VBOE discusses expectations, CAP

Published 9:44 am Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Virginia Board of Education’s message to the Franklin City Public School system hasn’t been entirely clear, and admittedly so by several members.

In a recent meeting, VBOE did not have the corrective action plan up for voting as had been previously stated in November; instead, it was an item only for the work session, where the board members discussed expectations for the corrective action plan and expectations for the school system.

“After all the things we discussed today, I want to see how that connects with the corrective action plan,” Superintendent Dr. Willie Bell said this past Wednesday in Richmond. “I would love to receive more input, so when I come back in February I know we have the product that you are actually looking for.”

Bell had thought he was following the board’s guidelines when he presented the plan previously in December. However, it was attacked by board members for being a plan presented from a view of 5,000 feet above, instead of one that could be used as a blueprint on the ground-level by teachers and administrators. VBOE members said they wanted more data in the plan to help guide the system for whether something is achieved or not.

One example provided related to professional development. All that was being presented was that they attended a meeting, but the real question was if that had any impact on student achievement in the classroom.

“I know there is a major focus with data,” Bell said, “also with data, how it is aligned in the corrective action plan. We want to make sure that it is aligned with the information the board members provided so that we can have a document the community can be proud of and that we can move forward.”

Diane Atkinson, the committee for school improvement chair, said at the end of the meeting that she would get the state board members to share their thoughts with her. She would then share them with the Virginia Department of Education staff, who would get it to the superintendent.

Regarding the data presented for Standards of Learning achievement, some members thought Franklin set the bar too high, while others thought the school system did a good job setting the bar where it was.

Christian N. Braunlich, the board’s president, pulled out one line item, J.P. King Middle School’s goal for seventh-grade math, to emphasize his point. In 2014, the pass rate was 35 percent, and the goal is to hit a 70, which is full accreditation.

“If you say, ‘We are going to double something in one year,’” he said, “you have set yourself up emotionally to fail. In the public’s eye, you look bad, even if you get a 60 percent, which would be marvelous.”

The teachers were also a concern for Braunlich, particularly since Franklin is a small school system with turnover.

“If word gets around that you have unrealistic expectations, then why should I go there? Some of my evaluation will be based on that,” he said.

Bell said that they have been beaten up in the community and by the board of education for not being fully accredited, which went into setting the goal.

“When I saw a 35, and if I were to set a target of 56, the teachers are going to look at me like I’ve got three heads,” Bell said. “They are going to say, ‘No sir, we are shooting for 70.’ They are not going to accept a 56.”

And Bell said he thought his seventh-graders had a shot, as last year in the sixth grade they achieved a 61 percent pass rate on the SOLs.

“The teachers and administration have talked, and they do not want to see anything lower than a 70,” he said. “It may be a big mountain to climb, but personally, we have been eaten up after not being accredited.”

With the big game coming up on Sunday, several of the board members had sports analogies for Franklin. One such analogy came from Dr. Billy Cannaday Jr., who compared Bell’s goals to that of a bowling coach.

“If they were bowling, and they made a 50, and you said, ‘By the end of the season, you’ve got to be able to roll a 180,’” he said. “They will look at you like you are crazy, like that three-headed monster.”

It is up to the school system to dispel the illusion in the community that growth isn’t part of the equation.

“We don’t want to set kids up for thinking that just because you didn’t get there, all the way at one time, that you are not successful,” Cannaday said. “I think that does more damage to them.”

The former superintendent continued to say that no matter what you say, you will take heat. Don’t get too caught up in the numbers, Cannaday said — get caught up in how to teach them. Know where the students currently are, and how the system is going to get them to where they need to be.

Braunlich said not emphasizing growth is perhaps a flaw in the current accreditation system.

“You either make it across the board, or you don’t,” he said. “Hopefully, we are going to work on that and solve some of that at the state board level this year.

“But there is credit for growth in the community. I believe if they see growth toward a goal, they will give you credit for that.”

Sustainability is also key, Braunlich said. They don’t want to see the school improve for one year, but then fall back down shortly thereafter. It may mean that you have to lay ground work in year one, and in year two, continue to make strides. It may not be until year three that you can actually achieve accreditation, but the important thing is that it’s not a flash in the pan, and that you know the groundwork is there to maintain it going forward.

“If the teachers are as determined to meet those goals as you say, 70 percent, 80 percent, then they are going to do it anyway,” Braunlich said. “They are not going to get to 60 percent, say, ‘We made it. We are going to stop now.’”

Joan Wodiska, a board member who was a former member of a local school board, said she thinks that as the leader of the community, that he picked the right goal. She said the law is very clear.

“What I have just heard from the board, is a lack of clarity about what to do next in the directions provided to you,” Wodiska said. “We need clear instructions and to set timelines in a reasonable way for what to do, so that the bar doesn’t keep changing from meeting to meeting.”

Not being fully accredited is what got Franklin in this situation to begin with. Based on seeing many systems come before the state board, she said if a system was there with anything other than full accreditation as the goal, the response might have been different.

“I want to stand by your decision to go toward accreditation,” Wodiska said. “We have to do our work to figure out the state board’s view, as to what happens next.”

Atkinson said the aspirational goal should certainly be full accreditation. But she added there was a difference between the ultimate aspirational goal and what you hope to actually accomplish in a year. Like many school systems across the state, getting to full accreditation might be a multi-year process. Atkinson said systems need to outline the process.

“We are doing these things, and here is where we intend to be the year after, and the year after,” she said.

At the end of the meeting, Atkinson got back to the corrective action plan. She was worried that Franklin’s administration was viewing it the wrong way.

“It is not just a documentation for us,” Atkinson said. “The corrective action plan is a tool to help you, the community and everyone understand what you are doing, what you are looking at, and how you know you are succeeding.

“Your comment about what we need to see? It’s the same thing that you need to see for you to know, for the board to know, that you are progressing in the right manner at the right pace.”