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Making the right decisions for our future

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  • Todd Groves
    The Board meets Wednesday to discuss possible financial scenarios as State funding triggers loom. The Board will have to listen to plaintive wails of Save my
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 24, 2011
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      The Board meets Wednesday to discuss possible financial scenarios as State funding triggers loom. The Board will have to listen to plaintive wails of "Save my kid's program," that will drown out the possibilities of improvement for all. We've ceded our political process to the squeakiest wheel, leaving our board to make Solomonic choices between what loud parents want and all students need.

      Single issue advocates have their role, but should they overwhelm the greater good? We now live in a time when these interests are the primary voices in the process, even at the district level. Can we pluck the common good from the snares of our constituency based politics and give the Board and Admin space to do the right thing by all kids? I firmly believe this begins with a clear and open discussion of realities.

      How can we optimize funding in these lean times, which stretch into the foreseeable future.

      Classroom
      -enlarging K-3 class size. Near universal agreement exists that CSR does nothing for improved test scores http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/04/class_size_reduction.html. At ECHS, our current students were the first of the 20 kid K-3's, and yet their academic performance is lower than those classes immediately preceding them that started with 30 kids. Take the saved money and;
      -Find innovative ways to better individualize education, as in the following
      -Invest in experimentation with hybrid school models http://rsed.org/index.php?page=hybrid-school-model;
      -Reorganize classrooms around instructional needs rather than chronological age http://www.sabis.net/educational-systems/approach/teaching-methods.aspx;
      -End all blanket professional development, and plow the savings into site based PD budgets, The district can then facilitate the PD contracts into economies of scale. We've sunk major bucks into district-wide trainings on differentiation and culturally responsive practices with little to show for it.
      -Eliminate seniority-based retention. Identify our least effective teachers and make sure they are the first to go when pink slips go out. No other measure would save more or add more value.
      -Identify our most effective teachers. Consult with them and get them what they need to increase their impact. At this moment, the most effective teachers I know hide their actions from the district to avoid attracting attention. What kind of environment are we creating, and who is responsible?
      -Find effective managers at all administrative levels. Again, no other action will return more value, and here are the main reasons, IMO. 1. You can't craft good managers, but you can sometimes mitigate bad ones. We are spending on coaching principals, a dubious effort. You cannot mold, mentor or develop an effective manager, as it requires some inherent traits. Improve our principal selection criteria (talent screening)and evaluations and move poor principals back into the classroom quickly. 2. We lose great teachers to administration. Far too often in WCCUSD, our best young teachers feel compelled to pursue administrative careers rather than stay in the classroom, where they are most desperately needed. They do so because they administrative layer is filled with less than effective decision-makers impinging on the classroom. Unless our administrative apparatus is redesigned to identify and support great teaching, then we will continue to bleed our best teachers into either higher functioning districts or higher ranks of Byzantium.

      Non-Classroom Ideas;

      Optimizing Efficacy;

      Why do School Resource Officers add so much more to to campus safety than Site Supervisors alone. Our SRO's cost enormous amounts of money (police earn more than principals); however, at both ECHS and Portola, SRO's have turned the tide in making safer schools. We need to analyze why SRO's make such a difference, and then translate it into better training for our site supervisors. Perhaps then we can have safe campuses at lower cost.

      Can we consolidate document management services? Every site spends huge person hours stuffing envelopes each year, while maintaining banks of photocopiers at each site is enormously inefficient. Teachers spend numerous hours waiting in line for the few functioning machines. Can our photocopying be done in a more centralized fashion?

      Albany Middle operates on two office clerical positions for the entire school with double Portola's enrollment. WCCUSD has more support positions than high functioning districts, mostly to cover low net productivity . Our educational Return-on-Investment is on the notably low end http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/01/educational_productivity/. We need to benchmark productivity expectations for all positions and practices. The Council of Great City Schools offers some Key Performance Indicators against which urban districts can compare themselves http://kpi.actpoint.com/ .


      Conclusion
      Above all, we need to look at every school function for cost, desirability and centrality to mission. It's incumbent on us a citizens and consumers to empower the board to make the best decisions for our kids. Is keeping Shannon and Lake open worth the extra $1M? We are doing little more than academic theater at the district level. I'm hearing good things about elementary level, and scores support this. Maybe the generation in high school has been the sacrificial one to make way for early grade improvements. NCLB and the content standards have dulled our kids into a critical thinking crisis, as colleges are currently discovering. We can't doom a decade of kids with each reform. We need a more agile, adaptive system than this district has ever achieved. We must find some innovative ways to transform, and not be afraid of calculated risk.

      Please offer your ideas for improving our efficiency and efficacy.
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