R&D across The Academies CMO ("TACMO")
The education of our children is of paramount importance. Because educators at The Academies understand this, we are committed to continuous improvement. 2017-18 has been an exciting year, with the successful launch of Blue Oak Academy, a change of authorizer, etc. We managed a great deal of change and have redesigned many systems, as we navigated the replication of SVA to create BOA and established our CMO home office to support both. At the same time, we prioritized aspects of our program and operations that could be improved and began their improvement as well. As your Superintendent, I am very proud of the progress we have made this year and grateful for our amazing staff family who give passionately to our development. I thought I'd share with you a bit about some of the improvement work we've been doing in the 2017-18 year to give our families a glimpse of our commitment to our schools' excellence.
TACMO Resource Bank
We have created a digital bank of resources for our team to more easily do their jobs and have reference tools at their fingertips. We have crowdsourced and curated the tools of our work, so these can be more easily shared and reused or updated. We are developing the habit of "banking it," instead of continually sending emails with attachments to share tools that are really a part of our infrastructure or modus operandi. This contributes to organizational sustainability and greater efficiency across the roles. It has also helped us reduce role confusion and ensure effective division of labor.
The next step for the TACMO Resource Bank will be continuing to populate it with our tools and refine these over time. We will cultivate the staff's comfort with this resource and also the staff's habit, each time they approach a problem of practice or a routine process, to think in terms of what they can build to prevent the problem in the future, or what they can build to reduce how long it takes them next time. The creation of templates, process maps, protocols, and other supports helps us work smarter over time.
Better Defining "the TACMO way" of Instructional Coaching
We have exceptional Instructional Coaches who have gotten deeper professional development in 2017-18 through a training called, "Cognitive Coaching." Mrs. Denham (SVA) and Mrs. Johnson (BOA) are also spending a portion of their time exhuming the practices they use from their expert minds/habits, and into written form within TACMO Resource Bank.
On a monthly basi, our two Principals and Superintendent are participating in the "Central Valley Leadership Program" with several other charter schools in the region. Each month, we come together to take a leadership perspective on crucial issues affecting students today, the functioning of our schools, and the work of running successful autonomous charters. We regularly return to define what true leadership looks and feels like, in order to develop our team's capacity to rise to the challenges that we face. Many of the principles learned there are being shared with the other important leaders in TACMO, including Operations, our VP, and HR & Admin Specialist as well.
Whole School Report Card (WSRC)/ Use of Student Achievement Data
Since 2013-14, we have produced a "Whole School Report Card" on a trimester basis so our staff and Board could keep an eye on the trends in our internal student achievement data and affect these through real-time decision-making. This year, we took the basic Whole School Report Card up a notch, and it is now truer to the intent of our charter to serve "the whole child." One new area in 17-18 that was not previously included in our WSRC is Qualitative Student Interviews, which are standardized, open-ended questions asked of a random selection of students who represent a cross-section of experiences. These give us a sense of student experience and tell us more about culture than our Annual Parent Satisfaction survey has captured in the past. Another new addition in 17-18 is a deeper dive into our computer-adaptive tests ("MAP") with greater disaggregation and more of a focus on growth. At the same time, we have worked to simplify the process of synthesizing our WSRC each trimester, so it will take our administrators LESS time to produce MORE data, and also MORE USEFUL data as well.
We are excited to regularly review more holistic indicators of student learning and to continue on our path to refine this internal report so we can produce greater clarity around the difference our educators make in children's lives. In the end, the purpose of the WSRC is to be able to observe how our choices move these needles so that we may become better at what we do and more impactful with our resources.
Related to the above project, part of the work to better automate the tedium of synthesizing data for our Whole School Report Card included simplifying our Report Card template. Teachers now enter student data into more of a digital gradebook for their whole class, which then auto-populates and generates distinct student Report Cards. Before this change, teachers completed each student's Report Card one at a time. Teachers were recently trained in our new template, and are already reporting appreciation for the relief and the time they are saving with the new process!
Professional Evaluation Systems & Differentiated Professional Development Tracks
We are constructing drafts of new tools for evaluation, and we will be bringing drafts back to the members of our teams for feedback soon, so iteration can improve these. Role-specific tools will give our staff feedback that is more closely related to the purpose of each role in this organization and the major aspects of the work. We are further developing related professional development documents, so staff will be more aware of the required and optional trainings to support their growth areas. We know that having these in place, once finalized, will also help us more intentionally prepare our staff for future opportunities within TACMO.
Like the Report Card process described above, we are looking for ways to improve functionality administratively, especially trying to introduce automation everywhere it is trustworthy to apply. We understand that every minute saved can free our leadership up to attend to the more important matters of how to best educate and nurture our children and how to support our staff in their learning journeys as well.
Improving Social Contract (Discipline) & Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum
Many of our staff have been researching and piloting specific practices from Discipline That Restores, Responsive Classroom, Trauma-Informed Practices, as well as Mindfulness/Stress-Relieving Techniques. We have significant infrastructure already built in our "Social Contract," which includes our design for proactive culture-building and fostering a safe, accepting, and academic culture, as well as our systems for responding to the teachable moments when students misbehave or a conflict arises. We've been researching a while now; next, it is time to collaborate and pull these improvement ideas together. Over the course of the 18-19 year, we expect our SEL curriculum and instruction to be markedly improved!
Improvement Science (aka "Learning to Improve")
A couple of years ago, a few of our staff began training in "Improvement Science" through the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and funded by the Gates Foundation. This professional development was available to us because the Tulare County Office of Education pursued an opportunity to create the "Central Valley Networked Improvement Community," or "CVNIC," and we were invited. The work of CVNIC continues, and it is centrally focused on learning how our local public schools can improve mathematics results for 5th graders. After our team had the opportunity to acquire the tools of Improvement Science through our participation in CVNIC, we immediately saw that these tools could be used across our organization, and we have recently applied these tools beyond the CVNIC work.
In January, our team shared the concept of the PDSA cycle with our entire teaching staff. PDSA stands for Plan, Do, Study, Act. The basic structure of this process includes these steps:
1- look at a piece of data about student learning
2- plan to introduce some change into the practice or system we think produces that data/ result & predict how this change in practice will change the data/result
3- do the change, implement the new strategy or try out the adjusted system
4- study the new data after the change was implemented, and reflect on how it all went, whether predictions proved reasonable or if not,
determine what we learned
5- begin again at step 2; repeat cycle until desired data/result is achieved
Many educators have experienced a misuse of student achievement data during their professional career in public education. Historically, very coarse scale data points have been used to justify micromanagement of teachers or poor decisions, like requiring extreme standardization of the teaching process or requiring perfect "fidelity" to adopted curriculum or pacing calendars created in district offices, away from the students they are intended to serve. Our team understands why teachers fear "data-driven decision-making," yet we know, too, that there is power in applying inquiry to our problems and in consulting unbiased data periodically to analyze the why and how of our work. We are excited to use data in a different way at The Academies, and to support our teachers' improved practice with healthier ways of managing and thinking about student achievement data. Currently, our teachers are running their first PDSA cycle with goals they've set themselves to improve student learning. We are excited they have overcome some of their fear to engage with data in this way and drive the improvement of their own teaching practice!
R&D is our MO
The Academies CMO has a dedicated staff that keeps its focus where it matters most, always using our expertise and energy to improve the quality of our service to families. I am so proud of the significant change and continuous improvement we've achieved in this 2017-18 year and excited for what's next. Thank you for supporting us and for the trust you place in us!