At their first retreat in December 2013, current members of the school board unanimously approved higher student achievement goals and publicly committed to a guarantee that resources will be allocated to programs that work. They set measurable, timed targets in order to make certain students all across the district have access to a great education.
The new student achievement goals drove key decisions to allocate resources for the current school year.
First, the board increased the planned compensation increases by 50 percent, raising the amount of compensation increases for effective staff from $11.7 million to $18.2 million.
The board also allocated millions of additional dollars for a new math curriculum, Math Expressions. Schools are not required to switch to the new curriculum unless they think it will help their students. Math Investigations, which was selected when current board member Jill Fellman ran the district math department, has not raised achievement in this area as expected.
They approved new literacy interventions, allocating 2 million additional dollars to be invested in programs designed to help an additional 300 third graders to read at grade level.
The board also denied a request to expand free full-day kindergarten after achievement data showed that more than half of the programs did not have any lasting effect. They chose instead to continue the program at current funding levels while district staff conducts further research into which programs are most effective.
The board also compared how other local districts fund their full-day kindergarten programs, and found that some districts provide more access by using a sliding scale of each family’s ability to pay. Some can enroll at no charge, and others at reduced cost, based on family income. Jeffco, however, does not provide funding for each family in need. Rather, the district currently supports programs that create unequal access. The board requested a program review to confirm that resources are allocated fairly as well as to programming that improves student achievement.
The new allocation of resources and laser-like focus on asking about the effectiveness of investments in moving student achievement in a positive direction is starting to make a difference. While seven of the 10 goals the board set moved in the wrong direction last year, things are starting to look up.
Graduation and dropout rates just published show that in 2014, Jeffco graduation rates improved and dropouts declined. Literacy interventions show three out of four students being served increased their reading skills by one level, while nearly half have increased two or more levels.
Principals are coming together and asking what it takes to improve achievement systemically throughout their articulation areas. These conversations have led to proposed changes in both the Jefferson and Alameda areas that promise to significantly improve achievement. Teachers’ professional development is more focused on implementing best practices, as the district looks across the nation for programs that create exponential changes.
In order to help supercharge local efforts to improve achievement, the board has approved moving to student-based budgeting. This process is designed to break the one-size-fits-all, top-down funding and decision-making which has inhibited flexibility in local communities.
Student-based budgeting localizes control of more dollars, allowing each school’s parents, staff, and community members to make more decisions that are best for their students. These decisions will be driven by the school accountability committees, which are best positioned to observe the needs of their student populations.
All of these investments and changes have been made in an attempt to raise the number of students who perform at or above grade level.