Law, vote to re­la­bel dis­tricts as Level 5

Goal is a re­fo­cus of ac­count­abil­ity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

The state-con­trolled Lit­tle Rock and Dol­lar­way school sys­tems will be re­clas­si­fied ef­fec­tive Aug. 1 as dis­tricts “in need of Level 5 - In­ten­sive sup­port” be­cause of a 2017 state law and a vote of the Ar­kan­sas Board of Ed­u­ca­tion on Thurs­day.

Cur­rent ef­forts to mon­i­tor and help the school dis­tricts could be ex­panded, al­tered or ended as the re­sult of tran­si­tional plans that will be de­vel­oped over the com­ing weeks by the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and school district staffs.

The con­tent of the tran­si­tional plans will rely in part on the 2017 As­pire test re­sults that were re­leased ear­lier this month, state Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Johnny Key said.

The new Level 5 la­bel comes as the state moves from a school ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem in which some schools and dis­tricts were clas­si­fied as be­ing in “aca­demic dis­tress” for chron­i­cally low stu­dent test scores to a new ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem out­lined in Act 930.

The Lit­tle Rock and Dol­lar­way school dis­tricts were taken over by the state, their elected school boards dis­missed and their su­per­in­ten­dents ap­pointed by Key.

In Lit­tle Rock’s case, the Jan­uary 2015 takeover was be­cause the state Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment la­beled six of the district’s 48 schools as be­ing aca­dem­i­cally dis­tressed. The num­ber of Lit­tle Rock aca­dem­i­cally dis­tressed schools has since been re­duced to three.

The state Ed­u­ca­tion Board voted in De­cem­ber 2015 to take over the Dol­lar­way district in Jefferson County be­cause its high school was in aca­demic dis­tress and be­cause of con­flicts be­tween the district’s School Board and district ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The new law di­rects the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to pro­vide all school dis­tricts with sup­port — the level of which could be gen­eral, col­lab­o­ra­tive, co­or­di­nated, di­rected or in­ten­sive — de­pend­ing on cri­te­ria to be es­tab­lished in rules that will be adopted by the Ed­u­ca­tion Board.

To en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion to the new ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem, Act 930 re­quires the state to con­tinue to pro­vide sup­port and in­ter­ven­tion strate­gies to the schools that are in aca­demic dis­tress or are “pri­or­ity” schools be­cause of low achieve­ment or “fo­cus” schools be­cause of large achieve­ment gaps be­tween sub­groups of stu­dents.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the new law specif­i­cally re­quires school dis­tricts des­ig­nated as be­ing in aca­demic dis­tress and un­der state author­ity — which cur­rently are the Lit­tle Rock and Dol­lar­way dis­tricts — to be re­clas­si­fied by the Ed­u­ca­tion Board as need­ing Level 5 - In­ten­sive sup­port, on the ef­fec­tive date of the new law, which is Aug. 1.

The dis­tricts op­er­at­ing un­der state author­ity are to re­main un­der state author­ity and be pro­vided with in­ten­sive sup­port, the law di­rects, un­til they meet the req­ui­site exit cri­te­ria.

Lit­tle Rock Su­per­in­ten­dent Mike Poore said later Thurs­day that the new clas­si­fi­ca­tion won’t cause any abrupt changes in op­er­a­tions. He called it “an al­most sta­tus quo move of kind of keep­ing things the same.”

“I ac­tu­ally don’t see a dra­matic dif­fer­ence im­me­di­ately, any­way,” Poore said. “It kind of puts us back in the same place we were. In­stead of dis­tressed, you’re at a Level 5. We have to get our three schools out of that box, so to speak on our end. That is what we can do to get lo­cal con­trol back. I think it is kind of the same.

“The rest of the rules that come in Au­gust will be more in­ter­est­ing, to see how they af­fect the Lit­tle Rock district,” he added.

With­out dis­cus­sion Thurs­day, the Ar­kan­sas Ed­u­ca­tion Board unan­i­mously adopted the Level 5 - In­ten­sive sup­port clas­si­fi­ca­tions for Lit­tle Rock and Dol­lar­way dis­tricts.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment staff had pro­vided the board with a writ­ten state­ment elab­o­rat­ing on the as­sis­tance that the agency will pro­vide to the Lit­tle Rock and Dol­lar­way dis­tricts, as well as to in­di­vid­ual schools that are la­beled as be­ing in “aca­demic dis­tress,” “pri­or­ity” or “fo­cus” schools.

That state­ment com­mits the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment to pro­vid­ing data analy­ses and strate­gic plan­ning in the ar­eas of aca­demics, com­mu­ni­ca­tions/stake­holder en­gage­ment, fa­cil­i­ties, fis­cal op­er­a­tions, hu­man cap­i­tal man­age­ment and stu­dent sup­port ser­vices.

There also will be men­tor­ing pro­vided by the state to staffs at schools and at the district level, ac­cord­ing to the state­ment. Aca­demic con­tent spe­cial­ists in the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment and the ed­u­ca­tion ser­vice co­op­er­a­tives will be avail­able to sup­port the schools and dis­tricts.

“In ad­di­tion, the depart­ment will con­duct a sys­tems anal­y­sis that will be used, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the pub­lic school district, to de­velop a tran­si­tional sup­port plan for pub­lic school dis­tricts that have pub­lic schools clas­si­fied in aca­demic dis­tress, pri­or­ity or fo­cus sta­tus,” the state­ment con­cluded.

Key said in an in­ter­view that the Ed­u­ca­tion Board’s vote was re­quired by Act 930.

“Things will stay the same,” he said about the im­me­di­ate op­er­a­tions of the Lit­tle Rock and Dol­lar­way dis­tricts. He said the Ed­u­ca­tion Board’s vote pro­vides for “a seam­less tran­si­tion” be­tween the ex­ist­ing and the new ac­count­abil­ity sys­tems for the two dis­tricts.

“The in­ter­ven­tions that are es­tab­lished will stay in place,” he said. “The work we are al­ready do­ing with them on aca­demic dis­tress, pri­or­ity and fo­cus schools will all stay in place. In Lit­tle Rock, the Com­mu­nity Ad­vi­sory Board will stay in place,” he added. “Those are all in­ter­ven­tions that we will carry for­ward.”

The Lit­tle Rock ad­vi­sory board meets monthly to hear and re­spond to re­ports on district op­er­a­tions and pro­vide ad­vice to the com­mis­sioner on district mat­ters — in­clud­ing em­ployee and stu­dent dis­ci­plinary ac­tions.

In the long term, state and district of­fi­cials will de­velop tran­si­tion plans that could change some as­pects of ef­forts to help the dis­tricts re­gain lo­cal con­trol.

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