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District Case Story - Montrose County RE-1J

Montrose County RE-1J School District enrolls 6,415 students throughout it's 14 schools.

District Contacts:

  • Dr. Sheryl Solow, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction

How did we build staff capacity to engage in UP?

The district staff made sure that the schools and planning teams had all of the data they needed. That was a critical component. As a district, we have been working on data analysis for the last 4-5 years. We are getting better and better at this process. School growth summaries, district improvement summaries, and district reports were tools that were crucial to helping us recognize some trends. State of the District document information was useful as well. This includes operational as well as instructional performance data.

The Assistant Superintendent had been through 3 CDE trainings so she led the UIP initiative in the district. She led training for the district leadership (about 5 people), principals and their school leadership teams (SLTs) – a total of at least 50 people.

The training focused on the purpose of the UIP initiative, the UIP template, terminology, etc. Our training also helped staff learn about and use tools such as the SPF and DPF data as well as the growth summaries and disaggregated CSAP data.

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

We worked on the plans from August to January at which time some of the plans had to be submitted to the state. The rest were submitted in March after some revisions.

We did the school and district plans simultaneously beginning in late August – throughout the fall with two full day mandatory meetings and another full day voluntary meeting set up to support schools with staff from the Assistant Superintendent’s team and several assessment staff, as the schools actually created their plans. The school plans reflected the district initiatives. The Curriculum/Instruction/Assessment team (7people) reviewed drafts (re: accurate data, correct use of the template, utilized their training tips, etc.), made suggestions and then the schools made the revisions. In January, Title school plans and the district plan were submitted to the state.

Because we were living and working on the school and district plans at the same time, the planning process provided the impetus for the UIP implementation. We all want our student performance to increase. Schools are improving from some of the performance levels achieved in the past. Collaborative planning such as schools working together on data, identifying trends and root causes, etc. was a great learning process for us. Getting principals and teacher leadership teams working together really sent us a message that we had to change the way we do business and do our performance improvement planning.

Time and central office staff resources are at a premium but we made due and got the job done. As a district, we did lots of reading and revising of the UIP plans.

How do find meaning in student performance data?

There are probably districts that collect more data than we do. However, we collect focused data for planning purposes. We collected perception data from parents and staff regarding district operations that schools used in their planning. Academically, we have quarterly benchmark assessments which had some impact on decision making, particularly for interim progress.

How do we address root cause analysis?

Root cause was the most difficult for staff to “wrap their heads around.” Initially, it was hard for everyone to understand what “root cause” really meant. In some cases, we found that we were focused on areas that weren’t really based on trends in academic performance. Once we analyzing performance data over time, the root causes didn’t really just “pop out”. At the beginning, staff tended to point to subgroups for root causes. By the 3rd round of reviews and revisions, I think everyone got the idea that it wasn’t the students who were the focus of the root cause; it was more about what staff does instructionally that leads to student performance and, thus, frames our root cause(s). The root cause process really caused people at the building level to search their practices or their collaboration processes and determine what needed to change or improve. We used the “this is what it is not” handout most effectively.

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

The District had a CADI visit in 2008. As a result, PLCs have been revised so that they work more effectively. Another major outcome of the CADI visit was that the district needed to move from a district of schools to a school district, working collaboratively rather than working in silos. We made sure that these things were included in the UIP and in the planning process. The UIP process itself helped us do this.

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

We use our quarterly benchmark assessments as interim measures. Using them in a focused way was new to us and we need to get better at it. We didn’t have an accountability process in place for the interim benchmarks last year but we are going to take a look at this piece of the process.

In some cases, the plans were being implemented last spring and in others they are just beginning to implement the plans. These are to be ongoing improvement plans so we will need to build the interim benchmarks to ensure our progress is headed in the right direction and that we are monitoring, adjusting and completing the action plans as well as measuring student progress.

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

We made sure that the principals knew that they needed to include SAC members as they were creating their plans; maybe after the 1st draft, as a way to get their input. Most schools shared the work on the UIP with their SACs and with the School Leadership Team (SLT) of each school (from 4-6 people with some SLT members actually leading the UIP planning process).

The DAC was not really involved in the development of the district plan; however, it was shared with them once the work was completed. There was not much sharing of the UIP with the BOE last year, but there will be this next year.

What advice would we give to other districts?

This process was very meaningful to district and school-level leaders.

Districts need to give themselves time, because it is worth it, to complete and implement the UIP process well. This includes working through the process to understand it with a group of people so that there is overall buy-in.

The UIP work requires using someone to facilitate it that has been through the process and knows it really well.

School leaders need to know it’s OK to revise and improve the plan. Practice creating all of the parts to it makes going through the process easier the next time. It is a lot of work. In our case, we had a tremendous amount of growth in student learning and it might not have been that high without the work that we did.

The data narrative is a key component. We appreciated the qualitative nature of the data narrative.. People tended to put more data charts/numbers in the narrative. Our Assistant Superintendent asked teams to put the planning experience in prose and tell the story in ways that helped the reader understand the work that was done and its outcomes.

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