Strategic Plan Update

Like local school districts, each AEA in Iowa undergoes an accreditation process every five years and Great Prairie AEA will be completing that process in the coming weeks.  The process actually takes two years to complete, with the first year consisting of the preparing for and conducting of the formal site visit.  Many of our local districts were instrumental in helping us with the site visit phase last year, providing teachers, administrators, and parents for our focus group interviews.  This year, we have been using the results of that accreditation report, as well as multiple other data sources, to produce our Comprehensive Improvement Plan or CIP.  This is an exciting and critical time for the agency because the CIP charts our course for the coming years.  It is our strategic plan, the plan that will guide us as we endeavor to support and lead Iowa’s education community.

The Process – This year, we have been working as an agency on the planning phase or CIP phase of the process. The first step in the CIP phase of accreditation is to inventory all current AEA services.  After this comprehensive inventory of services, we look at a number of data sources from within and outside the agency:  We review the contents of both AEA and local district accreditation reports.  We analyze the student achievement data and CSIP goals of all of our districts.  We also analyze the qualitative and quantitative data from the AEA satisfaction surveys taken annually by educators in the region.  Finally, we look at the current educational context in the state by reviewing the priorities stated in the AEA Compact http://bit.ly/1mHvlW4 and by reviewing recent state and federal legislation that either is impacting or will be impacting our local school districts.  From this needs assessment and analysis phase, two guiding documents are developed.  The first is the actual 5-year action plan that establishes our actions and priorities going forward.  The second and equally important document is the professional development plan that will map out the  internal (AEA) and external (LEA) learning that will need to take place in order for us to execute our plan and to successfully support our districts.

Here is what we are learning from the process.  We know from student achievement data, satisfaction survey data, and leadership interview data that districts want us to continue to provide quality direct services that allow students with special needs to access a free and appropriate education.  This need is particularly acute for districts as they work with students who are experiencing difficulty in the areas of reading and behavior.  We are already responding to this by making sure that every LEA building is served by one special education core team member specializing in reading and one specializing in challenging behavior.  We are continuing to provide half of our core team members ongoing training in methods for providing specially designed instruction in literacy and the other half in best practices for intervening with students who exhibit challenging behavior.  We will also continue to provide the full array of direct services to students that we currently offer, such as speech, physical, and occupational therapy.  These have been and will remain core services for our agency.

Another area of concentration for our agency going forward will be to support the continued implementation of the Iowa Core.  This means that we will need to continue to support teachers and school leaders as they learn more about the shifts involved in teaching to the Iowa Core in reading, math, and science.  We will need to stay abreast of best practices in characteristics of effective instruction, as well as understanding and teaching to the Iowa Core Standards. Developing high quality, aligned  assessments for those standards is the third piece of supporting implementation of the Iowa Core.  We will continue to support investigations work with the standards and assessments, effective instructional models, and observational protocols.  Supporting the Iowa Core has implications for both special education and instructional services staff as we will need to support the development of extended benchmarks and alternate assessment in addition to the work we do with general education teachers in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.  This will have implications for the work we do with both teachers and leaders.

One of the key responsibilities for the agency going forward will be to support districts as they strive to meet new requirements for early literacy in response to last year’s legislation http://bit.ly/N3D28U calling for Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) formerly known as response to intervention (RTI and yes we do love new acronyms because we have such a critical shortage of them in the education business).  This is an area we are emphasizing, in part because there are so many implications for new learning and because the stakes are so high.  MTSS impacts everything from core and specially designed instruction to professional learning communities and data teams.  We will need to better support schools as they collect data with new screeners and diagnostic assessments.  We will not only need to support schools in collecting data, but also in using that data to develop appropriate interventions and effective extended learning programs.  The complexity of meeting district needs in this area is particularly compounded in the area of literacy where we see such a wide variance of programs and philosophies across our region.  One of our single biggest challenges going forward is to assure that all GPAEA literacy consultants in both special education and instructional services can effectively meet the general and special education literacy needs of any district regardless of that district’s approach to core literacy instruction.  This will no doubt be a significant piece or our internal learning plan.

Another key action area in our strategic plan will be to support districts as they implement the Teacher Leadership Compensation program, also know as the Teacher Leadership Supplement or TLS http://bit.ly/1cQou67 .  As districts begin to establish new roles and responsibilities for teacher leaders, there will be an increased need for skill development in areas like instructional coaching and observational protocols.  Perhaps even more critical to the success of TLS though may be the larger cultural shift that schools and districts must make as they begin to distribute leadership responsibilities traditionally reserved for administrators out into the larger organization.  School leaders will need to utilize collaborative protocols like those found in professional learning communities or data teams as the professional development process increasingly becomes more formative in nature.  Teacher leaders who already possess a strong set of instructional skills will need to be able to observe the instruction and student work of others for the purposes of identifying instructional strengths and weaknesses.  This will require districts to have a well articulated instructional continuum that can be used as a framework instructional coaching.  Leaders will need the types of coaching skills that encourage growth and reflection in others.  Some districts already have coaching models and even full-time release coaches, but most do not.  This all has huge implications for the future learning of both AEA and LEA educators.

Certainly our action plan and professional development plans will address much more than what I have chosen to include here.  What I have included in this blog are the big pieces that I see creating the general framework for our initiatives.  We feel that it is important for our core services to respond to district needs and the current context in Iowa.  These are ever-changing times and it will be necessary for us to review and realign these plans annually in order to keep up with those changes.  Even this Spring we will still be receiving feedback on the contents of the plan from our GPAEA Advisory Committee.  Our GPAEA Board of Directors will also be giving feedback before they ultimately approve the plan later this Spring.  We have many new and exciting challenges ahead.  We always welcome feedback to our proposed priorities.  If you would like to share your feedback, you can comment here on WordPress or contact me at jon.sheldahl@gpaea.org.

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