A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

7. The District Role in Support of Reform

While districts differed significantly in the ways in which they related to the exemplary schools and in the amount of autonomy they allowed the schools, most districts shared a commitment to high quality programs for LEP students, supported school restructuring efforts, and provided opportunities for professional development to the exemplary school faculties. The remainder of this chapter will discuss the district role in support of reform at the exemplary schools.

Finding #7.1 Degree of District Support. Districts ranged in their support of schools from laissez-faire to facilitative; none were controlling.

Although not every district housing the eight study schools employed the same set of strategies to support the schools' programs, most districts allowed schools the flexibility to create programs that fit their populations as long as schools were in compliance with federal and state regulations. In support of schools, districts ranged from a laissez-faire approach to a facilitative one. In the former, the school was allowed to create and implement its program with only minimal involvement from the district office. The Chicago district's relationship to Inter-American school represented a laissez-faire approach. The district held the school responsible for legal compliance with federal and state requirements. Once Inter-American had met those requirements, the district position was to allow the school considerable autonomy in the development of curriculum and instructional programs.

Other districts including Ysleta (Del Norte) and San Diego (Linda Vista) facilitated school programs and activities. Facilitative districts provided activities that supported schools as they designed and implemented their programs. Both the San Diego and the Ysleta districts worked with schools in the district to help meet their specific needs. Although the facilitative districts differed in the level and type of support provided for the school, they typically supported the schools' programs for LEP students through the provision of staff development, through support for smaller class size, and by providing schools with the flexibility to create programs that fit their populations.

Finding #7.2 Shift Toward Site-Based Management. Some districts allowed schools the flexibility to create programs to meet the specific needs of their student populations by transferring management responsibilities--including budgetary control to the site level.

Most of the exemplary schools had a significant degree of site-level autonomy. Both Texas and Illinois had implemented site-based management. In each case the state made a commitment to providing greater autonomy for schools. Freeing districts from a rule-based regulatory system and making them more accountable for student outcomes are features of both the Texas and Illinois systems of site-based management. The Texas schools (Del Norte, Hollibrook, and Wiggs) and Inter-American were able to make decisions about school programming and budgetary issues to meet the needs of their students. (See Finding #5.5 for a discussion of the governance systems in place at the exemplary schools.)

Despite the movement towards site-based management, districts still played an important role in supporting both curriculum and instructional strategies as well as in providing support for the programs for LEP students.

Finding #7.3 Support for High Quality Programs for LEP Students. Many districts supported the creation of high quality programs for LEP students by recruiting bilingual teachers and teachers trained in language acquisition, providing stipends for such teachers, offering professional development to teachers, lowering class size limits for LEP student classes, and supporting schools' goals of developing students' bilingualism.

Each of the eight exemplary schools employed teachers and other staff who spoke the language of the school's LEP students. Several districts took a leadership role in recruiting bilingual staff for the schools in the district. District support for recruiting bilingual teachers was strongest in districts where large numbers of bilingual teachers were needed to support the types of programs offered by the schools.

Del Norte, located in Texas near the Mexican border, and Hollibrook, also in Texas, had bilingual programs enrolling large numbers of LEP students. Both schools were located in districts that supported the goal of bilingualism and biliteracy for LEP students. The combination of large numbers of LEP students and programs that supported biliteracy created a demand for teachers bilingual in Spanish, trained in second-language acquisition, and holding the appropriate credential. Linda Vista was also located in a community on the Mexican border and faced some of the same challenges as Del Norte and Hollibrook. The school enrolled large numbers of Spanish-speaking LEP students and required a large number of trained and certified Spanish-speaking teachers.

The three districts employed a number of strategies to recruit, hire, and retain teachers who were bilingual, trained in second language acquisition, and appropriately certified. Stipends were paid to bilingual teachers--$3,000 by Hollibrook's district and $1,000 by Wiggs' district; relationships were established with local teacher training institutions; and support was provided for bilingual paraprofessionals who wanted to become certified as teachers.

In addition to a large Spanish-speaking LEP population, Linda Vista enrolled a large population of Southeast Asian LEP students. Although the school did not promote full literacy in the Southeast Asian languages, Linda Vista's program called for social studies instruction in Hmong, Vietnamese, and Lao. District support for Linda Vista included helping them recruit one of the few teachers in the state who spoke Vietnamese, as well as paraprofessionals who spoke Southeast Asian languages.

