We covered three issues during the work session (I have provided time stamps for these topics to make it easier to go directly to a particular discussion):
- a safety update (0:01:44 mark),
- an update on the HR/payroll issues (0:49:50 mark), and;
- an update on the early childhood center (2:03:19 mark).
HR / Payroll Issues
The payroll issues have been going on for a long time. I have repeatedly said that we need our internal auditor to conduct an operational audit of the HR and payroll departments so we can figure out where the problems are. That has not happened. The HR and payroll departments conducted an internal review of all the missing payments. I requested that these departments provide the board with a report on their findings. So far, that hasn’t happened. While I am glad to hear that these departments are examining the problems, their internal review should not be confused with an operational audit conducted by an independent auditor (like our internal auditor). Nothing presented during the work session changed my mind about the need for a real audit.
Early Childhood Center
There was an update about the early childhood center. If we can implement this effectively, I think that this center will have the opportunity to be a game-changer for students. I believe that a center like this can address many of the obstacles created by poverty. This early support will, in turn, help our future elementary school teachers, because their students will be more prepared by the time they get there. But, as I discuss below, I believe we need to really focus on providing more support in our current K-3 classrooms.
Regular Board Meeting
Administration officials provided a lengthy summary of the testing data that the state department of education released to the public. (Click here to see the district’s presentation).
I tend to focus mainly on literacy achievement in elementary school because I believe that sets the stage for middle and high school. I also think that the SC Ready results are more easily comparable from year to year since virtually every student takes these tests. Not surprisingly, there are bright spots and reasons for concern. On the one hand, the district met or surpassed the state’s growth average for ELA in several demographic categories. This growth data is positive news. But when you drill down a bit, there are reasons to be concerned. Near the end of the presentation, a slide provides more context for these growth numbers. While the district as a whole exceeded the state growth average, many schools did not see this success: only half of our 28 elementary schools met this goal and only three out of our nine middle schools met this goal. These results are similar to pre-COVID results, which brings me to my biggest concern.
Since 2016 our academic achievement results in literacy have not changed. Of course, as I said at the board meeting, these test scores often track poverty levels. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. But we can’t stop the discussion there. We should be asking ourselves what we need to do at individual schools to be more successful. Over the years, our strategies to improve literacy have remained similar—professional development, “learning walks,” and MTSS. I’m concerned that we never seem to evaluate the need for more support for our teachers in the form of instructional assistants, for example. I don’t believe we can provide teachers with more training without providing more day-to-day support. I get it; it’s hard to find folks right now. But we should at least be trying. And why haven’t we done that years ago? We should consider providing an instructional assistant for every first through third-grade classroom (most Kindergarten classrooms already have an IA). Of course, we will never be able to deploy something like this across the district all at once. But we could look at our schools where literacy achievement is particularly low or where we have higher-than-average teacher turnover and start there. And to be clear, I am open to other ways to provide more support to our elementary schools. And it may differ depending on the school, but I do think we need to try some new strategies.
I know how it feels to teach high school students who are years behind in reading. It was hard to watch. It made high school harder than it needed to be, and it decreased the opportunities and choices these students had during and after high school. I think we can do better.