Muscogee County superintendent releases initial assessment

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 29, 2014 

The Muscogee County School Board voted Tuesday to name Polk County's David Lewis, 56, as the finalist for the job of superintendent. 07/09/13

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

After sharing his initial assessment and recommendations with the Muscogee County School Board during Saturday's retreat, superintendent David Lewis has released his report to the media.

This week's winter storm has postponed his news conference to discuss the 32-page report, but the Ledger-Enquirer has posted it on its website and publishes highlights here today.

The report comprises what Lewis calls four "overarching areas" that "must permeate the organization and guide its work." They are:

• "Establishing a school system versus a system of schools."

• "Creating a culture of deliberate urgency, high expectations and pride."

• "Creating and supporting leadership for instructional improvement focused on learning."

• "Establishing clear expectations and transparent accountability for all employees."

"All constituents must see the system as one of excellence and equity," he wrote, "one that offers each student equitable opportunities to achieve excellent outcomes and one that is recognized as a privilege in which to work."

Schools system versus system of schools

The district has what Lewis calls "islands of excellence," several schools that are high performing, but he wants the entire district to be high performing. The district's policies and procedures also are "perceived to be inconsistent and sometimes unclear," he wrote.

Deliberate urgency

While he praises the district's 5.3-point improvement to 72.8 percent on its graduation rate this past year - now better than the state average of 71.5 -- Lewis seeks more progress. He notes that the district's ranking in its comparison group of systems with similar demographics has slipped from the top to the middle of the pack. But that isn't his ultimate goal.

Lewis looks beyond even the state borders and challenges the district to compete nationally and internationally. He criticizes as "woefully low" Georgia's cut scores, the threshold that determines proficiency on the state's standardized tests. He cites Massachusetts and Connecticut as states with standards high enough to compete with the excelling countries of Singapore, Korea and Finland.

"Like the vast majority of school districts throughout the country," he wrote, "Muscogee County is faced with the ethical and moral dilemma of a significant achievement gap between African-American and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers."

Another gap is in the achievement of English Language Learners, students whose first language wasn't English, he wrote.

"Therefore, it must be a goal of the Muscogee County School District to not only reduce the performance gap between sub-groups," he wrote, "but equally important to raise the expectations for all students to achieve high levels of performance."

Leadership

Lewis said in a statement Thursday night that "some teachers do not have teaching pedagogy, particularly those who may have come from lateral careers where they have not had the benefit of professional education classes.

"Others may not have the depth of content knowledge necessary for higher standards in math and science at the elementary level."

In his assessment, he added teachers must have access to "high-quality resources and facilities."

He proposes reorganizing the district's central office, creating three zones west, central and east with some staff assigned to each zone to better serve schools. This also would combat "the prevalent perception of inequity that divides the north and south areas of the district by the artificial divide of Macon Road, sometimes referred to as the 'Macon-Dixon Line,'" he wrote. Each zone, also called regions, would have a chief that reports to the superintendent's cabinet.

Expectations, accountability

Among his findings during his 120-day assessment, Lewis wrote, "Key leaders were appointed from positions of success to positions for which they held minimal experience or background."

His proposed district reorganization "will require revisions to job descriptions and the creation of new ones to oversee and support schools in the important areas of teaching/learning, student services, professional learning and day-to-day operations," he wrote.

Planned initiatives

Lewis presents three tiers of planned initiatives: immediate (within one year), near-term (within 2-3 years) and long-term (within 4-10 years). They are too numerous to list all of them in the newspaper, so click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com for the complete report, but here are the immediate initiatives, divided among his listed priorities:

Priority: Graduation

• "Develop and launch an Early Warning System to track student milestones (grades, credits, attendance and discipline) to alert school personnel and parents of the need to proactively implement additional student support and interventions."

• "Allocate a graduation coach to assist secondary schools within each proposed region."

• "Review pre-kindergarten program to determine cost effectiveness of current model versus other state allowable options."

• "Implement a dropout retrieval program to re-engage at-risk students."

Priority: Learning

Students with disabilities is the district's only sub-group still below the state average in high school graduation (31.6 percent MCSD, 35.0 percent state).

Lewis wrote that evidence suggests "the instructional practices and policies related to addressing the needs of these students is significantly behind that of other states considered to be progressive and successful in reducing these gaps."

His immediate planned initiatives for this priority are:

• "Examine the current elementary scheduling model to optimize student access to all subject areas and to afford a consistent approach for teacher common planning time."

