by Ann Randall
SPAC, DAC, SAC…this alphabet soup represents the focus of recent school board discussions. Colorado state law mandates that school districts submit a Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) to the state in order to attest to district achievement shortfalls and the strategies proposed to address them.
In April, the Jeffco school board unanimously rejected the UIP submitted to them by district officials. The goal is to present the state with accurate, comprehensive data, as well as an action plan with measurable goals. The board determined in April that the initial plan did not adequately connect the root causes for the lack of student achievement with action plans that will support higher achievement. Since that time, the school board has been discussing how to make the district accountability committee (DAC) more robust.
These distinct committees play roles that can be important to successfully educate our students, so it is necessary to understand the differences in their responsibilities and membership.
The most familiar of these committees from the recent past is SPAC, or the Strategic Planning and Advisory Council. SPAC has met in Jeffco since 2001. At the time, the district was developing a new strategic planning process and wanted community members to have input. The new committee soon absorbed DAC, or the District Accountability Committee, which had been established according to state requirements in 1997. As a result, SPAC also began needing to focus on school accountability and accreditation in addition to strategic planning.
Unfortunately, since the merger of the two committees, Colorado statutes have not been met in regard to the membership and responsibilities of the DAC, spurring the board to once again separate the two committees.
School Accountability Committees (SAC) are comprised of parents, staff, and community members at each Jeffco school, and provide guidance to the principal on improving academic achievement. The work of each school’s SAC should inform the work of the DAC. Each SAC helps create a school performance framework (SPF) which defines plans for improving achievement in areas that need focus. This work should roll up to the district level so the UIP created by the DAC reflects the needs of the schools.
To further differentiate the strategic planning and district accountability committees, it is important to note the significant distinctions in required membership, frequency of meetings, and annual state reporting requirements. For example, SPAC was designed as a superintendent advisory committee. SPAC requires a parent chair of the committee and a facilitator; the committee must meet at least once a month. However, DAC is a school board level committee, and according to state law, must meet certain requirements for balanced membership so it provides true community oversight.
Colorado Revised Statute (C.R.S.) 22-11-301, which outlines the requirements for a DAC, states that each school district should establish a process for appointing or electing, at minimum, three parents of students in the district public schools, one teacher and one school administrator currently employed in the district, and one person involved in business in the community. Numbers may, of course, exceed these minimums, but the law requires that the parent representatives represent the demographics of the population, that one person cannot fulfill multiple membership positions, and the number of parent representatives must still be more than that of any other groups.
In regards to meeting frequency, DAC members are required to meet at least once a month, far more than the once-a-year DAC specific meeting SPAC held over the past few years. In fact, open record requests show that only twice last year were there enough parents at any of the SPAC meetings to consider it a DAC meeting. Because of dual roles the SPAC had been asked to play, the DAC requirements took a back seat. Consequently, the district UIP has not addressed how the district will improve achievement. Something needed to change in order to focus on an effective improvement plan for the district.
A small group of SPAC members met over the summer to create a plan for the size and composition of the new DAC committee. They have recommended that there be one person who sits on a SAC from each of the 17 articulation areas of the district, ensuring familiarity with local SAC plans. In addition, they suggested at least 24 additional members be selected through a nomination process, driven largely by the district or the DAC committee itself. The board noted that it wanted a broader community engagement process. They voted to begin accepting the applications in October.
The SPAC will continue in its role of providing feedback to the superintendent and will be an integral partner as the district creates specific action plans to meet the new targets identified in the district’s developing strategic plan, Vision 2020.
With the DAC able to focus on providing guidance to the board on how to improve achievement, committee members should be able to dig more deeply into the plans for each school, find great best practices to share, and suggest areas in need of additional emphasis. In addition, they can develop a rigorous process for making sure the district plan for improvement is robust and really drives increased academic performance.