A new model school and a new administrative position are being considered by the Columbia Public School District to help district achievement and organization.
Superintendent Phyllis Chase outlined two recommendations to the Columbia Board of Education on Thursday: restructuring an elementary school in the district to make it a model school and adding a districtwide director of research, assessment and accountability.
No action was taken. The recommendations will be presented in final form to the school board in April.
Chase said the concept of a model school stems from research by the district Achievement Gap Task Force. Components of the model school include an extended school year and extended school day, principal selection of staff based on commitment and qualifications, and parent contracts to further involvement.
Chase said she has some ideas about which school may be chosen but wouldn’t say more. She said the only definite quality for the chosen school is that it currently has achievement gaps.
Board aims to close achievement gaps
Administrators envision that the school may one day be a magnet school — one that offers distinctive instruction and that students voluntarily attend from outside attendance areas.
“Right now this school will serve students in its attendance area,” said Chase. “Maybe one day it will be a magnet depending on school achievement.”
Board member Chuck Headley thinks schools like this will be key to closing achievement gaps, especially with the extended school day and year feature.
“What needs to happen is that students with lower achievement have to have more attention and time devoted to them in order to catch up,” he said. “The district has to be willing to make an established program to get that done.”
Chase said the school, which would be restructured for this fall, could be copied around the district if successful.
New director could increase efficiency of data analysis
The new position, director of research, assessment and accountability, would involve organizing and analyzing data and helping educators apply it to curriculum. If the board approves, this position would be implemented next fall.
“Right now, everyone is in charge of data, so sometimes no one is,” said Chase. “We’d like to have a place we can always go to with requests for data.”
With standardized test data being used for measuring achievement standards and curriculum development, the district is dependent on these numbers.
Yet other numbers, namely budget numbers, will also be affected by a new position. The school district is looking at about 50 position cuts for next year, and adding a director position to the administration would further deplete an already strained budget.
Chase said the budget concerns that the position raises are offset by the greater efficiency the district would have.
“In these budget times, with all these positions being cut, people are having to do so many things,” she said. “We have to figure out a way to work smarter, because working harder isn’t feasible with what everyone already has to do.”
Some board members showed support for the new position as long as need for it was demonstrated.
“When I was on the district assessment committee, the most common complaint was that we had reams of information but couldn’t utilize it appropriately because there was no one to interpret it,” board member Karla DeSpain said. “We have to know what the data means.”
Board president Russ Still joked about the difficulty of finding someone who would be able to interpret the data and be able to relate it to all the stakeholders in the school district.
“We just need to find a mathematician, political scientist, reading teacher who also has an appreciation for Shakespeare,” he said.