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Toledo Public Schools, Ohio
|Number of Schools||62|
Toledo Public Schools serves a diverse 84-square mile community on the western shore of Lake Erie. Among its broadly recognized assets are a world-class art museum, a major symphony orchestra, and an expanding and progressive zoo. But like many urban centers, the city has suffered from an economic decline that has continued since the recession of the eighties. Many of its residents struggle from job loss or low wages and the resulting poverty. Of the nearly 36,000* K-12 served by the district's 62 schools, 54 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. So it's not surprising to hear that local schools demonstrate a clear achievement gap, with the district's lowest-performing students clustered in schools serving the largest concentrations of high-poverty students.
Determined to do better by its students, during the 2000-01 school year the district embarked on an ambitious accountability agenda. When No Child Left Behind became law, district leaders quickly recognized the convergence of its goals and their own reform efforts. They saw its SES requirement as particularly supportive of their improvement goals. But not everyone so sure. Toledo's Title I schools initially saw the associated set-asides as money being "taken away from the schools that needed it most." In time, however, says one administrator, even the skeptics began to see SES "as a great way to give extra support to the kids who needed the most help... [as something] that will help our program-improvement schools meet their AYP targets." During Toledo's first year of SES, 11 schools had SES-eligible students, who were served by three of 18 approved providers.
Toledo placed its SES program in the Title I Education Center under the director of compensatory services. The Center was chosen because it had the expertise to get SES up and going most quickly and easily. The director of compensatory services is responsible for building SES into Toledo's strategic plan, and she also works directly with eligible schools. But the complexity of the SES endeavor led the district to also appoint a full-time NCLB facilitator to supervise day-to-day SES operations.
Anticipating that some of its schools would have SES-eligible students, the district did not wait for official notification to start moving on SES. Toledo carefully reviewed NCLB regulations and laid the groundwork for implementation. Making decisions about where to locate the program, how to staff it, and how to integrate it into existing district operations was an important early step. The distirct's Title I leaders also made sure that principals and teachers understood the law and its implications for eligible students. All these preliminary actions made for a smooth implementation process once official notice came from the state.
SES staff also worked with the district's Business Affairs Department to develop a comprehensive "Supplemental Educational Services Agreement" identifying the roles and responsibilities of the provider and of the district. Central to that agreement is the Student Learning Plan, which describes learning objectives, the timeline for meeting them, performance measures, how parents, school district staff, and the state department of education will be kept apprised of the student's progress, and the timetable for improving the student's achievement.
Once eligible students were identified, Title I staff began notifying parents by mail, informing them that they could obtain free tutoring for their children and giving them a brochure that briefly describes the services of each of the 14 providers from whom their child can get tutoring, including the district's own Reading Academy program. The mailing included a request-for-services form in English and Spanish, and the materials urged parents to select a provider and return the form by the deadline in order to enroll their children in the SES program of their choice. Fewer than 30 parents out of 1,500 whose children were eligible for SES responded to this first mailing.
The lesson was quickly driven home that the district needed to take a more personalized approach. Deciding to capitalize on parents' connection to their children's school and classroom, district SES staff met with the principals and Title I coordinators from the targeted schools to create a parent outreach campaign. The district kept schools informed about who had and had not enrolled for SES services, and principals and teachers began calling or meeting with the parents to encourage them to register their children. In addition, staff from the Title I Education Center set up information tables with flyers and applications in English and Spanish during parent conference periods, parent meetings, and other school events. With some SES experience behind them, satisfied parents have also begun spreading the word. With participation numbers increasing (from 96 the first year to over 500 the second), Toledo's SES staff identifies school-based marketing as an essential strategy for SES success.