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School improvement councils get guidance

School Board member Pat Deutschman leads the effort to enhance training, support and effectiveness of the volunteer panels.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2000


INVERNESS -- Never before have the jobs done by the public schools gotten closer scrutiny than since the Governor's A+ Education Plan started assigning letter grades to schools last year.

At the same time, support for a crucial element of the school improvement process has fallen off. Even though school improvement councils have gained responsibilities in recent years, state training for members has waned.

That's why School Board member Pat Deutschman, a former advisory/enhancement council member and chairwoman herself, has been pushing to better train and support the district's councils.

Earlier this week, Deutschman presented to the board what she and others have been doing recently to help the school improvement process. Various school officials have helped with the process, but the core group has been Deutschman, another longtime advisory/enhancement council member, John Kline, and school administrator Mark Brunner.

The group has set up a blank school improvement form that can be used as a template by any school that wants to follow a standard format. Administrators and school advisory/enhancement council members have been trained in the process of creating a meaningful improvement plan, from the initial jobs of distributing surveys to the parents and school employees to the final task of analyzing information to find out whether the changes made have met the goals established in the plan.

The committee has also written a handbook to guide the councils and has made arrangements to get standard school information into the hands of the councils each year as they write their plans. That information will include everything from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores to demographic data.

Schools can then choose what information actually relates to the areas where a school's council decides improvements are needed.

The process will help schools align their own goals with those set districtwide through the strategic planning process. But they will let them do that without harming their own individuality -- something the school improvement process was created to preserve, Deutschman said.

The new information given to the council members will get them more focused on what is important, she said. In some plans, schools have set goals such as improving test scores. But Deutschman pointed out to the board that the actual goal was to improve student learning. Now council members will be better prepared to write goal statements that reflect what councils really want.

"We're starting to institute some different ways of thinking about what you're trying to accomplish and how you know when you've been successful," she said.

Across the district, the same consultant who helped the district develop its strategic plan has also been teaching educators how to use data to analyze what works. During Tuesday's board meeting, Kelly noted that creating that measurement system is "probably the most important work we've done" in the district in recent years.

The improvement plan process began in 1992 based on a 1991 law. While hundreds of well-meaning volunteers have churned out plans each year at each school since then, Deutschman hopes that the new system will bring even more people and cooperation into the process.

When that doesn't happen, there is friction, as was seen at Citrus High School this year. Recently the CHS advisory/enhancement council chairman, teacher Gene Trescott, quit because the council didn't have input on some significant decisions, including the decision to switch the school to a block schedule next year.

"The way we're headed is toward shared decisionmaking," Deutschman said. "When you don't take the time to do that, you have more resistence, less buy-in. ... "When you involve all the stakeholders in the decisionmaking process, you honor their input," she said. "That's when you get commitment, and without commitment, it's just not going to work."

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