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District Case Story - Weld County S/D RE-8 (Ft. Lupton)

Ft. Lupton School District enrollment: 2,403 students.

District Contacts:

  • Mark Payler, Superintendent
  • Dr. Carrie Duits, Assistant Superintendent

What did UIP add to our existing improvement planning efforts?

The newly developed UIP template and process have helped us narrow our plan for improvement. Within our community, we continually share and refer to the UIP so that everyone knows our plan for improvement. We call our UIP “our contract with our community” to raise student achievement.

How did we build staff capacity to engage in UP?

We begin our school UIP training in May with a follow-up training in August. All UIPs are read carefully for feedback and to design training needs. All support materials are provided through UIP training.

The Assistant Superintendent creates documents, tools and materials to support and simplify the process for each group and to be sure that the document is a living document with ongoing planning.

How did we implement UIP at the district level? At the school level?

In May, the week after school is out, we have a school improvement planning day off-site so no one is distracted by their work. Teams participate from every school. We reflect on, “What do we know has made a difference during the last year?” which requires reviewing the past year’s progress data that we generated locally and reviewing our plans for improvement from that year. We also look at changes that might be coming from CDE and we set the stage for next year’s plans. We align everything with what’s going to be expected from the state.

We describe our school improvement plan(s) as our Contract with Our Community. We think our plans should be taken seriously and be developed thoughtfully, so the planning begins when the past year is fresh in our minds.

In August, we bring back these same people and inquire into the new data (% P/A, growth data, gap data, the SPF/DPF) to determine trends and performance challenges. We plan how the data will be rolled out to building staff and which reports are essential to get the information staffs need for efficient data digging.

Then, during the first 4 days in the fall, school teams (grade levels or departments) dig into the data which leads to a deeper discussion of trend statements and root causes. Principals and members of their UIP development teams have the opportunity to attend optional help sessions at least 3 times per week with the Assistant Superintendent.

School Principals hold a School Advisory Council (SAC) meeting in early Sept. to share the UIP. The Assistant Superintendent expects the UIP to be completed by mid-Sept. The Assistant Superintendent meets with the District Accountability Committee (DAC) during the third week of September to distribute UIPs to the evaluating teams and to instruct DAC members in the tools for evaluation. Principals present their plans during the October DAC meeting. By the 1st week in October, Principals present highlights of the UIP and answer questions during a 20 minute meeting with the evaluating DAC team. Principals describe their planning process and take questions from the DAC team that read their plan. DAC then scores the plan with the district rubric. A discussion time follows the team scoring. DAC makes a recommendation to the Board by mid-October.

The board determines the school performance using the state accreditation determination from the SPF + DAC scoring and UIP rating based on the DACs score on the plan. This process allows for local accreditation determinations for each school.

How do find meaning in student performance data?

The District and schools use NWEA, CELA, CBLA (DRA 2) assessments. UIP development teams have this information in May, and while the teams can’t dig deeply into CSAP data yet, they do know how students have progressed according to the other assessments we use. The District and schools use a data dialog process, i.e., they make predictions based on data and are reflective regarding student and UIP progress over the past year. This occurs during the May training and then in August teams look at their predictions, reflections and results to move forward in the UIP planning process.

Use the data warehouse reports efficiently and judiciously, i.e., identify and use those that will give planning teams the information they need. The Data Launch Tool in Schoolview, the SPF, the Growth Summary reports and any other data in a local data warehouse – these have most of the necessary information for UIP planning. There may be other data resources that help support subgroup drilling down at the local level.

Staff also learn to write trend statements, using “fill-in-the-blanks” frameworks to support the development of trend statements.

How do we address root cause analysis?

The five whys is a really good tool. We ask, if you eliminate the “root cause” will the problem/challenge go away? Have building level teams dig into their data and make their data discoveries.

How did we use SST or CADI reviews in our planning efforts?

