GUSD: making the grade?

– Against the backdrop of recent teacher complaints,
accountability expert Douglas Reeves praised the school district
for its efforts in getting the newly formed Accountability Plan up
and running.
Gilroy – Against the backdrop of recent teacher complaints, accountability expert Douglas Reeves praised the school district for its efforts in getting the newly formed Accountability Plan up and running.

Reeves, who helped the district form and execute its plan, met Monday with district officials, principals, teachers, board members and Accountability Task Force members for a three-hour-long mid-year review.

The overarching goal of the meeting, said Superintendent Edwin Diaz, was to encourage schools to share what has and has not worked to improve student performance since the district began its rollout of the plan in August.

Meanwhile, the teachers union last month filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district, claiming the plan dumped more work on teachers without negotiated compensation. The major issue was that teachers were not being given enough time to do everything the district required, said Michelle Nelson, president of the teachers union.

Schools were responsible for creating their own individual plans as part of the Accountability Plan, and in November, the board approved each school’s plan. District administration said teachers played a formative role in developing the plans, but Nelson said differently.

Nelson is in the process of collecting surveys from teachers in every school regarding if and how much extra work the Accountability Plan has caused them. More than half of the surveys have been collected, and Nelson said the results so far “confirm what I suspected.”

One of the most notable findings, she said, was that 65 percent of teachers said there was no teacher discussion about how much time the Accountability Plan would take before or during the development of the school plans.

Twenty-one percent said they felt they had no input on the plans, while 42 percent said they had some input but the process and decisions mostly were directed by administration.

Near the close of Monday’s meeting, held in Ascencion Solorsano Middle School’s multi-purpose room, Reeves briefly and generally addressed the conflict. He encouraged principals to listen to their teachers but also to continue with the plan, keeping in mind the long-term goal of increased student performance.

“I respect that there is dissent,” he said. “But it’s more fun and rewarding to be in a classroom that’s improving. Take that anger and that tension that I know may be in this district and other districts, and let’s channel it in the right direction.”

Reeves added that in his work implementing accountability plans in school districts across the country, time inevitably is a central issue. In analyzing Gilroy’s progress, Reeves said every school identified the shortage of time as a problem, but only one school – Antonio Del Buono Elementary – provided specific ideas as to how the issue might be relieved.

Tammy Gabel, principal of Antonio Del Buono, said the school is considering different ways to structure staff meetings so time in the meetings is spent more efficiently. She also said she is giving teachers release time to be able to address the issues and tasks related to the Accountability Plan.

Nelson said she thought the meeting was a “valuable listening experience,” but she wasn’t sure how or if the information presented will reach teachers.

“I don’t know how (the information) is going to get translated,” she said. “Is it going to get passed down to the general population? I don’t think so. It will be up to principals to share as much as they want.”

Nelson also questioned why district officials who organized the event, which addressed points that directly impact teachers, didn’t invite all teachers in the district.

Teachers who have completed training for analyzing test score data were invited. Diaz said because those teachers work closely with other teachers, he felt the work of all teachers was represented. Additionally, he said, it would be impractical to organize such an event with all 500-some district teachers included.

The district has held mid-year reviews for the past two years, but Diaz said this year’s meeting was an entirely different format in that it took a much more individualized, school-specific approach.

Prior to the meeting, each principal created a three-panel, poster-sized display board providing a summary of three points: the school’s progress since the plan debuted in August, goals for the future and how to achieve those goals. The information posted on the display boards included hard data from test results as well as written anaylses.

The meat of the afternoon consisted of what district officials coined an adult science fair and treasure hunt, where Reeves asked principals to band with other meeting attendees, identify a specific problem in their schools and scrutinize the display boards. The goal was to find another school with a similar problem, then examine how the school is working through the issue. The group convened to discuss their findings and ask each other questions.

John Perales, principal at Mount Madonna Continuation High School, said the open sharing of data was constructive and useful.

“I think this is really powerful, what we’re doing here,” he said. “It filets you wide open so you really are being held accountable, and you’re learning from each other.”

GUSD lessons

According to accountability specialist Doug Reeves, schools should:

• Build upon their strengths – not focus on weaknesses.

• Decipher specific ways to deal with the shortage of time.

• Pay more attention to subjects that aren’t tested by state and federal govt., such as P.E., music and art.

• Involve students by having them track their performance and improvement.

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