Federal Waiver to Change Way School District Evaluated

The Derry Cooperative School District, a former District In Need of Improvement (DINI) under the federal No Child Left Behind act, is moving from a “deficiency” model to a “support” model.
Laura Nelson, superintendent of Derry’s School Administrative Unit (SAU) 10, discussed this and other ramifications of the federal waiver to No Child Left Behind at the Aug. 27 School Board meeting. The waiver, sought and received by the state Board of Education, will change the way district progress is assessed, while working “in the field” to help it achieve that progress.

Before the waiver, the state had 75 districts classed “in need of improvement” and now there are 43, Nelson said. Under the waiver the government still classifies schools as “Title I” schools, schools that receive federal funds under the Title I program, and Derry has three such schools, Nelson said: Grinnell, Derry Village and South Range elementary schools.

Grinnell has been named a “Focus School” and will receive special attention and resources in 2013-14. The waiver requires that the district form a “turn-around team” for Grinnell School, and Nelson said 25 people in various disciplines volunteered for the team.

While the district will still receive Title I funds, there are fewer strings attached and more personalization, Nelson said. For example, it is no longer required for a school to set aside 10 percent of its Title I funds for professional development, or 20 percent for “supplemental education services” (tutoring).

School Board Chairman Brenda Willis asked how the district could fund professional development and tutoring, and Nelson said the funding was still there. “We will receive the same amount of funding,” she said. “We just have more flexibility on how to use it.”
The “sanctions” imposed on a school or district with School In Need of Improvement (SINI) or DINI status are also no longer valid, Nelson said.

What’s taken their place? A state-based model for teacher evaluation, principal evaluation and a weighted 20 percent growth in student achievement. The model provides seven “turnaround principles” and a district improvement plan.
Though the new guidelines apply to Grinnell, South Range and Derry Village, all seven schools are part of the same collective bargaining agreement, Nelson said, so the supervisory model will apply to all schools.
Grinnell will be focused on meeting seven “turnaround principles,” Nelson said, and must implement a state model on teacher and principal evaluation. The evaluation model must be fully in place by 2015-16, and used for personnel decisions by 2016-17.

Nelson said she has met with the Grinnell teachers and administrators, and will hold a district-wide meeting on the waiver Sept. 10. “We are looking forward to a positive outcome,” Nelson said.