• "Modify the middle and high school scheduling models to include dedicated time for teacher common planning and student Increased Learning Time."

• "Fully implement regional reorganization to provide dedicated support through professional learning specialists, content specialists and regional chiefs."

• "Ensure evidence-based, collaborative, teacher common planning time is consistent and pervasive across the district."

• "Begin development of a comprehensive and aligned district-wide K-12 curriculum in all disciplines, seeking input from teachers, school-based administrators and district leadership."

• "Revise and develop a comprehensive plan that outlines district policies, procedures and practices as a student progresses from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade."

• "Adopt district-wide elementary mathematics instructional materials."

• "Refine district formative and summative assessments to ensure validity and reliability."

Priority: Equity, Culture, Context

Lewis lauds the public-private partnerships that help the school district, but he wants to "eliminate redundancies and redirect support toward other needs within the community."

He also is concerned with the "disproportionate number and percentage of minority students receiving out-of-school suspensions."

His immediate planned initiatives to address this priority are:

• "Revisit the school district mission, vision and core value statements."

• "Establish a proactive, problem-solving vision with a focus on children."

• "Develop and communicate a commitment for equity, excellence and high expectations for all."

Priority: High-quality staff

Lewis wants to "individualize professional learning based on evaluation results and student achievement data." He also wants to "build internal capacity" to reduce the need for paying external consultants.

His immediate planned initiatives to address this priority are:

• "Repurpose current district staff to serve as regional professional learning and subject-specific content specialists to effectively support, coach and mentor teachers."

• "Completion of Formative Instruction Practices professional learning by school-based administrators and academic coaches."

• "Create a succession management plan that proactively builds a diverse pool of future district leaders, principals and assistant principals."

Priority: Operations

Lewis notes the average age of the district's school buildings is 43 years and the bus fleet is four years behind the recommended replacement schedule.

"There is no established maintenance schedule for maintaining the aesthetic appearance of schools such as routine painting, landscaping and paving of schools," he wrote. "Additionally, athletic facilities, music rooms, instruments and equipment need to be updated."

Salaries also concern him. He wrote, "The most pressing issue facing a fair and equitable pay system for MCSD employees is the extreme compensation compression that has resulted from not administering any increases for the past five years. … Therefore, employees with more than five years of experience and training in a position are making exactly the same as a brand new employee to the district."

As a result, Lewis wrote, there is "high dissatisfaction with career progression within positions. It has also halted promotion from within the district, as it has discouraged highly qualified teachers and building leaders from leaving the state salary schedules, since their pay is essentially stagnate the remainder of their career."

His immediate planned initiatives to address this priority are:

• "Develop and implement a district-wide staffing plan to ensure equitable personnel allocations."

• "Complete assessment of all district level staff, job descriptions and functions."

• "Initiate process and performance management to promote efficiency and effectiveness."

• "Establish district-wide progressive discipline policies and procedures."

• "Create proposal for taking small measures to begin Hay Study addressing salary disparities."

• "Conduct work flow analysis of departments to determine their peak intervals necessitating the shifting of human resources."

• "Analyze student hardships and magnet program transfers to determine their impact on school enrollments and the transportation budget."

Priority: Communication, transparent accountability

Lewis mentions awards the district's finance and communications departments have received, but he seeks better internal and external communication. The district's website should be more "user-friendly," board meetings and other district forums should have better attendance, district communications should be available in additional languages, and district emails should be shorter and clearer, he wrote.

His immediate planned initiatives to address this priority are:

• "Standardize internal email communication format to promote clear and concise messaging."

• "Work to ensure two-way flow of information to stakeholders."

• "Establish distinct systems and expectations for collaboration within each region and throughout the district."

• "Expect all MCSD employees to adhere to the district's core values."

• "Define minimum expectations for district and school websites."

• "Establish an extension of the superintendent's cabinet to periodically include director level positions and above in order to enhance communication and broaden vision."

• "Continue to use student, principal and teacher advisory committees as a means of providing two-way communication between schools and the district."

Conclusion

Lewis admits, "While some of the planned initiatives may seem dramatic or the timeline ambitious, the previously noted achievement and performance gaps suggest that a more aggressive approach is necessary to promote full-option graduation and global competitiveness."

Lewis thanks the "internal and external stakeholders" for helping him form his assessment and recommendations.

"Working together," he wrote, "we can and will fulfill the call to action to improve the educational outcomes and lives of our children on the way to becoming a premiere school district in the state and nation."ONLINE ONLY

Click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com for a link to the superintendent's complete report.

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