Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) Program
There was a brief presentation about the JAG program at C.A. Johnson High School. This program is funded through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Funds. It uses project-based learning, trauma-informed care, and employer engagement to assist a small cohort (no more than 60 students). The JAG program is designed to help those at greatest risk of not graduating, so they aim to have at least 50% of the cohort be in the bottom 25% of the class. The program coordinator also works with the students for one year after graduation to assist with post-graduation plans, especially job placement.
I think the JAG program is a great resource, and thankfully, there is hope that the district will be able to expand it to all high schools. The superintendent indicated that we would get more details about that expansion soon.
CHAMPS Volunteer Program and a Mentoring Initiative
There were two presentations about programs designed to provide extra adult presence and support at school.
The first presentation (at the 10:00 minute mark) is about the Richland One CHAMPS (Caring Hearts Making Positive Shifts) program. I would encourage you to watch the discussion, which includes a PowerPoint presentation about the program. In summary, this program will provide a way for volunteers to have a presence at schools to help teachers and staff support students. For example, these volunteers will greet students as they arrive and help ensure they get to class on time throughout the day. This program will be open to anyone who wants to volunteer. This page provides more information as well as the dates and locations of upcoming information sessions.
The Mentoring Initiative (discussed at the 31-minute mark) is a more intensive support effort. This initiative will only be available to male students (the district plans to expand to female students later). Primarily, the mentoring will be small groups of students who meet with their mentor once a week for 45-90 minutes.
Undoubtedly, these programs provide an opportunity for real impact for students. And I fully support each of them. However, these programs will only be as good as we support and oversee them. For example, studies have long demonstrated that mentoring programs that are not well-run can harm the very students they are trying to serve. These are not “set it and forget it” programs. So, my initial concern is ensuring that we provide the necessary support and capacity at the school level to administer the volunteer and mentoring initiatives. Both will require intensive work — recruitment, day-to-day logistics, and oversight to be successful. I worry that we will saddle an already overwhelmed administrator or school counselor with this oversight, and I do not believe that is realistic.
Board Oversight of Contracts/Procurement
The district has formulated its Internal Procurement Operating Procedures. The board previously approved a new policy that provides the district with almost sole authority on procurement and creating these procedures. The district’s protocols that will go into effect in January provide that the board will only vote on contracts of $250,000 or more.
As I previously stated, I am less worried about the board having a voting role on smaller contracts, but I am very concerned that, as it stands now, the board (and the public) will not be informed about these contracts. Once again, I raised this issue and posed this question: “how does it benefit the board or the public not to provide the contracts?” There was no answer to that question.
The superintendent did suggest that the public can access the district’s transparency documents on its website. This answer was, at best, disingenuous. That reporting is basically our checkbook. There is simply no way that anyone can glean information from looking at that. For example, some time back, the board approved a contract for temporary psychological services. That was how the board learned that we had six vacancies in that area. We had a thoughtful discussion about this and whether this contract would be sufficient to fill the gap. Under the current plan, that will not happen, period. And looking at the check register will not provide enough information to make room for a substantive discussion.
In short, I do not see why we wouldn’t simply continue to provide new contracts at every board meeting as information items that we can discuss, even if we aren’t voting on them.
Interesting Article about the Educator Shortage
I never did receive the requested teacher turnover by school data that I asked for in May. This article helps explain why that information is critical. The article also does an excellent job of pointing out that while the issue of educator shortage is common everywhere, it is also a hyper-local phenomenon. In other words, we can’t just sit back and say, “well, everyone is having the same problem” and then do nothing about it. “About 80 percent of the variation in vacancy levels, in fact, was accounted for by particular schools within districts, rather than across school district borders.” The data also revealed that “that past turnover tends to predict future turnover” at a particular school. Finally, the article noted the importance of pay and teacher support at the school level in teacher retention.
In short, school districts do have a role to play in retention and this article perfectly captures why I believe the board needed information about teacher turnover and the administration’s plans for our high-turnover schools. We never received either, and that’s a problem.