After reviewing the report on the three-year goals for 2008-10, the District 65 School Board began a preliminary discussion on establishing three-year goals for 2010-13. While the primary goal will likely be to improve achievement for all students, the Board’s discussion focused on strategies to improve achievement of low-income students and to close the achievement gap among students of various ethnicities. The discussion brought up the issue of how the District may allocate limited resources.
Superintendent Hardy Murphy listed nine strategies to improve achievement of low-income students and to close the achievement gap, four of which are:
• Extend pre-K and Family Center programs to be year-round programs, with a parenting component and child care in the evenings.
• Develop year-round educational opportunities for low-income students in kindergarten through second grade, including a child-care and parenting component.
• Establish significantly lower class sizes – perhaps a maximum of 15 students per class – at Title I schools, which are schools with high percentages of low-income students.
• Move teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness with minority students to schools with the highest percent of minority students.
Board members appeared to be supportive or receptive to Dr. Murphy’s suggestions, some with a few variations, and some with concerns about implications on the budget.
Richard Rykhus said the data presented in the goals report showed that students were losing ground over the summer, and that growth as measured by the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test was declining in grades 6, 7 and 8, compared to grades 3, 4, and 5. He said these were issues the Board should look at when setting goals.
He also said, “All the research shows early childhood intervention is the key. I see that as a priority for us – to find some really creative way to make that happen.”
Andy Piggozi said, “What I heard was a bold initiative laid out that we find a way to provide continuous instruction through the summer for our students that would benefit the most from that.” Referring to the District’s budget issues going forward, he said, “It’s going to be an enormous challenge to reallocate resources and also to mitigate revenue challenges.” He asked if the administration had given thought to “how we can achieve that.”
Dr. Murphy said the administration does not have it all worked out. “We didn’t feel the need to hold back on talking about what we would like to see done even though we didn’t have the budget worked out.” He added that allocating resources to students who were most in need creates a tension “about the resources we have at our disposal and how they’re used.”
Tracy Quattrocki said, “I think that’s a great conversation to start,” adding that she thought having pre-k children spend eight hours a day in a “very language-rich environment” may be a more effective strategy than providing small class sizes at fifth grade. While acknowledging the upward trend in achievement, she expressed a desire that it go faster – adding that it was a desire of everyone. She said the trend “does make me feel that we need to do something radical in the early grades.” She too said that growth measured by the MAP test seemed to drop off in the middle school years, and suggested that the Board look at those years in setting goals.
Kim Weaver said she thought the strategies to close the gap were well thought out and very challenging. She said, “We will do what we can, and I’m committed.”
Board President Katie Bailey said the Board seemed to be focusing on goals to improve student achievement, to close the achievement gap and to address the District’s finances. She asked Board members to review the five-year strategic plan and see if there were goals in that plan that should be made one of the Board’s three-year goals. She added the Board should determine exactly what measurements it expected to use in the next few years.
Ms. Bailey asked Dr. Murphy to prepare a working draft of proposed goals for the Board to consider at its June 20 meeting. She added that Board members should come to that meeting with ideas on goals and how to measure whether the goals were met. Mr. Rykhus and Ms. Quattrocki argued that the Board should set specific targets. Mssrs. Summers and Pigozzi argued for more flexible measures.