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School board begins looking at five-year strategic plans

Posted: April 16, 2018 4:59 p.m.
Updated: April 17, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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During its April 10 meeting, the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees began looking at a five-year strategic plan for the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) and five-year renewable plans each for each of its nearly 20 schools. KCSD Executive Director for K-12 Instruction Dr. Alisa Taylor presented trustees with needs assessment data, followed by three sets of goals for student achievement, teacher and administrator quality, and school and system climate.

At the board’s next meeting, set for April 24, Taylor will go over the district strategic plan, which is being used as a template for each school’s renewal plan. The plans cover the 2018-2023 school years.

“So, when you see what you’re doing for the district, you’ll pretty much get an idea of what the schools are doing,” Taylor said. “They may have a different goal here and there, based on the needs at their school, but they’re pretty much the same.”

The April 10 presentation, instead of showing off “how great” the district is, focused more on “chinks in our armor,” Taylor said, explaining that improving areas that need them is the purpose of a strategic plan.

The first piece of data she shared provided a kindergarten readiness assessment for the district’s youngest students in 2017. It showed that only 27 percent of all kindergarten students coming into the district during the first 45 days of school were actually ready for kindergarten. Thirty-nine percent were “approaching readiness,” meaning they were nearly ready but needed at least some remediation to get the rest of the way. The remaining 34 percent were “emerging readiness.”

“(They) are going to need extensive remediation or intensive support because they’re just not ready for school,” she said.

Next, Taylor shared Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test data regarding the percentage of kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students performing on grade level for reading and math. The chart showed that for the previous school year (2016-17), an average of 60 percent of these students performed on grade level.

“But if you think about that, that’s showing that 40 percent of students are still not on grade level by the spring of their 2nd Grade year. So, we’re concerned about a couple of things. We’re concerned about early childhood preparation and we’re concerned about the tools that we’re using to address the gap in readiness,” Taylor said.

Taylor then moved on to assessments for 3rd through 8th graders in reading in terms of the percentage of these students approaching or meeting expectations based on the S.C. READY Test. However, she noted that “approaching” used to mean “meeting” and that South Carolina “keeps raising the bar.”

KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan agreed.

“Meet expectations (means) to perform above grade level,” Morgan said. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, but that’s just what we do.”

Only 37 percent of students had “met” expectations by eighth grade, Morgan said.

In addition, the district is required to show how well students in different subgroups of minorities are performing. However, Taylor pointed out that, for example, while 26 percent of Asian students did not meet the reading expectation, that only represented five such students, compared to nearly 24 percent of white students, which represented 669 students.
Similar percentages showed up when taking the SC READY math test into account. However, the percentages steadily dropped off as students moved up in grade. While 53 percent of 3rd Graders in 2017 met the math expectation, only 31 percent of 8th Graders did the same.

For social studies, an average of 71 percent of 4th through 8th graders either met or exceeded expectations for that subject, based on the SC PASS test. However, again, by the time students reached the 7th and 8th grades, a lower percentage were meeting or exceeding the expectation than those in 4th Grade.

An average of only 45 percent of 4th through 8th graders met or exceeded expectations on the SC PASS science test.
Taylor said the READY and PASS results are concerning in that science expectations are not being met by 50 percent or more of students. In addition, the district is concerned about the percentage of minority students not meeting expectations in reading and math, Taylor said, adding that there is a lack of specific initiatives for this group of students.

“It’s probably something about poverty, and it’s something we really need to address,” she said, when speaking about the minority gaps in reading and math.

Taylor’s next data for trustees concerned high school students based on S.C. end of course exams. According to the data, the district’s high school students are exceeding state percentages -- sometimes remarkably so -- with one exception: Algebra I.

Approximately 79, 80 and 72 percent of district high school students are passing their English I, Biology I and U.S. History end of course exams, respectively. This compares quite favorably to the state, whose averages for these subjects are 77, 74 and 67 percent, respectively. However, only 72 percent of district high school students are passing their Algebra I end of course exams compared to nearly 75 percent of their peers across the state.

