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U-46 Board discusses strategic plan metrics

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 discussed the metrics to be used to measure the success of the strategic plan, and the administration also asked to continue using the consulting services of the District Management Council (DMC) at its meeting on Monday, March 21.
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said that certain metrics will always be tracked and the administration was looking for consensus on the metrics discussed during the work session. He said other metrics could be added in the future.
  “Annually for good governance we should be looking at all the measures, all the metrics, giving a report to the board and having further discussion on are we measuring what matters,” Sanders said.
  John Kim, DMC CEO, said “there’s not a common agreement” on what measures should be tracked.
  “It can often feel like we’re trying to have a philosophical debate about what’s more important or what’s less important, and I wanted to first say we can set that aside because there’s no right answer to these things,” Kim said.
  Board members were given dots to be used, no more than 15 allowed to be placed, and asked to put a dot next to the metrics they supported. There were 10 of the total 34 metrics that received support from four or more and three that received three from the six board members in attendance. Cody Holt was absent.
  The metric that received the most discussion was under the third priority of having an effective and engaged staff. That metric was “increase the percentage of staff who have cultural competency training and ESL (English as a Second Language) endorsements.”
  To do that the district wants to increase the percentage of staff with an ESL/bilingual endorsement as well as attending cultural competency training by 2 percent a year or to 75 percent overall. That measure received one dot, from Traci Ellis.
  “This is a district of overwhelmingly diverse cultural, ethnic, racial and so I think that it’s important to have teachers who, in front of this diverse body of students, who are culturally competent,” Ellis said who added: “I’d like to hear from my colleagues who don’t think cultural competence is a worthy goal.”
  “I don’t support the prolonging dependence on any other language then English,” said board member Jeanette Ward. “There is no extended instruction in other world languages for immigrants from India, China or other parts of Asia or Europe. So in my opinion prolonging students’ dependence on the language of their country of origin hurts their chances at success in America.”
  “I don’t think that, in and of itself, makes us a top tier district,” said board member Phil Costello. “We’re looking for academic excellence, and there are byproducts on how you get there.… If we are going to become the best district that we want to become, I don’t think that should be a benchmark.”
  Ellis attempted to put Costello on the defensive asking: “Ok, have you seen the research that links cultural competent teachers to academic performance?”
  Costello responded: “It might feed into those results, but the end line is we’re looking for a better district. And having those points up there met might enable us, but it doesn’t get us to the finish line.”
  Ellis did not offer any studies to back up her claim, and no studies could be found on a simple online search for “cultural competent teachers linked to academic success.”
  Sanders said that “in an ideal world, cultural competency would be factored in to all that we do” while board members Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith said they felt the district is already working on that which is why they did not mark it as a metric they supported.
  “I didn’t mark it, but I think it’s important,” Smith said. “But I think that it’s something we are working on.”
  A metric under the first priority dealing with student achievement seeking to “increase the percent of students who are prepared for kindergarten” by half the percentage yearly was also discussed. Kim called that a “very ambitious” goal.
  Ellis said that “this is not the world of kindergartners coming into U-46, this is the world of kindergartners who have been in a U-46 pre-K program” who she feels should be better prepared for kindergarten than those students who were not in the U-46 pre-K system.
  Costello asked a broader question overall concerning the costs of the metrics.
  “I think I have to weigh in on the fact that until I can assign a cost to that, I’m not sure that I want to support that,” Costello said adding: “At some point, we have to understand what’s the cost of doing” each metric.
  Noland and Kim both said how your tax dollars are spent is a secondary issue.
  “In my experience with strategic planning, usually the strategic planning is the vision and metrics are the measurements, and then you look at resources and what you can actually do,” said Noland who recommended keeping all the metrics but putting them in tiers based on level of support.
  “I think the issue of cost is a very important one, but these are measures that really drive the marginal dollar,” said Kim whose Boston-based DMC business received $175,000 from U-46 taxpayers to help develop the strategic plan.
  Before the metrics were discussed Matt Raimondi, U-46’s coordinator for Assessment and Accountability, told the board about the district’s data warehouse which Sanders called “a pretty powerful system that we have,” and Ward asked about who had access to that data. Raimondi said a teacher can only see data of students in their classroom, a principal in their building.
  The proposal, presented during the meeting’s business session, to continue with DMC was for a three-year contract costing $72,500 a year to consult on the district’s special education services. The proposal, to be voted on at the April 11 meeting, also includes a potential additional $20,000 a year for DMC to produce staff schedules.
  Kim said the service is specifically for students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and those struggling, like low-income and ESL students, who he said “should get and are qualified to get additional services and interventions.”
  DMC’s philosophy is that individual needs are secondary to the collective good according to Kim who said “we philosophically believe that all kids should be part of this answer and all adults really think about all the kids in each building,” as well as making sure “the most highly qualified teachers [are] matched with the neediest students.”
  Costello asked: “Does anything that you’ve said here benefit the non-struggling students, the general population?”
  Kim said that placing staff in what DMC considers are the appropriate positions “will help all kids, but the focus here obviously [is] students who are struggling.”
  Ward noted that the proposal claims DMC can save U-46 two-times the contract price and asked: “So what kind of changes can you implement that would give that kind of savings?”
  Kim said by grouping students in one-to-one into sizes of two would “reduced your cost by half” but “we would never do this if it didn’t help students and also made you operationally better.”
  Kim also said that DMC doesn’t just consider direct cost savings but also cost avoidance, and districts shouldn’t consider savings as a chance to reduce spending but rather to add more programs.
  Sanders said at the start of the presentation that during a 2007 contract negotiation, teachers wanted to know how they were spending their time and negotiated a “time audit to see how teachers are spending their time within the school day and outside of the school day,” and DMC was the only organization that U-46 could find to do that work.



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