Co-ops help districts serve students
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
Science Hill Independent is a small preschool-through-eighth grade district in south central Kentucky with one building, about 420 students and two teachers per grade level. Superintendent Jimmy Dyehouse (pictured), who also serves as the school’s principal, said the district’s size can make collaboration difficult.
“We don’t have another school where we can just run across the parking lot and watch some other teachers teach or go sit in on a PLC (professional learning community),” Dyehouse said.
That’s one reason being a member of an educational cooperative is so valuable, he said.
There are eight co-ops in the state that provide services to districts including teacher trainings, grant administration, purchasing and special education services, among other services.
The services each co-op offers vary, leading some districts to belong to multiple groups. In fact, Science Hill is one of 57 districts in the state that belong to two co-ops. Being part of Southeast/South-Central Educational Cooperative (SESC) and Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC) allows Science Hill teachers and staff to attend multiple trainings where they can not only learn but also network with their peers, he said.
“Those opportunities for us are huge because we can bounce ideas off of folks that have been doing it a different way,” Dyehouse said. “We may find something we can implement here at Science Hill. Some of the districts are much bigger, but there’s a lot of independent districts too that are part of these co-ops. It’s priceless to be able to hear a lot of times what other folks are doing.”
Dyehouse said the additional training opportunities, GRREC’s grant writing consortium and his ability to network with more superintendents were some of the reasons his district opted to join the co-op in 2018 while already a member of SESC.
“I’ve got a budget crunch here right now, trying to save everywhere we can,” he said, noting he considered dropping back to one co-op this past summer. “But once I started looking at the pros and the cons of it, there’s more pros and it wouldn’t be that big of savings because I’d have to pay to have someone come here and do the trainings. It was well worth the extra money and that’s why we stay in both. It’s a no brainer for me.”
Tim Murley, GRREC executive director, said districts being a member of multiple co-ops “just opens up the opportunity to gain more resources and gain more in instruction.”
While non-members can pay to attend some GRREC trainings, not all are available to non-members.
“It kind of boils down to we offer different things,” said Nancy Hutchinson, executive director of the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation (KEDC), “especially if one co-op is going to do a grant and (districts) want to be involved in it, they might become members to make sure their data is used and they get those services.”Providing service
“We do professional development, professional learning. I have consultants that are experts in instruction and curriculum and assessment,” she said.
In addition to professional development and special education services, some co-ops provide districts with attorney or facility consultation, assistance with energy contracts, grant writing services, and networks for district employees, such as transportation, safety or food service directors.
While a district can join multiple co-ops, the Kentucky Department of Education determines which co-op a district is in for special education services.
“We’re most proud of the work we do (with special education),” Hutchinson said. “It’s a lot of intense work, a lot of data disaggregation, deciding what districts need to best improve those students in special needs.”
Special education services are more “boots on the ground” with staff in a district almost every day assisting teachers with special needs students.
“They’re constantly disaggregating data to look at that and be able to make plans accordingly,” she said. “They listen to the district, they do surveys, they do needs assessments. They also have a monthly meeting with every special ed director of those school districts.”
Another financial benefit to districts is the purchasing efforts of six co-ops through the Kentucky Purchasing Cooperative (KPC) and all eight co-ops through the Kentucky Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies (AEPA) program. Networking opportunities
Murley said he leaned heavily on GRREC for information and guidance during his time as superintendent and assistant superintendent at Warren County Schools.
“When I was instructional supervisor and I went to networks at GRREC, I learned so much because as things come down from the state, the regulations and things we need to do, sometimes you don’t know how you’re going to do something, and you hear it and it makes a lot of sense how other people are doing it,” he said. “And there’s always a lot of experience in those rooms.”
Hutchinson said the network component can be amplified for superintendents.
“In the district there’s only one of them. It’s so important for them to get out and go to these co-op meetings and find out what others are doing and maybe be able to scale it to their district and replicate it in some kind of form or fashion,” she said. “It’s about professional learning and enhancing their job.”
Murley said co-ops also help districts stay abreast of information through communication with KDE.
“The state department leans on us to get some information out as well and to help the districts. They get us trainings for our staff and get us information,” he said.
All co-ops want to serve their districts the best way they can, Murley said
“A co-op is just a natural resource for districts because that’s why we’re there,” he said, “and if we can help them be more efficient either financially or with people, we’ll certainly do that.”