This week, the Department had the honor of announcing it was awarding $1.6 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding to James Otis Kaler Elementary.
The South Portland school intends to use this State support to raise student proficiency in math and reading by 10 percent annually over the next three years by better supporting students, enhancing educator effectiveness and increasing parent/community engagement.
The commitment to school improvement is not new to Kaler. In 2011, a school-based renewal effort was launched, but meaningful headway has yet to be made. The school received an “F” on its State report card the last two years, and just 38.5 percent of its students are proficient in math and 44.4 percent in reading.
Kaler’s challenges are significant but certainly familiar to many Maine schools: high teacher turnover and a growing percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged or require special education or English language learning services.
And while Kaler’s opportunity through the SIG program is unique, the improvement strategies they’ve planned (see their SIG application here) are ones that many Maine schools either already are – or certainly could – deploy using existing resources. This includes the $100 million Maine DOE distributes each year, solely for supporting economically disadvantaged and English language learners.
Kaler will add structured staff time to review student performance data to inform interventions and instruction. They’ll also hire an RTI/data coach. For districts that can’t afford their own data coach, remember that Maine DOE has data resources available to all Maine schools through our Education Data Warehouse and Statewide Longitudinal Data System team, which has already providing training to more than 2,000 educators
Using data and training staff in effective data analysis was a successful strategy we heard at every school we visited as part of our school improvement tour in conjunction with the release of the 2014 school grades last month. So is creating common planning time, directing resources to classrooms, integrating RTI, offering services to support non-academic student challenges, having high expectations of all kids and increasing parental engagement, all of which Kaler also intends to do with its SIG support.
Certainly additional funding, if used thoughtfully, can be a catalyst for school improvement. But dozens of schools across the state are proving it is the focused leveraging of their human resources and not their financial ones that can have the most impact on kids.
I know the same will be true at Kaler. While the State’s SIG support will be a big help in giving educators there the tools they need to be more effective and empowered, it is the leadership, vision and commitment of their team of staff who refuse to make excuses for their challenges and instead are putting their heads together and rolling up their sleeves that will ultimately raise student aspirations and achievement.
All of us at the Maine DOE look forward to seeing the results of their hard work.