Trustee Dr. Don Copley used this point to come back to the progressive drop in SC READY math percentages Taylor had mentioned earlier, and asked her why that might have been happening.

“That subject becomes more complex” as students move up in grade level, Taylor said.

“One of the things teachers have told me is that, under the new reading and writing standards, some other stuff has gotten short-changed,” Morgan added. “That’s a legitimate issue.”

Staying with high school students, Taylor said that as part of the district’s attempts to have students college- and career-ready, there have been 51 work-based learning opportunities for Camden High School students, 23 for North Central High School students and 120 for Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) students. She said these experiences ranged from job shadowing to “enterprise” activities, such as making specialty drinks or foods and then selling them.

Taylor said the number of such opportunities is lower than the district would like to see, and that it also wants to make sure such opportunities are available for special education students as well.

She also touched on statistics concerning suspensions and behavioral health. As of March 14, the district has seen most of its out-of-school suspensions cut in half from that point a year ago. The most dramatic cut was at L-EHS where there had been 339 out-of-school suspensions during 2016-17 compared to 151 at that same point during this school year.

“We’ve worked really hard to reduce these numbers with some options that we have,” Taylor said.

While that had to do with discipline, Taylor also touched on behavioral health referrals and counseling, as well as placements at the Continuous Learning Center. So far during the current school year, there have been 131 behavioral health referrals to the district’s five mental health counselors, compared to 155 during the entire previous school year. Of those 131 students, 91 have been served while another 40 have not. Taylor stressed those any or all of those 40 students may have been served by an outside agency. Referrals to the five mental health counselors can be made by a student’s teacher, principal or school counselor.

Placements at the Continuous Learning Center (CLC) have, for the most part, increased since 2014-15. Taylor pointed out that the district repurposed the CLC in recent years from a facility to which “bad” students were sent into more of a therapeutic/mental health center. During the current school year, 89 students had been placed at the CLC at the time Taylor prepared the data; she said another 10 had been placed there in recent weeks.

Taylor said the district tries to have counseling of some sort at the CLC every day precisely because the students there are those who need such services the most. Services include small group and individual counseling and other programs. Across the district, the mental health counselors are placed throughout the county; they are supplemented by services from the ALPHA Center and LiveWell Kershaw.

Finally, Taylor spoke about district staff, administrators and teachers. Her data showed that four areas need improvement: recognition of employees, support for innovation, teamwork modeling, and basing decisions on stated goals. In addition, digital learning appears to be a problem. Specifically, based on 700 different observations of teachers in their classrooms, digital learning -- the effective use of classroom technology -- is not occurring on a frequent basis.

The remainder of Taylor’s presentation focused on the goals that will be more fully discussed during the April 24 look at the district’s strategic plan:

• By 2023, the number of kindergarten students ready for school will increase to 52 percent.

• By the end of 2022-23, the percentage of K-2nd Grade students reading and performing math on grade level will increase by 25 percentage points.

• By 2023, SC PASS scores for 4th through 8th graders in science will increase by 25 percentage points.

• By 2023, internships, apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities will increase by 20 percent.

• By the end of 2022-23, students’ performance on the Algebra I end of course test will have improved by 2 percentage points each year.

• By the end of 2022-23, teacher retention rates will remain at 90 percent or higher (despite only dropping from 90.8 percent to 90.4 percent during the last year, this was listed as a concern).

• By the end of 2022-23, digital technology use, based on teacher observations, will increase by 1 on a 4-point scale (it is currently rated at 2.1 out of 4.0).

• By the end of 2022-23, middle and high school referrals to the CLC will be reduced by 10 percent.

• By 2023, district administrator leadership scores concerning recognition, innovation, teamwork and goal-driven decision making will increase.

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