Dear Editor: As an educational leader who has worked for State Educational Agencies in different states and collaborated with other states throughout this country to improve results for children, I tend to have a unique scope in which this perspective makes my “State of the State Address” sometimes atypical. Through my own lessons learned, I am a great supporter of exposing students to rigorous curriculum that will allow them to compete not only locally but far beyond the boundaries of their communities. You see, I graduated in the top 10 of my class only to venture beyond high school and realize that I wasn’t college-ready! Unfortunately this syndrome is identified as the “diploma to nowhere” and doesn’t even address the students who were unable to obtain the high school diploma.
With Georgia’s adoption of the Common Core Standards, our students will have far greater opportunities that will not be achieved without first persevering through some difficult challenges. Responsible educators exist in professional learning communities that provide ongoing accountability for what students must know, how to assess this learning, and what to do when they don’t learn the content. There is always an expectation that all of our students receive appropriate Tier 1 instruction that supports healthy practices for academics and behavior. The real question is not if some students will struggle but who and when.
It is imperative that as a growing district with diverse demographics, Rockdale County Public Schools provide systematic implementation throughout the entire school system to support appropriate Response to Intervention practices. How do we provide explicit instruction-to include behavior? What kinds of universal screening instruments and/or data do we use as a litmus test to identify struggling students for reading, math and discipline? Are the universal screening instruments based on national norms? Upon this recognition, what interventions are available to support students’ access to the curriculum? What kinds of progress monitoring data will be used to support improved outcomes?
My public comment to the board was about the district’s status of systematic implementation of Response to Intervention practices. I am not only an educator but more importantly a parent of an elementary school student in RCPS. I had a wonderful opportunity to celebrate accomplishments with other parents and students during the student recognition component of the board meeting. One outstanding example that still comes to mind is Jazz Duncan who received numerous accolades. As excited as I am for Jazz, all students will not be this “Jazzy!” The previous accountability criteria, formerly called Adequate Yearly Progress, were insightful measures to celebrate schools and districts that didn’t leave subgroups behind. RCPS have done well demonstrating excellence in this area. However, even when school districts meet the objective necessary to spark school and district celebratory moments, there are isolated pockets of crisis impacting individual families that may not share the same sentiments. From the mouths of babes, subgroups meeting the State’s N Size group may not be left behind, yet, there could still be individual students lost “in between the cracks.” At the end of the day, families are much more impacted by the “cracks and crevices” versus group reporting.
RCPS provided a response to my inquiry at the board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28. They shared guidance to promote a general understanding of RTI, as well as, local expectations for the process. In summary, the district has a RTI coordinator responsible for providing leadership for designated school personnel relevant to this area. Thus school personnel are directly responsible for local oversight and professional learning opportunities. There is an expectation that teachers, along with data teams, review student data and identify students in need of interventions. Interventions are adjusted based on progress monitoring data. The district will soon release a web-based RTI program to create a more efficient process.
As I reflect how hugely important the success of our educational system is in this local county, I must admit that it was a bit perplexing as to why more stakeholders were not demonstrating visible interest in the livelihood of the district’s business. I have learned that the children stuck between the cracks and crevices often don’t have visibility and voice; therefore, I champion them and speak on their behalf. This is not just best practices, our livelihood depends on it. More importantly, I believe that Rockdale County is a caring community committed not just to identifying problems but creating solutions. If you saw innocent children in distress, would you walk by and assume no responsibility? Of course not. This is why additional collaboration with the district is necessary to obtain more specific responses about our local practices. Written procedures and ongoing training opportunities are great; however, there could still be a chasm between the expectations and practices. Unfortunately, the proof is the results for all children; personally, I don’t believe that we have one child to spare.
Dr. Zelphine Smith-Dixon