Gates Foundation grant

Gates Foundation grant

Districts step up to close the gap in new project
 
Kentucky School Advocate
June 2017
 
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer 
Mercer County school board Chair Marianne Davis and Superintendent Dennis Davis look over district data during the daylong session to launch the KSBA Gap Closure Project, with help from KDE novice reduction coach Wanetta Morrow.
Seven Kentucky school districts are teaming up with KSBA and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence to dig deep into the issue of closing achievement gaps in their districts.
 
Mercer County school board Chair Marianne Davis and Superintendent Dennis Davis
look over district data during the daylong session to launch the KSBA Gap Closure
Project, with help from KDE novice reduction coach Wanetta Morrow. 

The work, funded by a grant from the Gates Foundation to the Prichard Committee, will help those individual districts lay a strong foundation by setting goals identifying key strategies to close achievement gaps and determining measurable indicators of progress. “But beyond that, it is aimed at ultimately raising public awareness of the problem statewide, leveraging the role of the local school board in raising student achievement and providing information that all districts in the state can use to help bridge these gaps in their student populations,” said Kerri Schelling, KSBA’s associate executive director.

Districts were identified as potential partners in the KSBA Gap Closure Project based on the extent of their diversity and achievement gaps. The districts that have signed on to participate are Boone, Christian, Jefferson and Mercer county systems; and Covington, Frankfort and Paducah independents.

Prichard Committee Executive Director Brigitte Blom Ramsey said “it’s wonderful” that school boards are involved in closing achievement gaps. “They are the exact body that really needs to rally around this issue and provide support to their administrative team to make the changes necessary and identify strategies at the district level to begin to do this. And also to bring the community into the conversation and board members are a natural bridge to the community.”

Frankfort Independent board member Jina Greathouse said her board has been looking at this issue in the past, but being part of this project will help them work “on a regular basis” to address it. She said her board was inspired by a clinic presenter at this year’s KSBA annual conference, Mary Fertakis, who also is serving as a consultant to the Gap Closure Project.

Frankfort volunteered to be part of the initiative because, “There are specific groups we feel like need additional support, and those groups have to be targeted in a coherent and aligned approach,” Superintendent Huston Barber said.

Other education partners, including the Kentucky Department of Education, Governor’s Office of Early Childhood and the Division of Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, are collaborating in the effort, which was kicked off in a daylong work session May 12. Fertakis helped set the scene for representatives of the districts at that initial meeting, and also outlined the school board’s role in eliminating barriers to learning through board policy.
Jennifer Steidel-Jones, a novice reduction coach for the Kentucky Department of Education (and Silver Grove Independent school board member) assists a delegation from Covington Independent in sifting through district data in KDE’s Open House portal. From
She complimented KSBA, KDE and the districts for getting involved in this work. “This is one of the central issues related to our responsibilities as board members – how do we address these achievement gaps, which we understand are part of opportunity and access gaps. But it takes concentrated work because so many factors are involved in it.”
 
Jennifer Steidel-Jones, a novice reduction coach for the Kentucky Department of Education (and Silver Grove Independent school board member) assists a delegation from Covington Independent in sifting through district data in KDE’s Open House portal. From left, Superintendent Dr. Alvin Garrison, board Vice Chair April Brockhoff and Dr. Janice Wilkerson, assistant superintendent for student support. 

The project coordinator for KSBA is Dr. Jacqueline Pope-Tarrence, a former Bowling Green Independent school board member and retired associate dean for accountability and research at Western Kentucky University. Pope-Tarrence said she expects boards to tailor their strategies to district needs; because of this, the plans they devise for closing gaps will be different.

“What we hope is that they will determine what those strategies look like,” she said. “Hopefully those will become key strategies or best strategies so they can impact policy, strategic planning, resource support. Then in late August we will come back together and look at what took place.”

At the May meeting, KDE staff provided the group a state overview on the achievement gap and how to access district and school data online through its Open House portal. The agency has assigned a staffer to work with each of the school districts in the Gap Closure Project. The board teams also will get help from Fertakis and other partner groups.

Silver Grove Independent school board Vice Chairwoman Jennifer Steidel-Jones is one of the KDE staff who will be working with the project. She said it gives the participating boards a chance to understand the same data that district educators work with and understand.

“For somebody that’s not in the education field, this is very empowering to be able to learn what all this means: ‘What is this data, why is it important, what is it telling us, what is it not telling us, how can we help pass policies and ensure programs that are happening and the funding is allocated correctly to meet the needs of all of our students,’” she said.

As part of the project, which wraps up Oct. 31, KSBA will be developing on-site and online training for all board members to keep the achievement gap issue at the forefront. Each of the participating boards will come out of the project with a district gap plan to be approved at a fall school board meeting. There will also be a workshop featuring district representatives summarizing the project and sharing district efforts at the March 2018 KSBA Annual Conference.
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