Over 80 people attended a joint DUSD – WestEd community stakeholder meeting last Tuesday night at Douglas High School.
The meeting lasted two and a half hours and was organized into three parts: two in the auditorium and a break-out with groups spread throughout the campus.
Organizers called the meeting to discuss assets and needs identified in WestEd’s recent study of DUSD and to involve the community in prioritizing WestEd’s recommendations for improvement. The meeting was announced via bilingual take-home flyers and email notifications to all DUSD staff.
WestEd, a national education-based research and development firm with partnership ties to the Arizona Department of Education (ADET), conducted the two-week study in late April and early May.
On the need for a study and WestEd’s role, DUSD Superintendent Sheila Rogers said: “we recognized that we were not making any growth. We needed to look for the right organization to help us. We looked at three different companies and found WestEd to have an incredible reputation with ADET.”
In carrying out their study, the WestEd team visited all eight DUSD schools, observing a total of 122 classrooms including those in the special education program. The team conducted hour-long interviews of DUSD administrators and every school principal.
The team also facilitated focus group sessions of students at seven schools, teachers at all eight, and one of parents from across the district. In addition to this, the team surveyed all 189 DUSD staff members.
WestEd’s Gregory Springston said the team was met with warm welcomes and openness everywhere they went. “I sensed a general desire to speak with candor and openness - a willingness to talk about the dirty and clean laundry.”
At 80 pages, the WestEd study maps assets (including “bright spots” in the district), as well as needs making up two of its four analytical and planning “dimensions.” WestEd’s recommendations comprise the third dimension while community stakeholder meetings to prioritize these recommendations make up its fourth dimension.
The entire study is structured around nine characteristics of “high performing districts” as drawn from WestEd’s research. Recommendations were prioritized by attendees in break-out sessions planned for each characteristic and facilitated by nine DUSD administrators. The Dispatch corresponded with several of them on their takeaways.
Superintendent Rogers noted “everyone wanted to participate in the characteristics that have to do with instruction and student learning. This shows to me that the focus is clearly where it should be on: instruction and student learning.”
From the break-out group on decision-making, Faras Principal, Jasper Lusby, thought the study and roll-out was very beneficial.
“It communicates our district’s commitment to school improvement, and that we are focusing the direction of our efforts on areas and indicators that are justified by the data collected by an impartial third party,” she said.
Sarah Marley’s Principal Claudia Leon led the teaching and learning break-out. Speaking for the group, she said: “we felt that we indeed have the sustainable capacity as a district to implement a program like Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports system wide.”
DHS Assistant Principal Stephanie Phillips led the educational opportunities break-out and noted: “no one knows our community better than the people who live and work here. Our group took the characteristic we were given, added a new recommendation and then modified two others to come up with priorities that best suited the needs of students.”
On curriculum, DHS Principal Andrea Overman reported: “the group felt that appropriate district-level planning could eliminate some of the confusion in the CCSS (Common Core) implementation. They expressed the need for more in-depth training, as well as materials, in order to properly sequence instruction.” She added: “we also talked about accountability, and how do we include parents in the accountability model?”
Director of Curriculum and Federal Programs, Denise Cox, said her biggest takeaway from the professional development break-out was “the need to differentiate professional development for teachers and respect that they are all at different areas of learning.”
Cyndy Ortega, principal at Joe Carlson, led the parent and community group. She said: “the families expressed a need for consistent communication across the entire district. Different avenues need to be developed and/or used to get information to ALL families.”
At the end of the night, the WestEd team had a takeaway of their own. Having served districts of 90,000 students, they had never seen as many people show up at a stakeholder meeting as they had that night. At 3,800 students strong, Springston said of DUSD: “there is growth that is needed. Everybody is going to have to roll up their sleeves and get involved. I know there is a deep desire to make this a great school district.”
From here on out, the DUSD governing board and leadership team will take last Tuesday night’s prioritizations and make decisions on how best to implement them.
“We know we have to make improvements,” Rogers said. “The only way we can make changes is to find out what the issues are and make them better. Our ultimate charge is the children in our community.”
The WestEd study of DUSD can be found in its entirety at http://tiny.cc/dusd_west_ed.