District ‘off and rolling’ on new strategic plan for 2017-18

Published Nov 6, 2017 at 12:00pm

Increased involvement with community agencies for student needs, possible winter launch of a student attendance marketing campaign, and year-long research of school start-time options are among progress cited in a Rome school district strategic plan for 2017-18.

“We’re off and rolling,” district Superintendent Peter C. Blake told the Board of Education Thursday night in an update on the plan that he initially presented in June. The 2017-18 school year began July 1.

The plan outlines multiple steps within four categories that seek improvements in instruction; student attendance; programs for students’ social and emotional health; and family and community engagement in schools.

Varying levels of progress in the categories were noted by Blake, who mentioned “some homework to do” for certain initiatives. Among points in his update:

• The district has “doubled our active involvement with community agencies to support student/emotional needs.” For example, Blake mentioned a Nov. 1 presentation for Strough Middle School parents by the Center for Family Life and Recovery on ways to combat teen substance use.

In addition, “alternative-to-suspension programs are also beginning to take shape.” Instead of instances where students are being suspended out of school, the district “could work with agencies to get more support” for students, Blake commented.

• As part of an effort to support the importance of student attendance, a marketing campaign is in development, “hoping to launch during the winter.”

The district’s goal is a 95 percent student attendance rate, compared to the 92 percent range from the past several years, said Blake. The rate for September and October was 94.66 percent.

• An educational development committee “will be researching options related to school start times and their impact (on) student learning and success throughout the 2017-18 school year.”

The research could involve whether it would be beneficial to have the high school schedule start later than elementary school. Rome Free Academy and Strough Middle School currently start at 7:30 a.m. and dismiss at 2 p.m., while elementary schools start at 9:10 a.m. and dismiss at 3:10 p.m.

“Is our start time...a barrier?,” asked Blake, referring to seeking “optimal start times for children of these ages.”

• A grade K-12 student survey for feedback regarding attendance will be developed by a school district “leadership team” and is to be administered in the spring. Blake has said the team includes district administrators, teachers, parents and community members.

• Schools “have already held numerous opportunities for families and community to engage with the school.”

Every building has had an open house event, said Blake, adding that they can be “more about engagement and learning...rather than just meeting teachers.”

The district is having “ongoing discussions for the development of a community event relative to special education programming and related service options.”

• Among instructional staff, “grade-level collaboration has been increased through the utilization of after-school opportunities, our professional development days to date, and through master scheduling” to provide more time for such steps.

• Updating of educational curriculum policies, in conjunction with teacher coordinators, include grade K-6 English; grade 7-12 social studies and science; and grade K-12 music.

Board Vice President Paul Hagerty said Blake’s overall report was “very good.” Developing a strategic plan was among goals set last fall for Blake, who became superintendent in July 2016.