While promotion of Assembly Bill 46, a tax-raising bill that would provide WCSD much needed capital funding, has been the district’s primary focus in past weeks, the unveiling of its Performance Framework gave parents, principals and teachers something new to think about. The new star-based systems ranks schools from one to five stars by assessing their academics, proficiency, growth and credit attainment among many others.
“This is our new accountability framework that is geared toward student growth and economic growth, as well as family engagement,” Martinez said following the address inside the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology. “Academic support is the majority of the measure and for us it shows where we have the strongest schools and we can learn great lessons from them, but it also shows us where we need more support and it will allow us to align our resources and making sure they have access to talented teachers.”
Martinez said the incorporation of family engagement to the Performance Framework, as well as science, growth to college readiness levels and achievement gaps to ethnic and racial populations, places emphasis on specific needs and goals of WCSD. The new framework replaces the Adequate Yearly Progress measuring tool originally put in place under No Child Left Behind.
“We try to match what other districts in the state are doing because we want to be able to compare ourselves to other districts,” WCSD Board of Trustees President Barbara Clark said. “But there are some areas, family engagement for example, in which we added bonus points to because we really believe family engagement is truly important for student success.”
Clark said the framework is “somewhat structured” through the Nevada Department of Education and she added that the Board of Trustees and Superintendent worked hard to ensure some percentage of a school’s overall rating went to the district’s added emphases.
“I think it’s really truly about transparency,” Clark said. “When the community and families can see exactly where their schools are in a more in-depth way and looking at a broader base of data then people start asking questions, and they need to ask questions and see what needs to change. As a parent and as a community member those are the kinds of questions we should be asking our schools and holding them accountable. I think that will lead to the incentive because everybody wants to be a five-star school.”
Andrea Hughs Baird, a member of the Parent Leaders for Education, said she was impressed by Martinez’s presentation and the new Performance Framework because of its transparency. She said her only concern with the new ranking system is the possibility of overlooking outstanding programs inside average schools.
“If you are a new parent in the district,” she said, “And you see a three star school you are going to say ‘I want to be in a five-star school,’ but what if that three-star school is the one that is best in science or best in language arts. So you might bypass a school that is really strong in the subject a kid might excel at or be interested in to go to this five-star school that is good in everything but not necessarily what the student is interested in.
“I am a little concerned it is too simple, but in general the transparency and saying ‘we are going to put everything out there and show you what our schools are at,’ I think that is fabulous.”
Hughs Baird added that placing emphasis on community and parent involvement in ranking the schools speaks to the importance the district has placed on the category.
“It amazes me how important that was for the school board to have that parent involvement piece in there,” she said, “And there is a lot of research-based ideas on how parents actually can change test scores in their kids’ schools, not by doing the things for them but by teaching the parents how to help their kids best.
“As a volunteer in our school we always think ‘we could fundraise and earn money but what can we do to change our kid’s test scores,’ and we never knew what to do. Now the district will be supplying that and having some really good dialogue in the community and with the parents to show them what they can do to help their own kids.”
The other major focus of the address, AB 46, grabbed a lot of attention from the crowd when the alarming $32.1 million shortfall in the district’s budget was revealed. Martinez said the district has identified about $511 million in capital needs, most of which comes from the district’s aging school buildings.
“Myself and the trustees had a lot of conversations about the biggest needs for the district and what could derail us, and what we came to was the lack of capital funding,” Martinez said. “We need to make sure we have resources so we can be proactive and that’s why this capitol bill is so important. It is the minimum that we need. We are trying to be responsible.
“I am a believer that our community can only get stronger as we strengthen our school district. We have some great initiatives...but we cannot minimize the experience that our students have in school. We have to make sure our children are competitive, and without the funding we are always going to be playing catch up.”