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By Tim Dodd
March 3, 2017
Over the last several years, school districts across the country have been under pressure to develop performance management programs geared towards driving student performance. Often, states require local districts to report specific student achievement data on a routine basis, and then make funding decisions based on this data. Data helps to move the needle on the main reason for the existence of public schools: To provide students with a quality education. Yet these programs do not necessarily measure performance of the multitude of functions of a school district designed to move the needle on student achievement. Enter a group of Massachusetts school districts seeking to use the collaboration of their municipal counterparts as a basis for their new initiative.
In 2013, a group of school districts in Massachusetts, led and coordinated by the City of Somerville, along with the Cities of Revere, Chicopee and Fitchburg, successfully developed School StatNet. Original funding for the program came from the Community Innovation Challenge (CIC) grant program. Administered by the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance, the CIC program provided one-time seed money to municipal governments and school districts across Massachusetts to develop and implement innovative demonstration projects, often involving regional collaborations and technology. As part of the effort, analysts will consolidate school assessment and operational data and work to help answer questions and challenges that districts face.
The School StatNet program is based on New England StatNet, a regional approach to municipal performance management. In collaboration with the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston, several Massachusetts municipalities worked together to discuss performance data as it relates to common municipal services, such as 911 response times, inspections and vehicle maintenance.
Each quarter, New England StatNet leaders choose a topic of focus. Before the meeting, all municipalities interested in participating are sent a survey. The information is compiled and then presented at meetings, during which time municipalities discuss survey results, including commonalities and differences across municipalities. Originally starting with the Somerville, Springfield and Amesbury, this program now includes over 65 municipal governments. This collaboration allows participating municipalities to learn from best practices from shared data.
As with their municipal counterparts, school leaders hope to use data to compare their practices across school districts. While student achievement will be a focus of the program, so too will school operations. Early meetings focused on systems of student support and intervention for general education students in grades K-5, as well as an overview of the basics of participating districts, such as the size, number of schools, grade spans of schools and student population characteristics. Additional meetings included breakout sessions with topics such as benefits spending, regional issues, school improvement and budgeting, decentralization vs. centralization, quality of data and out of district spending.
School districts from across the commonwealth have participated, including regional Amherst-Pelham in the western part of the commonwealth; Boston; Franklin county regional Tech. and Gateway Cities such as Springfield, Lowell and Worcester. While districts face unique challenges based on their size and geography, there are common threads across core service areas which are discussed during meetings.
Just like municipal governments, participating school districts are able to make meaningful connections with colleagues from across the state, developing professional networks while sharing lessons learned from common data points.
Author: Tim Dodd is the Chief Performance Officer for the City of Santa Monica, CA, previously serving as the Performance Manager for the City of Baltimore and Director of Performance Management for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. [email protected]