Purpose and Direction: Knowing, Going, and Showing!
In preparation for our upcoming AdvancED visit (March 20-23), all of the schools and the district office have been focusing on five key standards: (1) Purpose and Direction, (2) Governance and Leadership, (3) Teaching and Assessing for Learning, (4) Resources and Support Systems, and (5) Using Results for Continuous Improvement. These five standards form the foundation and the very essence of the visit. Effective schools have the above five characteristics; effective districts do too. Granted, as much as we would like to think we do everything well, such is often just not the case. That is why we conduct these internal and external audits (via AdvancED) every five years. It helps us stay true to those things most important and helps us to refocus should we lose our way. Over the next five columns, I will drill down into how each of these areas are assessed and how we, as a district, rated ourselves in preparation for the visit. Each of the above standards is assessed with a rubric describing whether the “indicators” associated with that standard are Very Evident (4), Evident (3), Somewhat Evident (2), or Not Evident (1). In Standard 1—Purpose and Direction—we have three indicators: • The district/school engages in a systematic, inclusive, and comprehensive process to review, revise, and communicate a district and school purpose for student success. • The district/school leadership (and staff) commit to a culture that is based on shared values and beliefs about teaching and learning and supports challenging, equitable, educational programs and learning experiences for all students that include achievement of learning, thinking, and life skills. • The district/school leadership implements a continuous improvement process that provides clear direction for improving conditions that supports student learning. One of the things we take very seriously in L56 is our attention to what is important, mainly ensuring as many students as possible graduate from high school and attend college (whether two- or four-year). Fortunately for us, our state has been very supportive of this same effort with the adoption and support of the “Profile of the South Carolina Graduate” and the emphases on academics, skills, and personal characteristics. In L56 we have seen our graduation rate increase from 65.2% in 2010 to 81.6% in 2015. Students have been given the opportunity to take dual enrollment classes with Presbyterian College, USC-Union, and Piedmont Technical College. Nearly 98% of students who take dual enrollment classes receive credit for college coursework while in high school. We recognize students don’t just graduate ready for college. It is a thirteen year trek from early childhood all the way through the 12th grade. We know students fight an uphill battle if they don’t read on or near grade level at the end of 3rd grade. We also recognize the three indicators above are grounded in a vision, mission, and belief statements harnessing the full complement of talents in the community. Schools can’t do it alone. We just aren’t able to do so. Fortunately for us, we have a committed citizenry and a strong faith-based community to undergird and strengthen our efforts. We are honored to work with CC4Y, Good News Clubs, and other agencies to provide extended day opportunities for our students. We are all too aware that what worked yesterday may not be as effective today. Consequently, we seek to expand networks to include partnerships with other districts and to compete for grant dollars to provide our students with what the general fund and local tax base just can’t afford. We are committed to helping all students be as successful as possible. Will all students in L56 go to college? Probably not but that does not cause us to lose focus on doing the best job possible. So, how do we stack up with Standard 1: Purpose and Direction? I think it is Evident (3) we are doing what is described in the three indicators. Can we do better? Of course. But are we doing better now than we were five years ago? Absolutely! And that’s what continuous improvement is all about…being a little bit better each day, seeing setbacks as opportunities to begin again more intelligently a second time, and understanding if you are not making progress, you’re going backwards. We are proud of the gains we have made but we know it cannot be accomplished alone: everyone plays a part! Are you on board? (Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens School District 56.)