in our commission meeting yesterday.  We hope it will be especially helpful to the two members who were unable to attend. Please note the schedule of future meeting dates at the end of the outline. Please mark your calendars now to avoid calendar conflicts.
Thanks to all for your contributions to this important process.
Summary of Discussion:
·         Picus, Odden and Cohn (POC) reviewed their mission: assist the commission in creating a strategic plan to dramatically improve student performance and reduce achievement gaps.
·         POC reviewed 10 strategies for improving student performance. (see PPT)
·         POC reviewed inconsistent perceptions of achievement trends. Need consistent understanding of performance to drive improvement.
·         POC reviewed student performance 2005 – 2009 in math and literacy for district and subgroups. Progress in math, flat in literacy. Persistent gaps.
·         Conclusion: Hard to have common sense of urgency around student performance and closing the achievement gap when there is widespread misunderstanding, as well as different understanding, of the current performance conditions of students.
·         Conclusion regarding LRSD goals: No common perception of goals and district goals not disaggregated to schools.
o   Need clear set of ambitious goals.
o   Set goals for 5 years with annual targets.
o    Disaggregate district goals down to school goals and within schools to classes.
·         Curriculum and instruction: balanced literacy, no systemic reading program, mini lessons, long periods of small group work, and multiple interventions. Not the approach used by highly successful districts per POC.
·         Of 10 professional development days mandated by state for teachers, district only controls  4-5 of them.
·         Very unclear lines of accountability.
·         Principals not evaluated on school performance.
·         Teachers not evaluated based on impacts on student learning and instructional mastery.
·         Teachers on continuing contract only evaluated every 3 years.
·         District management: accountability seems to be split in multiple locations, no clear planning function, no budget office, not clear organizational structure is designed to support student performance.
·         Recommendations on structure will follow further visits.
·         School district governance:
o   Clear statement of board’s core beliefs to guide all actions
o   Theory of action for change to provide direction for reform policies.
o   Less time-consuming board meetings.
o   Effective constituent services system.
o   Effective management oversight system.
o   Data dashboard and effective communications with internal and external constituencies.
·         Transformed central office with these functions clearly aligned:
o   Data, assessment, accountability
o   Curriculum and instruction
o   Professional development
o   Human resources
·         Implementation costs of plan: Discussion of the types of spending that could aid the district in implementing the plan. Discussion of the district’s use of stimulus funds. Board has voted a spending plan for those funds, but would consider amending their plan. Dr. Watson to consult with POC at a later date to ascertain funding for implementation.
·         Future meeting Dates:
o   Monday, September 21, LRSD Board Room, 9:00 – 3:00
o   Thursday, October 22, 9:00 – 3:00, location TBD
o   Tuesday, December 1, 9:00 – 3:00, location TBD

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