Much discussion has occurred about the presentation of the EACS Perceptions and Recommendations report by Dr. Yost. While there are things in the report that must be addressed, the decision EACS now has to make is how to seek a balanced view of the happenings in East Allen County Schools.
Since the report, I have received dozens of calls, emails and visits from people within the district, many of whom take issue with several things about the report but who most of all feel their input is not represented. Many of the calls I’ve had are from people who met with Dr. Yost during this time, yet whose perceptions are not accounted for.
This study was originally proposed as a look to the future for EACS. Where can we go from here to strengthen the good things happening in East Allen County Schools? The basic question to be answered by this study was “Where should EACS be by 2015/2020?”. Some of the “thought questions” presented to the board when Dr. Yost submitted his proposal for the study were:
What do you think are the most significant differentiators of EACS — in comparison to other school districts?
Are these differentiators important to learning?
How should “excellence” be defined?
Where should EACS focus its attention over the next 10 years?
What the study ended up being was a report based on the “personal side of the district.” How do people “feel” after undergoing significant change — the closing of five schools, transferring hundreds of students, addressing the mandates coming from the State Department of Education and the legislature, reducing more than 100 positions? The personal side of leadership, while valuable is just one of many aspects found within leadership at any level. And they are certainly things the board and administration can learn from this report about the personal side of leadership.
But now the discussion needs to focus on assessing the educational initiatives and improvements happening in the district — the things for which EACS is held accountable by the state and federal government: the increasing demands on student achievement, the expiration of our contract with teachers (2016) and becoming compliant with the state compensation model based on student achievement, the requirement to reduce suspension and expulsion of students, the moving target of school ratings. In other words, how can EACS best assess those educational aspects related to why it exists as a public school district?
How is a balanced view of the education we provide going to be assessed? The board is suggesting, now that we’ve gauged the relational side of the district, to gauge the educational aspects of what’s being accomplished. Those accomplishments include:
Instituting academic opportunities that have never been offered before
Raising test scores by more than 4 percent across the district
Implementing a district redesign after years of paralysis and non-action
Creating financial stability
Developing a more effective facility usage plan across the district
Designing a comprehensive five-year strategic plan for curriculum, instruction and assessment
Increasing opportunities for high school students to earn college credit
Providing alternative pathways for students to get their high school diploma
Continuing to offer summer programming K-12
Creating, a collaborative environment (recognized by the U.S. DOE) with the teachers association
Developing a graduated discipline program
Providing an in-house leadership training program (Administrative University) for all administration
Offering professional development to district administrators across our region
The board is proposing to utilize an educational organization such as the Indiana School Boards Association as a guide through this process. The ISBA provides several board services including self-assessments, effective governance and conflict resolution. But, for our purposes, their goal-setting training seems to address the need for an assessment of our educational program. According to Mike Adamson, ISBA director of board services, ISBA offers a retreat, which “brings boards and administrative teams together focusing on the crucial foundational steps in goal-setting.” There are opportunities, throughout this process, for community members to become involved.
Let me assure you that my concern about Dr. Yost’s report is not about my employment as has been expressed by some. A report such as this is not unique to East Allen. It’s not unlike the craziness that happens when someone new comes into an organization, brings about change and addresses those issues, which have been hanging out there for years. It’s not unlike what happens when one makes unpopular decisions based on what’s right for kids.
This is about East Allen County Schools and what we do for kids every day. Let’s not take our eyes off our educational progress. Let’s not take our eyes off our strengths. Let’s work to improve where necessary and build those relationships where they may be lacking. But, our achievement, our growth, our academic progress and future educational success are far too important to be waylaid now.