SI&A guidance: SIG applications

It remains uncertain what steps need to be taken to restructure schools recently identified as the state's lowest achieving - but local officials interested in applying for federal School Improvement Grants must be cognizant of the fast approaching June 1 deadline.

As part of the state's unsuccessful Race to the Top effort, the California Department of Education was ordered to identify the 5 percent lowest performing schools and legislation also required that those schools undergo aggressive restructuring that could include closure.

SIG grants, which would provide local educational agencies in California as much as $415 million, were also identified as the primary source of funding to pay for the restructuring efforts.

It has recently been disclosed that the list of California's 188 lowest-performing schools was not developed in compliance with state law and the state's Race to the Top application. The list is exclusively applicable to the SIG program.

Because of that conflict, it's now unclear whether the schools identified as low-performing be compelled by the state to be restructured.

The governor is considering whether to pursue the second phase of Race to the Top, but if he does some experts say a second list of low performing schools will have to be develop that follows methodology in current state law.

To add to the uncertainty, it is also important to note that the state's application for the SIG funds is still pending before the federal officials and while there is every expectation that the application will be approved - it hasn't been yet.

Confused?

As is sometimes the case - good people, making good faith efforts combine too much politics and too little public policy to create a seriously flawed program.

Only current law is relevant

While officials in Sacramento and Washington D.C. work on untangling the mess, districts will need to make decisions now based only on current law and current guidance, said SI&A's Rick Carder, Director of Categorical Support.

There may be a number of changes that will be made in the coming weeks or months - but you can't make any assumptions," he said. "Districts need to base their decisions now on what we know."

The first two points, he explained, is that the application for SIG funds is voluntary and only schools identified on the five percent lowest-performing list are eligible to apply.

Thus, districts with schools on the CDE's current list of lowest-performing can consider applying for the SIG funds and the swirl of uncertainty surrounding the second phase of Race to the Top and perhaps a second list of lowest-performing schools is simply not germane right now, Carder said.

It is critical to note that districts opting to apply must be ready to implement one of four federal restructuring models beginning for the 2010-11 school year.

The restructuring options are: replacing the school principal and at least 50 percent of the staff; closing the school and reopening under new charter management; closing the school completely and sending students to other, better achieving schools and transformation.

Transformation model'

If a district decides on the transformation model, which includes removal of the principal, there are a couple of considerations that must first be made, Carder said.

If the principal has been at this school for less than two full assessment data periods, the principal does not need to be removed. If the principal has been at the school beyond two full data assessment periods then the principal must be removed.

It should be noted that removal of a principal does not necessarily mean removal from the district but from the identified SIG site.

A question has arisen that if a district chooses to redesign the grade configuration at a particular school as part of the transformation model, would it be possible to retain the existing principal for one portion of the redesigned configuration and select a new principal for the other?

SIG guidance does not consider this proposal as a removal of the principal. A new principal must brought in to serve all the grades that were within the identified school.

The turnaround model under SIG requires that, in addition to the removal of the principal, the school must remove no more than 50% of the existing staff. The term "staff" includes all instructional staff.

All instructional staff includes teachers of core academic subjects as well as non-core academic subjects.

SIG requirements mandate an LEA measure the effectiveness of staff who works within the turnaround model school and, at its discretions, determine whether or not to include non-instructional staff in addition to instructional staff.

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