School boards’ Student Success Act role begins with homework
Oregon education leaders are advising school board members to bone up now on the Student Success Act, the biggest education opportunity in decades.
“This is a whole new ballgame for us,” said OSBA Board President Tass Morrison, a North Santiam School Board member. “The requirements for including board members in the process are different from most of the things we have done in the past.”
The Student Success Act will begin distributing in July nearly $500 million a year to districts through its Student Investment Account. Planning and community engagement have already begun in many districts, even as the Oregon Department of Education is writing the rules.
OSBA, school boards and administrators are working to define school board members’ role, but it starts with understanding the new law.
The act includes specific instructions for school board steps. To apply for a grant in the spring, the law requires an administrator to present the district’s plan to the school board in an open meeting. The application must receive school board approval.
ODE expects those grant applications to draw from the work districts are doing now to create their continuous improvement plans, known as CIPs.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law that governs K-12 public education policy, requires districts to create CIPs that contain a needs assessment. The Student Success Act also requires a needs assessment to apply for its grants. Oregon’s law requires public input, particularly from traditionally underserved groups, to create an equity-based plan and budget. The assessment must include an analysis of the academic impact.
ODE has planned regional workshops to help districts prepare their CIPs. ODE pushed back its CIP deadline from June 28 to Dec. 6 so that districts could combine CIP preparation with Student Success Act grant application groundwork. ODE has created a resource page with an engagement toolkit it plans to update in October. ODE’s timeline advises school boards to be holding meetings this month to inform the public about the law and to aim to review their CIPs in October.
ODE has not determined what needs assessment reports will be required, so it is advising districts to document all their engagement efforts.
“What we are going to look for is not just did you do the needs assessment but how has the needs assessment informed your planning and application,” said Scott Nine, assistant superintendent of the ODE Office of Education Innovation and Improvement. ODE created Nine’s office to oversee implementation of the act.
ODE plans to have more information in late November, including on the law’s performance-growth targets and how to assess those. In the meantime, Nine advised school board members to be listening to their communities.
Community engagement is at the heart of the act’s expectations, and school board members are trusted bridges between the community and schools.
School district and education service district staff are taking the lead roles in Student Success Act planning, but school board members are being called to share in community outreach.
Community engagement has long been part of school boards’ role, but the act requires a more robust and detailed effort, especially with communities that have been underserved, including students of color, students with disabilities, emerging bilingual students, and students dealing with poverty, homelessness or foster care.
Tigard-Tualatin School Board Chair Maureen Wolf said it is vital for board members to arm themselves with an understanding of their districts’ current practices and how those align with the act’s goals.
“We, as a collective voice representing districts across the state, fought hard for this,” said Wolf, who is the OSBA Board secretary-treasurer. “It is our responsibility that we step up and we ensure that this work is done well, not only the engagement process but the actual implementation.”
The act lays out two grant purposes: to meet students’ mental or behavioral health needs and to increase academic achievement while reducing disparities for underserved student populations.
Districts can plan for any of four broad uses: increasing instructional time, addressing health or safety needs, reducing class sizes, or offering a well-rounded education.
The first strategic plan will be a three-year plan, updated in a year. After that, the law calls for four-year plans with two-year updates.
Continuous and thorough information flow to the school board will be crucial, said Beaverton School Board Chair Becky Tymchuk.
The Beaverton School Board has a standing act meeting agenda item, and it has created a subcommittee that meets monthly with the district’s Student Success Act project team.
“It is key for superintendents to give us more information than we can possibly use so we can figure out how this is going to work,” she said.
Tymchuk said her board wants to be a collaborative partner with district staff in implementing the act. She said the board will play an important role in community engagement, including setting up reasonable expectations.
“When we ask them what they want, are we going to be able to deliver?” she said. “This Student Success Act is a step in the right direction, but our streets are not going to be paved in gold with it.”
School board members need to be aware of their district’s plans for development and implementation so they can hold the district accountable, said David Williams, Beaverton School District executive administrator for strategic initiatives.
Board members are leaders in the community, Williams said, which positions them well to do some of the district-to-community conversations.
As districts identify needs, there will also be a sorting process, he said, and districts must use data to show the most effective programs. Beaverton was among the early adopters of Forecast5 Analytics, an application that mines school data for easier analysis. OSBA is investing $1.5 million to subsidize Forecast5 for Oregon school districts.
Districts need to do the work well now with a long-term vision for how to get the most bang for the bucks and be ready to defend their plans before the Legislature, Williams said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA