Monday, April 14, 2008

STL Rising: Strategic Planning for the SLPS

On Saturday, I was part of a 1000+ person effort to carry out strategic planning for the St. Louis Public Schools. The effort is being led by the Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools, supported by hundreds of volunteers.

The SLPS is embarking on an effort to increase the district's performance according to the 30 MSIP (Missouri School Improvement Program) benchmark measures. The event took place at Vashon High School and opened with introductions by SAB members Rick Sullivan, Melanie Adams and Richard Gaines. Gaines is heading up the strategic planning process.

Participants were divided into groups, each focusing on a different area of school performance. I was placed in the "Reading at Grade Level" section. Under this section, meeting standard means one of two things: either a student is reading at grade level, or he/she is placed into an intervention program to improve reading ability. In the SLPS, approximately 20 percent of students are rated at reading at a proficient or advanced level.

Our reading subgroup consisted of about 30 participants, assisted by a facilitator. We began by identifying strategies. Then we voted on the strategies to be forwarded to the SLPS for possible implementatation. The commitment by the SLPS is to keep the community informed of the results of the strategic planning process and the success in implementing the plan.

Our group voted to endorse five strategies (in no particular order):

1. Provide reading labs and specialists
2. Increase professional development for all teachers
3. Reduce class size, and provide in-class differentiation based on student ability (cost factor to do this a concern)
4. Test students before they start first grade or kindergarten to determine reading level. (MAP testing begins in third grade)
5. Focus more resources on k-2nd grade students.

In attendance at the event were many community leaders including:

Aldermen Dorothy Kirner, Jeffrey Boyd, and Craig Schmid
State Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford
Many former SLPS board members
The Sup't of the Normanday School District
The CEO of Energizer (Chairman of the Education Committee of Civic Progress)

A very positive video was shown at the start of the day, with the theme, "One Community, One School, One Child At a Time".

For more info on how you can become involved, please click here.


LisaS said...

I attended Saturday's session as well, but I was in the breakout group regarding Buildings, which had about a dozen participants. Our group came up with the following list of thoughts:

1. The common perception about school closings is that political considerations are the . There is a need for an honest broker--someone all sides trust--to evaluate the data (ranging from building condition, occupancy, class size, neighborhood amentities, etc.) and make recommendations. Transparency in the process is another key issue--perhaps having a group combining district representatives with people from the community.

2. Neighborhood schools are the preferred solution to reduce cost of busing, increase parental involvement, etc.

3. What will happen with the magnet schools as the deseg program is phased out starting 2009-2010?

4. Funding issues: deseg fund of $90 million, supposedly earmarked for buildings? do we need to raise property taes? also a discussion of TIFs/abatements and the need for the district as a political entity to control its taxation instead of City government having that power.

5. PR: the district needs to do a better job of serving "customers" (i.e., parents) and promoting successes. (what this had to do with buildings, I have no idea.)

The Elected Board published a planning document of their own last week, which has a lot of worth while ideas.

LisaS said...

oh, and about #3, #4 and #5--

Many teachers in the district unofficially divide their classes into differentiated reading groups. This is mostly good ... except that my perception (based on watching my kindergartner's class) is that the children who start at the top of the class get much less attention than those at the bottom, and make less progress over the course of the year.

The district administers the Terra Nova test series to all students entering 2nd grade.

A number of schools are a part of the Federal Reading First grant program, and in those buildings, children are tested on their reading starting the first day of kindergarten, with specific benchmarks to be met at points in the year. One of the requirements of the grant is that every classroom have 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading instruction (90 minutes in a 420 minute day, figure an hour for recesses and lunch). In addition, K-2 kids in these schools take the Terra Nova in the spring of each year. How the reading proficiency rates at the Reading First schools compare to other "regular" schools, I'd be interested in knowing.

Anonymous said...

The bigger the failure, the bigger the list of remedies. No amount of citizen involvement can repair a failed model of education...but keep trying anyway.