Unified Improvement Planning aims to improve school district performance | SummitDaily.com

Unified Improvement Planning aims to improve school district performance

Summit Middle School is pictured on Nov. 12, 2020. Each school within the district creates its own Unified Improvement Plan outlining root causes for problems within the school and actionable steps to improve.
Photo by Liz Copan/For the Summit Daily News

Summit School District is working through its Unified Improvement Planning process with the District Accountability Committee, a process that includes setting attainable goals to ensure the district and its schools are improving academically.

Ross Morgan, data and assessment coordinator with Summit School District, said Unified Improvement Plans will serve as the guiding documents for the district, and a plan will be established for each of the district’s schools, too. The plans highlight specific areas where schools and the district need to improve, the idea being that districts can always get better.

“They really provide district leadership, principals and teachers kind of the pathway forward in supporting our students the best way possible,” Morgan said.

Unified Improvement Plans are required by the Colorado Department of Education, but they will look a bit different this year because the state has placed a pause on its accountability system due to COVID-19. Morgan presented information about the planning process to the school board at its Sept. 16 meeting.

Morgan said the state usually provides districts with information on their performance framework, like test scores and graduation statistics, which the plans are typically based on. Without the state providing that information this year, the plans will be framed on internal measures and whatever test scores the school does have from last year.

Principals create plans for their own schools, and district leadership will create the district’s plan, but the District Accountability Committee is responsible for approving them with the help of various partners, including staff, parents and sometimes students. The committee will present the approved Unified Improvement Plans to the Board of Education on Oct. 14.

Unified Improvement Plans identify root issues that are keeping the district or individual schools from achieving their goals. The plans then ask three questions about the issues: Is it something the school can control, is it systems level and is it student centered? The improvement plans will work hand in hand with the district’s strategic plan, which is focused on broad overarching operations.

Noel Wheeler, one of two District Accountability Committee chairs, said it’s important for folks to understand how much community voice goes into these improvement plans. She and her co-chair are both parents who don’t work for the school district.

“The objective of these plans is not for them to be created in a vacuum within just the confines of district employees or school staff.” Wheeler said. “… If we don’t have that information, it’s easy to make some assumptions, but Summit School District has worked hard to try to engage community members that are not even parents on these committees, as well as making sure that parents are driving as the voice.”

Morgan said schools use the plans to monitor their progress toward the concrete, achievable goals they set when creating them. He said the district will be looking at a variety of internal assessments quarterly to ensure progress is being made and to make adjustments if it isn’t.

“The (Unified Improvement Plans) are designed in such a way that you do have the opportunity to progress monitor ourselves and say, ‘Look, this is where we expected to be. Did we make it or not?’” Morgan said. “Then we actually have a meaningful document that can be really powerful. I really believe that the ability to get all teachers on the same page … starts to lead us toward a process that’s actually allowing us to make some substantial gains.”

The expectations are a bit different for Silverthorne Elementary School because it is on a comprehensive support plan and the Colorado Department of Education’s accountability clock, which was paused this year and last.

“They’re looking for some additional details in terms of, holistically, what are we doing to change the outcome for the entire school,” Morgan said. “Most of the time when it comes to the state, they’re really wanting us to refine and look at very specific, smaller groups of students, not whole populations. But in the case of Silverthorne, it really is looking at how are we really making the changes that are going to help all of our students succeed because they are struggling a lot right now.”

District leadership still has a couple weeks to finalize what the goals of their improvement plans will be before they go to the accountability committee for approval. After they are approved by the committee and school board, the Unified Improvement Plans will be sent to the state on Oct. 15.

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