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Embrace the Spirit of SES
If SES is to have a chance of reaching its full potential to empower parents and improve student learning, it cannot be held at a distance, treated as yet another compliance task. Rather, districts must approach SES with open arms, taking advantage of new partnerships and welcoming it for what it can add to the educational experience of their lowest-achieving students. Setting a positive tone, staffing SES strategically, identifying and addressing potential barriers to parent participation, planning rather than waiting for state guidance on key issues-these are essential steps to making SES work. To do otherwise risks confusing miscommunication, missed opportunities, inadvertent redundancies in services to students and in management of the program, and SES being undermined by other priorities-all at the cost of precious resources, student learning most of all. Once the SES program is up and running, districts may choose to adapt or create new roles and structures to more deeply institutionalize it.
Set a Positive Tone
The words and actions of district leaders make their priorities known and symbolically announce what matters most to them. As evidence of their commitment to the goals of NCLB, San Diego leaders quickly initiated a district wide NCLB coordinating committee that consists of department directors and other key staff and that meets weekly. The intent of having frequent and face-to-face discussions is to ensure consistent strategies and communication, within the central office and between the district and its schools. The overall message is that the provisions of NCLB, including SES, are good for the district, good for its schools, and, most important, good for San Diego students and their parents, so get on board. This affirmative stance has prompted 9principals and teachers in SES-eligible schools to view the program as an important adjunct to their own strategies for improving student achievement, thus ratcheting up their commitment to communicating with parents about this new opportunity.
A positive view is not always the initial reaction to SES, as educators in Toledo and elsewhere have discovered. Some in Toledo, for example, initially fretted about the funding earmarked by NCLB for SES, seeing it as money taken away from school programs in which they were already invested. Acknowledging the initial frustration, Toledo's Chief Academic Officer says:
"The turning point for us came when we began to see supplemental services as a great way to give extra support to the kids who needed the most help. There should be more help for our neediest kids... Ultimately, [SES] will help our school improvement buildings meet their AYP targets. That's good."
With its revised perspective, Toledo went on to create a vigorous parent outreach strategy that increased the participation of parents by 130 percent.
Staff SES Strategically
District SES programs need to be staffed by individuals who can focus time and attention on getting it going, who understand the goal-ensuring easy access for parents to this new opportunity for their child-and the many operational tasks necessary for achieving the goal.
All five districts sought an administrative home for SES that offered existing expertise, cost-effective operation, and efficient implementation in order to jump-start the program early in the school year while laying the foundation for building a more developed and fully realized SES system. To get things started, both San Diego and Los Angeles made SES the responsibility of the particular department that was already responsible for managing existing extended learning programs throughout the district. Two other districts, Forsyth and Toledo, placed SES under the aegis of their Title I program. Rochester, on the other hand, has initially located SES in its Office of Accountability and Academics because of that office's experience nurturing new initiatives. This way the program can get the extra attention needed to get off to a good start. One benefit is that this same office also houses Rochester's well-developed accountability database and student achievement data system, both of which are likely to be utilized and expanded in tracking SES effectiveness.
The point in all cases is to capitalize on any existing structures that are well suited to overseeing a multifaceted program like SES, which requires everything from effective parent outreach to contract monitoring. At the same time, however, districts must find ways to ensure that SES retains a distinct identity within the district. SES emphasizes parental choice and this important aspect must not get lost or receive short shrift in departments that already have a lot of other responsibilities.
Put a Plan in Place
Each district in the study cited early planning and preparation as central to its ability not only to get SES in operation but also to align SES with strategic goals, maximize the impact on student learning, and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. Looking back on their own implementation experience, SES administrators in all five districts say the same thing: Anticipate-don't wait for the state. This applies whether talking about waiting for official notification about SES-eligible schools before starting to plan initial implementation or waiting for the state to develop a quality assurance system for providers rather than starting right away to identify and create a district process for collecting relevant data.
For the most part, districts in this study were prepared to begin implementation as soon as they received eligibility data from their state departments of education. For example, anticipating that 104 of its more than 700 schools would be required to offer SES and recognizing the size of the undertaking, Los Angeles began planning in the spring and summer before implementation was actually required. Although few districts will operate an SES program on the scale of Los Angeles, planning procedures and processes in advance of actual implementation is an important consideration for every district offering SES. Having a game plan and knowing how to execute it can help district staff align their responses and actions with district goals. Such a plan supports consistency of the district's message to parents and the public.
Figure 5. SES Start-Up Steps
Rochester's district leaders began communicating about SES regulations six months in advance of starting the program. Anticipating that many parents would seek information from their children's schools about the free tutoring and academic support available through NCLB, Rochester proactively outlined its SES implementation plan and informed school personnel of the procedures it intended to follow.
The list of SES start-up steps in figure 5 draws from the experiences of these five districts as well as the advice of the Office of Innovation and Improvement. Although the order in which these steps are taken may vary according to local circumstances, this list offers a reasonable map for advanced planning. The later sections of this guide elaborate on many of these steps.
For SES resources that may help in planning and implementation, see appendix C: Resources.
Review Results and Improve Processes
Once districts are past the first steps of putting an SES program in place, they have a chance to review implementation-including key indicators like the number of students served-and make adjustments. Rochester wrote a three-page memo outlining issues and solutions, and concluded:
"In general the '02-'03 academic year was an attempt by the RCSD to put together an SES program that complied with NCLB. Having succeeded on that front, our interest has turned to strengthening the program to provide the greatest academic gains to the greatest number of students."
Meeting the requirements to comply with the mandates of NCLB is a beginning step. Ensuring that all eligible students receive the services intended for them, and monitoring those services to ensure intended impact, requires a deeper investment of leadership and commitment. Taking up that challenge calls for strategic and imaginative planning, as well as persistence over time.
