A new 10-month study highlights how Polk County Public Schools can better support students who are struggling academically and have social, emotional and behavioral needs.
“We are always looking for ways to better serve our students and become a more efficient educational system,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.
“I greatly appreciate everyone who took time to share their thoughts and participate in this extensive study. Thanks to your help, we can see our areas of strength and, more importantly, target opportunities for improvement. Together we can better support our struggling learners and ensure all of our students live up to their full potential.”
Last year, the school district hired District Management Group (DMG), a Boston-based management consulting organization, to conduct a deep dive into how to better serve struggling learners, both with and without disabilities.
The study included visits to schools throughout the district, as well as in-person interviews and focus groups with hundreds of teachers, administrators, district personnel, students, parents and other stakeholders.
“We were impressed by the district leadership’s candor, commitment, and efforts already underway to better serve these students in the future,” said Nathan Levenson, DMG’s managing director. “Equally importantly, the district is striving to improve the quality of worklife for staff as it seeks to improve outcomes for students. While much hard work lies ahead, if the district focuses on a few key priorities and emphasizes great implementation, not just a great plan, we are confident that students and staff alike will benefit.”
Researchers noted the district performed well in a number of areas:
-Strong relationships between students and staff.
-Classrooms are well stocked with supplies, and teachers use a variety of technologies.
-Robust data systems and well-trained staff who can better identify and track struggling students.
-Significant resources dedicated to teacher coaching and development.
-Noticeable strides in improving internal and external collaboration in the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) department.
The report also recommends six opportunities for growth:
-Create a stronger team approach to addressing and supporting challenging student behaviors.
-Improve trust and goodwill through more frequent communication and explanations of decisions.
-Improve consistency of support services written into Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and the delivery of IEP services.
-Align academic supports to best practices.
-Creatively address the shortage of qualified ESE teachers.
-Reconfigure the district’s organizational structure to better coordinate and align efforts to address student social, emotional, and behavioral needs.
Dr. Kimberly Steinke, assistant superintendent of Learning Support, said the district has been addressing many of these areas.
For instance, the district streamlined how school and district staff members handle student behavioral issues. The School Discipline and Student Behavior Response Plan was implemented at the start of the 2019-20 school year. Schools now have a clear protocol for how to report student behavioral issues and request assistance from district staff members.
“This entire process has been reassuring for us, and serves as further testimony to the strengths of our teachers, paraprofessionals, school and district staff who work so hard every day with our students and families,” Steinke said. “The DMG study helps confirm that we are moving in the right direction, and we are focusing our efforts on where they can help our most needy students.”