PUSD launches “collective responsibility” strategy to rectify academic sanctions

Laura Beaton

  In an energetic board meeting Thursday, Jan. 10, Plumas Unified School District Superintendent of Schools Micheline Miglis spoke about a new paradigm and the concept of “collective responsibility.”

  Miglis shed light from a completely different angle on the federal No Child Left Behind – Adequate Yearly Progress program and the state Academic Performance Index.

  Although the average API for district schools was 824 in 2012, up seven points from 2011, and above the target of 800, Miglis told the board and audience, “Don’t get too comfortable. The district is in danger.”

  A self-appointed “data diva,” Miglis compiled statistics on all PUSD schools using both state and federal indices.

  She explained that California and federal government academic standards and progress requirements don’t jibe.

  Furthermore, even though a single school may be meeting both academic performance indices, the scores from all PUSD schools combined may subject the district itself to sanctions.

  Miglis said that schools and districts receiving Title I funds are accountable to the federal government and its NCLB regulations.

  PUSD high schools do not receive Title I funds and therefore are not subject to these regulations. But if they were, in an ironic twist of statistical data, the one high school that has not met state API requirements, Greenville High, is the only school that complies with NCLB requirements.

  Similarly, C. Roy Carmichael Elementary School in Portola gained 19 points from 2011 to 2012 on its API index, whereas Chester Elementary and Pioneer Quincy Elementary lost seven and 12 points, respectively, in the same time frame.

  Yet CRC (and Portola Opportunity) did not make the mandated growth points under NCLB compliance guidelines, and consequently are subject to corrective actions.

  Because CRC is in PUSD, the district, too, is on watch.

  As CRC leadership team member and second-grade teacher Melissa Leal told the board and audience, “API is truly a false sense of security.”

  Miglis is taking aggressive strides toward correcting the situation.

  In December 2012, two professional learning community meetings were held in Portola to identify student academic weaknesses and devise a plan to improve student learning outcomes and correlating AYP scores.

  This is where collective responsibility comes in. Even though a particular grade level may be performing up to standards, if another grade level is not, the whole school, as well as the district, suffers the consequences.

  The CRC leadership team has been working with Miglis to create an achievable strategic plan that will bring the school into the “Safe Harbor” zone.

  Safe Harbor, as designated and defined by NCLB regulations, allows a school in corrective action to demonstrate an acceptable level of growth.

  If a school can achieve Safe Harbor two years in a row, it is exited out of the corrective action pathway and gains a clean slate.

  CRC leaders have identified what their school’s Safe Harbor target is, and have devised a plan to achieve their goal, using the California State Content Standards Framework as a blueprint.

  Miglis likened finding the solution for the school’s problems to an open book test: the information is all there in the framework. Now teachers need to link the answers with the problems.

  CRC teachers and Principal Edeltraud Marquette are excited about the progress they’ve already made.

  Leal said of Miglis, “She didn’t tell us what to do, she showed us what to do.” The team and Miglis are excited to continue their goal of improving student learning outcomes to achieve Safe Harbor or better status.

  “We’re not teaching to the test,” Miglis said. CRC kindergarten teacher Laura Blesse agreed. She explained, for example, that sixth-graders taking the English language arts test need to know how to infer. If 37 percent of the questions on their exam involve inference, and teachers are only teaching inference in 10 percent of their designated language arts time, there is an obvious disconnect.

  By using the state standards as a blueprint, studying the practice and released test questions and focusing instruction on content standards that their students struggle with, teachers and students can achieve positive results.

  “You are going to see some amazing plans for student achievement,” Miglis said.

  When asked by board member Bob Tuerck, “How did this happen?” Miglis replied that to reform education you have to start with relationships.

  Acknowledging that she has only been on the job for about 60 days, and was not here to experience firsthand the past couple of years, Miglis said it seems like the district has jumped from A to R instead of going step by step.

  “It’s exciting, it’s scary, it’s uncomfortable. Some folks aren’t going to like it,” Miglis said. “One thing really needs to happen. We need to unify as a district around the kids.”

  Audience member Guy McNett summed up his sentiments by saying, “It is so refreshing to hear this. Thank you.”

  Miglis said there are many tools at teachers’ disposal, including before- and after-school tutoring, professional development, teacher collaboration and more.

  As another example of collective responsibility, Miglis said that CRC teachers told her the bus schedule would not allow for targeted students to attend after-school tutoring sessions.

  PUSD transportation supervisor Ken Pierson got involved and figured out a way that bus routes could be adapted, at minimal expense, to meet the needs of the intervention strategies.

  Creating this new paradigm that focuses on district-wide collective responsibility will be one of Miglis’ main goals in coming months. She is committed to working with principals and leadership teams to address the district’s challenges.

  In other news, both the district and PCOE received unqualified audits, or clean opinions, with minimal findings that either have been or are being addressed.

  Board meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month. The next meeting will be Feb. 7, 5 p.m. at the district office in Quincy.

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