Identify Barriers to Parent Participation
SES conveys to parents the right to choose a tutor or academic support service for their eligible children. In planning SES implementation, it's important for a district to think and act systemically, not just about how to fit the program into an effective administrative structure, but also how to manage it so as to engage the greatest number of parents and give them access to as broad a range as possible of high-quality SES providers for their children. This means identifying and, to the extent possible, eliminating potential barriers to parents. As an example, many parents-especially working parents-manage complex schedules in getting their children safely to school, arranging after-school care, and then picking their children up to go home. Districts are not required to transport children to and from off-site SES sessions; therefore, the parent of an elementary school student who attends a school-based or center-based aftercare program may be less likely to enroll the child in any SES program that does not provide services at the child's school, the after-school center, or in their home. Depending on the respective locations of the school and an SES provider, even parents of older students may not feel comfortable having their child walk or take a city bus to an off-site tutoring session. Although a district has no mandated responsibility to make sure providers are conveniently available to eligible students, to facilitate broader participation, in the spirit of the law, it could, for example, initiate conversations with providers, inviting them to locate at schools. Where center-based rather than school-based aftercare is the norm, a district might broker similar conversations between providers and popular local aftercare programs, such as a YMCA or Boys and Girls Club-again, for the purpose of working out a system whereby providers could offer services at the center so that parents who need full-time aftercare for their child sign up for SES. In cases where such co-location of services is not possible (e.g., when a provider runs a computer-based program at its own center), a district might be able to do something as simple as providing parents of older students with a public bus schedule or may want to examine its own bus schedule to see if it could be easily adjusted without additional cost to transport some students to SES providers.
Establish New Roles and Structures
After they get SES started, districts have a chance to look at how things are working and think through what roles and structures might strengthen the program. Sometimes, new positions at the school or district level are called for. Rochester, for example, created a new position at targeted improvement schools to reach out to parents and to coordinate academic interventions, including facilitating ongoing exchange of information between providers and classroom teachers.
After meeting all NCLB requirements for parent notification, Forsyth looked for ways to connect more effectively with non-English-speaking parents of SES-eligible students. The answer was a new Transition Center. Coordinated by bilingual staff with credibility in the community, the center provides parents with assistance in school registration, placement testing, and many other areas as they settle into the community. Forsyth credits Center staff for breaking down cultural and language barriers, increasing the involvement of parents, and engaging more of them in enrolling their children in tutoring.
Make SES a Complementary Part of Ongoing Extended Learning Programs
All five districts in this study had existing programs that provided extended learning opportunities for students. They tended to see SES as a "congruent" effort that, in some instances, would enable them to get services to more students and, in other instances, would help them get more services to the neediest students. Beyond deciding where to place SES in the district's organizational structure, as discussed above, districts wanting to make the most of this new student resource will want to address the larger question of how best to capitalize on the full array of extended learning resources, including SES, to meet students' needs.
Rochester, for example, has worked to develop strong linkages to its state-mandated Academic Intervention Services (AIS) system, which provides extra support for students who have not passed, or are considered at risk of not passing, New York's standards-based assessments in key academic areas. Although SES is not a component of AIS in the district organizational structure, the district has created a number of deliberate connections between the two programs. Students can participate both in extended-day services under AIS and in NCLB supplemental services. As mentioned above, a newly created position of AIS specialist at targeted schools helps work out the coordination. In addition, during development of their child's SES plan, parents are encouraged to provide information from past AIS Progress Reports. This information helps providers understand students' distinct skill needs and align their instruction with the indicators being assessed in the AIS system, which reflects state standards. One key purpose of this coordination is to ensure that when students are receiving both AIS and SES services, the interventions are complementary, not conflicting or needlessly repetitive.
In Forsyth, the district's positive experience with an SES provider has prompted it to expand that relationship beyond the NCLB requirements: Because the State of Georgia has sought to end social promotion by mandating the retention of third grade students who do not pass the state's criterion-referenced reading assessment, Forsyth has approached the tutoring program about providing one-on-one instructional assistance to any students at risk of being retained in third grade, irrespective of whether they are eligible for SES
As noted earlier, in some instances, a district may want to encourage and support co-location of SES services with pre-existing extended learning programs and aftercare programs. In addition to eliminating possible transportation barriers to SES for some families, location of multiple services at one site would allow students to more easily take advantage of multiple intervention services as appropriate.
Strengthen Parent Advisory Groups and Partnerships
Districts benefit from engaging parents as real partners in SES implementation, for example, by strengthening formal roles for parents in district decision-making. Many times, districts can expand the participation of existing parent organizations. Los Angeles staff met with school parent groups and the Title I District Parents' Advisory Council (DAC) to encourage information networking among parents. The DAC also advised on strategies to connect with parents through community and faith-based groups. Staff also met with other parent groups including the Title I Focus Group and the Parents' Focus on Student Achievement Group.
Rochester's District Advisory Council to Title I (DACT) has been in place for over 30 years. Recently, this group has changed its focus to include NCLB. Members attend regional and national conferences and provide early input to district leaders about other districts' interpretations and implementation efforts. District staff and leadership make themselves available to DACT members and rely on their outreach efforts. DACT sponsors parent conferences on NCLB and provides information to parents about SES opportunities. To ensure continuity of the message to all parents, DACT also includes at its monthly meetings the parent liaisons, who coordinate school-level outreach efforts.
It is critical for parents to become actively involved with their own child's education, and districts can foster widespread commitment to improving school and district achievement by creating ways for parents to engage at the decision level. Parents can then begin to take ownership over the achievement in their child's school and community. Such an effort can have a major impact on parent awareness about and participation in supplemental service programs.
Summary for Embrace the Spirit of SES
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