Ms. Dow said that Commissioner’s Districts were outlined in a concept paper that the Department presented to the Board in 2007. Commissioner’s Districts are districts in Corrective Action, per No Child Left Behind, that have four or more Commonwealth Priority Schools.
Associate Commissioner Foisy said that all nine Commissioner’s Districts are part of the Urban Superintendents Network, and each district has participated in National Institute for School Leaders (NISL) training. Ms. Foisy said that each of these districts has developed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department to identify their priority initiatives. The Department has worked with the districts on expectations for the strategic plans that were sent to the State Review Panels. Each district’s plan sets three or four highest priority initiatives.
Ms. Foisy described the panel process to review the plans, which included a day of training for panel members. The district team, led by the superintendent, gave a formal presentation of the plan. That was followed by a three-hour discussion conversation between panelists and the district team. Panel sessions were held between March 31 and April 30. Five sessions were held for Boston, which had 21 schools, and one session was held for each of the remaining eight Commissioner’s Districts.
Ms. Foisy said that each district superintendent brought union representatives and school committee members into the planning process. The intent was for districts to ensure that this was a collaborative process. Chairman Reville commended staff for their work and for including union and school committee voices, which he said was critical.
Commissioner Chester commended Department staff for designing a process that is true to the standards established by the Board. Commissioner Chester said the alignment of federal and state criteria is key, and he wants to look beyond aggregate results to include student results by subgroups. The commissioner said the challenge that every state is facing is to build a system to support schools that are struggling, and districts have to have the capacity to be part of the solution. Commissioner Chester said the plans submitted by districts must be more than compliance mechanisms, they must also be action mechanisms that will lead to positive change.
Chairman Reville said that after 15 years of education reform, there is still a strong association between poverty and low student performance. He said focusing on schooling is necessary but insufficient to get all students to proficiency. The chairman said this is about strategy selection, not just the competence of the adults in the system. The chairman also noted student mobility is a recurring factor associated with poverty and low performance.
Board member Christopher Anderson said the Board shouldn’t miss opportunities to make tangible improvements. He said without a sense of consequence, we don’t build a sense of urgency, and Randolph is a prime example. Mr. Anderson said the four Commonwealth Pilot Schools have instituted an immediate culture change that has been positive for staff and students. He said the role and authority of the principal is