ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education was updated on progress made by two departments that recently undergone restructuring of their staffs.
During the most recent school year, staff in some departments – such as the Office of Student Services, which includes special education – were realigned to help more students receive support in school.
During a presentation titled “Update on Collaborative and Coordinated Supports to Schools,” one reason staff realigned some job positions was to organize communications between central office and schools better and to provide better support services to students. The change followed feedback senior officials had received from school and central office staff.
“The reason we made the shift (reorganization) was to get more boots on the ground, if you will, to support teachers,” Deputy Superintendent Kimberly Statham, Office of School Support and Improvement (OSSI), said.
The associate superintendents in MCPS now meet weekly to monitor and evaluate which supports to send to which schools.
Superintendent Jack Smith wrote in a memorandum to the board before the board meeting of June 24 that MCPS staff aimed to provide support to students that are specific to the situation and based on data.
Under the departments’ plan to improve coordination of student supports this year, directors and learning and achievement specialists (LAS) met with school principals.
The LASs are certified in “specific areas of expertise, including special education, mathematics, reading/literacy, counseling, and ESOL (English speakers of other languages),” Smith wrote.
One of the responsibilities of LASs within and across schools is “to assist with developing support plans for academic and behavioral interventions to meet the needs of students, including accelerated learners, students with disabilities, and English language learners,” Smith wrote in a memo to the board. They work with staff from other offices and provide guidance and coaching to teachers, so they can then continue to help improve student academic performance. LASs also provide feedback to teachers and model best practices.
The work of a LASs is not to be confused with that of the Office of School Support and Improvement (OSSI), said Arronza Labatt, who works for Statham as the executive director of OSSI.
“So, you heard from the curriculum office; you heard from Special Education, those – we didn’t have (learning and achievement) specialists in OSSI,” Labatt said.
Another change in the structuring was the way the area associate superintendents oversee schools, said Area Associate Superintendent Diane Morris. Rather than focusing on elementary, middle or high schools, associate superintendents will direct their attention toward clusters, or high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them. She now oversees about 70 elementary, middle and high schools.
Statham said that one adjustment occurred in communications between schools and the central office after the staff realignment was they found out through feedback groups that communication problems persisted. When a principal called someone in the central office, their questions were not receiving timely responses.
“One of the things we did over… my office, all of the folks in my office have met with (the) special education team- ‘How do we go through all this? Who can we call—make a call to when you have this question?” Statham said.
Morris said that feedback was essential in helping departments make the progress that they did during the most recent school year. One of the avenues through which the departments received feedback was the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, the MCPS principals union or advisory groups.
When OSSI learned that principals didn’t know who to contact, OSSI staff created phonebooks so principals would know the name and phone number of the proper person to call.
“We can’t say that it works; we have to make sure the schools are saying that it works, and so that was a hiccup of ‘How do we respond?’” Morris said after the meeting. “It was a shift from our planning around the reorg(anization) to the actual implementation.”
The Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) worked with MCPS staff in February, completing an assessment called a district needs assessment following the staff realignments. They then analyzed data from the assessment, according to Superintendent Jack Smith’s memo to the board. They examined if and how the communication structure changes led to improved student outcomes. CEL employees provided the analysis to “senior leadership” in April. CEL determined whether communication structures had further room for improvement.
Statham said improving the collaborative and coordinated supports to schools is a “work in progress.”
Smith wrote that staff will review the findings in the CEL analysis and use it to inform “next steps” in improving student learning and “professional learning.”