Tuesday, November 15, 2011

TOP STORY >> State widens supervision

Leader staff writer

Most all of the secondary schools in Jacksonville and Sherwood are not only on the school-improvement list again, but are also in the most extreme or worse category—state directed.

But what does state directed mean?

Different things for different schools, according to Dr. Linda Remele, a deputy superintendent for the Pulaski County Special School District.

Remele said at the high schools the state is paying for team capacity building to help improve student achievement. Jacksonville is using an additional $2 million federal grant, administered by the state, to pay for technology upgrades and improvements and professional development.

Northwood Middle and North Pulaski High schools have initiated Read 180 with the help of a three-year, $540,000 Department of Defense grant. The program, recommended by the state, is also in place at Jacksonville Middle and Jacksonville High schools.

All the state directed schools, along with others, are using United Streaming. Technology for what Remele calls “virtual field trips.”

The team capacity building is done through the Arkansas Leadership Academy’s Team Leadership Institute and costs around $7,000 per person, which the state pays.

The institute seeks to build capacity to create learning environments; move the work of the district, school, and organization forward by improving systems within the district, and provide tools and skills to work as a team, according to its website.

School teams include the principal, a capacity builder who works closely with the principal, teacher leaders, and math and literacy facilitators.

Remele added that this is the first year that the district has been able to place highly qualified math and literacy coaches on the campuses of all state-directed schools. “They are on campus 100 percent of the time to help teachers and staff,” Remele said.

Two major focuses for the work in the institute are an understanding of the concepts of deep knowledge of teaching and learning and the tools and opportunity to develop an action plan for designing and implementing a learning system for professional development that has clear accountable measurements of improved teaching and learning, according to the website.

Remele broke it down further, saying the team looks at school tests and student data and best practices to determine what needs to be done at that particular school.

She said school capacity building teams meet three times a year away from the school, three days in the summer, two days in the fall and two days in the spring, to work on school issues affecting student achievement.

The deputy PCSSD superintendent said Jacksonville’s $2 million funding is part of a three-year renewable grant. “We aren’t guaranteed that it will be renewed, but if it is, the school could receive up to $6 million,” she said.

Getting the grant is good news for the school; the bad news is that only the poorest performing schools in the state, which included the high school, were eligible to apply.

The Read 180 program is designed to bring students’ reading level up to their corresponding grade level. “It is real important to get a student’s reading level up so they will do better in science and social studies,” Remele said.

At Northwood and North Pulaski, the program involves a double block of time for reading and a pair of teachers working with smaller class sizes to make sure everyone gets small group and one-on-one help. “There’s a lot reading practice and lots of small group help,” Remele said.

The deputy superintendent is very excited about the use of United Streaming in state directed and other schools. “It’s through Discovery Education and offers more than 1,000 different activities,” she said.

Remele explained that when students go on a field trip, they lose out on class work in other subjects, but through these video trips, students don’t have to leave the classroom or miss other classes.

Once all these programs are in place and the bugs smoothed out, Remele expects to see improved scores throughout the district.