District support for LEP student programs also involved reducing the number of students in classrooms with LEP students. Section K describes the mechanisms to reduce class size. Box I-7.1 describes the reduction of class sizes in Wiggs' newcomer program.

Box I-7.1

District Facilitated the Development of High Quality
Newcomer Programs by Reducing Class Sizes

Nationally, classrooms average 24 students in elementary schools and 25 students in secondary schools (Digest of Educational Statistics, 1994), and classes in some of the exemplary schools had more than 30 students. One feature of some of the exemplary schools was that the number of students in classrooms with newcomer LEP students was smaller than other classrooms at the school. At Wiggs, for example, the district had established a class size limit of 15 for beginning LAMP (newcomer) classrooms. The district provided additional support to maintain classes at that level. These small classes were in contrast to the mainstream school environment, where classes averaged between 25 and 26 students. Smaller classes allowed teachers of LEP students to provide more individualized instruction and allowed them to structure more opportunities to produce language for their students in both whole class and small group settings.

Districts where several of the exemplary schools were located expressed goals for their LEP students beyond transition to English and mastery of content. These districts valued bilingualism and supported students' development of bilingualism and biliteracy at the exemplary schools. The districts housing Hollibrook, Del Norte, and Linda Vista all supported the goal of bilingualism for their Spanish-speaking students. District support for bilingualism presented itself in a number of ways. District staff shared a vision for maintaining the native language of their Spanish-speaking LEP students. Districts also provided access to materials in Spanish through the textbook adoption process. District staff in all departments viewed LEP students as part of the population of the district--not just as the province of the bilingual department. Staff development, staff recruitment, curriculum development, and support for innovative instructional activities were conceptualized and implemented with the goal of bilingualism for LEP students in mind.

Finding #7.4 Support for School Restructuring. Many districts provided forums for school staff to learn about current ideas in school reform and to communicate with staff from other schools. Districts also facilitated the approval of waivers to release schools from restrictive regulations.

Many districts that housed the exemplary schools encouraged the schools as they implemented aspects of school reform. Districts provided professional development support that allowed school staff to attend conferences and visit other sites implementing school reform. Districts also supported schools as they requested waivers from district or state rules that served as barriers to implementation. Waivers were often necessary to implement such reforms as block scheduling and other adjustments to the traditional day or year schedule.

District support for schools making the adjustments necessary to implement the middle schools model was noteworthy in two districts--San Francisco (Horace Mann) and El Paso (Wiggs). The two schools implemented the middle school model prior to wider implementation in their districts. In each case, the district used the schools as a learning laboratory for other schools in the district wanting to create middle schools. The districts recognized that the schools were on the forefront of innovation, supported their efforts and provided a environment within which the schools could be creative.

Finding #7.5 Support for Professional Development. Most districts supported the development of powerful learning environments by providing professional development activities.

Districts with exemplary programs were moving toward a holistic approach to staff development. Districts viewed their role as supporting curriculum and instructional programs at the school level and provided staff development in response to requests from schools. In a few districts, school faculties created staff development plans that connected to schoolwide improvement plans. Districts coordinated the staff development requests of each school and planned district wide staff development activities. The result was a coordinated staff development program intended to meet the needs of each school in the district. Box I-7.2 illustrates district support for Hollibrook's professional development plan.

Districts also provided staff development in areas that they wanted to develop districtwide. Several districts provided large menus of staff development activities including language development, cooperative learning, and Whole Language strategies in which many teachers at the exemplary schools had participated.

Box I-7.2

Hollibrook's District Responds to School's Professional Development Plan

Hollibrook's district has given priority to staff development by supporting ten paid staff development days (five are required by the state). The districtwide process for determining overall staff development needs is based on site-level staff development plans that are connected to schoolwide improvement plans. From these documents, the district locates trainers and resources to help schools implement their plans. An example of Hollibrook's involvement in district-supported staff development activities includes the participation of fourth grade teachers in a 15-day Writer's Workshop training. Teachers learned to implement the Writer's Workshop approach to teaching the process of writing. After participating in the training, the fourth grade teachers came back to the school and taught other teachers how to implement the Writer's Workshop. This training was provided in response to Hollibrook's goal of focusing on literacy development.

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[6. The Role of External Partners (part 2)] [Table of Contents] [8. State Support for the Exemplary Schools]