Upper Arlington News

Guest column

Quality profile will help define, measure district achievement


With the successful passage of the UA schools' operating levy in 2013, the school district leadership promised to do three things levy supporters requested: Find ways to save money by operating more efficiently, make sure what goes on in the classroom prepares our students to be successful when they graduate and identify ways to help the taxpaying public better measure and understand how well the school district is doing in meeting these goals.

The district developed a new hybrid approach to strategic planning that focuses on using community input to create a results-oriented plan that draws from the best practices of both the public and private sectors.

The first phase of this planning process includes three work teams addressing essential questions related to the promises made to taxpayers.

The committee I chair has been tasked with addressing the third goal by developing recommendations for a document called a quality profile. The profile is meant to address the following question: What is the best way for Upper Arlington schools to define, measure and communicate the educational quality and performance of the district?

I am fortunate to have working with me five experienced professionals. This includes two experienced classroom teachers, Crista DeVore from Barrington Elementary School and Jane Hunt from UA High School. Other members of the work group include Robb Gonda, principal of Hastings Middle School; Garilee Ogden, the district's director of accountability and professional development; and Kate Heynoski, an educational effectiveness senior specialist at Battelle for Kids, who has an extensive background in measuring educational effectiveness.

We began our work by reviewing the school district's current strategic planning documents, various community surveys, existing measures of district performance including national rankings, the state report cards and the best practices of other high-performing school districts in the state and the nation. We also reviewed the progress of the work teams addressing efficiency and the student learning experience to make sure it was integrated into our efforts.

Our team has created a set of recommendations for a prototype Upper Arlington Quality Profile. We believe this is an important tool to measure achievement so we can celebrate success and identify areas in need of improvement.

We feel it is important to measure what we value -- not just value what has been traditionally measured.

In Upper Arlington, we feel the community values academic achievement, choice of learning opportunities, community engagement and a culture of stewardship for both financial and nonfinancial resources.

As you can tell by those categories, standardized tests cannot measure everything of value to our community. We must seek out ways to measure these less-tangible areas and put all of the data into a context that identifies trends and facilitates comparisons with other high-achieving school districts.

In summary, Upper Arlington is an unusually well-educated community, and our residents value education and strongly support the public schools. In turn, residents expect the schools to perform accordingly, and we believe the quality profile will enable the community to monitor that performance.

We shared our recommendations on how to accomplish these goals with the UA school board during its July 16 meeting. We think it is important to view that meeting not as a last step, but as first step in a conversation between the schools and the community that is likely to take three to six months.

The district plans to take our recommendations and translate them into an initial quality profile prototype to be presented in September. Our hope is that all stakeholders, including community members, teachers and other staff members, will take the opportunity to provide their thoughts and ideas as the quality profile develops and matures.

At the end, we hope the result is a mutual agreement over expectations and how they are measured. That in itself will not guarantee high-performing schools, but it is an essential first step.

William J. Shkurti retired in 2010 after 20 years as vice president for business and finance at Ohio State University. He has also served as budget director for the state of Ohio. He has been an Upper Arlington resident for 23 years.