Challenges with student performance have been a concern throughout the tenure of the current superintendent. These concerns precipitated a request by the district for a CDE external review which occurred prior to the advent of the CADI process. The report from this process provided leverage for District changes. The external review became the impetus for engaging the parent community, as well as identifying the need for Board of Education involvement in school/district improvement. In addition, during December 2004, the district was put on “accreditation watch.” That is when the current Assistant Superintendent began her work in the District. Her approach was consistent with the Board’s desire for promoting a much stronger stakeholder involvement and ownership for the progress of the district as it moved forward to improve student performance. Work began to move the District forward and off accreditation watch.

A lesson learned from our “accreditation watch” era was to pay close attention to data and planning expectations that are communicated by the State. We had advice from our regional manager at the time, to paint a clear and honest picture of student achievement for our community which helped us move forward with plans for change.

How do we monitor the progress of the implementation of our UIP?

To move data to a dynamic (vs. static) role in the district, the second Board meeting of every month now includes a report from principals regarding their school’s data. Principals are responsible for understanding their data and making reports related to progress to improve performance. There is district support for preparation of these reports through Principal PLCs and consultation/feedback sessions. This was a major cultural change. During these reports, we help our Board understand and make meaning of the data and the progress we are making for improvement efforts. Our DAC needed similar information and participation in the data and school improvement planning process. Whenever we get data about student performance, we review it carefully to create understanding and meaning for the Board and the District Accountability Committee. This has become the “way we do business here.”

Best Advice: Make changes as a result of scheduled data reviews. Stay focused so the action steps truly address the root causes. Create a monitoring plan using the implementation benchmarks to stay focused on eliminating the root cause.

How did we work with our local school board? District accountability committee? School accountability committees?

School improvement planning can be both exhilarating and scary at the same time as it relates to parent involvement, as well as District Accountability Committee and Board roles in the accreditation of district schools. Groups involved with District UIP planning have included: Building leadership teams, the Student Achievement Leadership Team (SALT), and Principals, through a PLC. We have a district-wide ELA team with representation from all buildings, also providing input. By understanding and using data and knowledge of strong instructional practices, the District Accountability Committee and Board ask a lot of good questions that support the development of the current UIP.

When we receive the DPF and SPF from CDE, we review them with our DAC so they understand the data and what it means. Because of the efforts by CDE to make their reports “user friendly,” understanding them is not difficult. We have a representative from administration and several teachers on DAC so we have a lot of resources to answer questions when working in teams.

District Accountability members receive training and tools to be able to collaboratively evaluate the school UIPs. These tools include the SPF, UIP template, and a rubric version of the UIP quality criteria. This ensures that DAC members are ready for their role in the improvement planning process. The District Accountability Committee’s role is to read the plans in small teams and to score those plans using the rubric. Once each building plan is scored, members share results for final input from the larger group. The end result is each school receives a final score for the UIP that is tied to the quality criteria. This additional score is added to the accreditation label given to the school by means of the SPF (i.e.: Performance Level with UIP Meeting Expectations).

The UIP scoring process during the DAC meeting includes: Principal presentation of the document to a small team of DAC members who will be overseeing the implementation of the plan throughout the year. After principals review the document and answer questions, the team of DAC members uses the rubric to score the UIP. (DAC members receive the UIP two weeks prior to the evaluation meeting.) Scores are posted for each section of the UIP, and when all scores are posted, evaluating teams share their scoring decisions with open discussion from the whole group. At times, scores have been altered slightly as a result of the whole group discussion and knowledge in the room. When all scores are final, a motion is made to recommend to the Board of Education an accreditation label that includes the SPF label from the State along with the DAC label for the plan. The Assistant Superintendent also becomes the liaison between the Principals and the District Accountability Committee, providing UIP development as well as follow-up support for Principals and their school leadership teams.

What advice would we give to other districts?

Using the template as a whole can feel intimidating and overwhelming to principals and teams. Training on one or two tables at a time would be better. Also, the information from one table or worksheet is folded into or used for the development of the next table or worksheet, so breaking up the plan by tables would make it easier to see the relationship between them.

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