The Montgomery County Board of Education voted Monday to approve a new strategic plan for the county’s public schools that Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said will “embrace a new set of challenges” and provide the framework to base individual school plans on.
Before the unanimous vote, board members offered their support for the plan scheduled to go into effect in the upcoming 2013-2014 school year.
“I think this is a great blueprint for what we want to do but, as we’ve heard, it is a framework and it will continue to evolve,” said board member Michael Durso, (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.
In the new plan, students will be assessed at “milestones” at grades 3, 5, 8 and 9, as well as at graduation, based on factors such as grades, test scores, engagement, and reading skills.
“That’s what we look at as a system to then drill down rather than looking at every single indicator at all times,” Starr said in a Friday interview.
The school system is not abandoning its “Seven Keys to College Readiness,” Starr said Friday, but rather incorporating them into the plan.
Board member Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda, compared the strategic plan to the framework of a house and the plan’s milestones to weight-bearing walls.
While the plan should be flexible, she said, “We need to make sure that we have those weight-bearing walls.”
On Friday, Starr said the plan not only will set targets for improved student performance, but also targets for reducing gaps between student groups as well — a first for the school system’s strategic plan.
Responding to a question from board Vice President Philip Kauffman, Starr said the school system is not yet able to set specific targets for these milestones because it is waiting on state assessment data.
“If we set a target in the ‘13-’14 school year based on MSA it is essentially, at a system-wide level, it’s moot in another year,” he said. “That is what we’re wrestling with right now.”
Starr added that the board would receive a memo “imminently” with “our best thoughts” on how to set targets before data comes in the 2014-2015 school year.
The plan outlines expectations for both students and staff in three areas: academic excellence, creative problem solving and social emotional learning.
“We are likely the first large district like ours to actually elevate SEL (social emotional learning)” on an equal plane in many ways with academic factors, Starr said.
Board President Christopher S. Barclay commented on the addition of emotional learning and well-being as factors to consider along with traditional academic factors.
“I think that’s a very new thing for many of us if not all of us,” said Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park, who asked how the new components would be measured.
Starr said that a survey will help assess students and will be used as a starting point for further analysis.
Starr said Friday that individual schools will base their improvement plans due in the fall on the strategic plan, which takes into account “new conditions,” including the Common Core State Standards.
The system will assess a school’s performance with “a holistic view,” looking at factors such as staff engagement and curriculum implementation, as well as student performance, Starr said.
“If you don’t have very clear stakes in the ground about what you want to see kids do every day, then you’re just talking around the edges,” Starr said.