Ask anyone in your school district to explain what the impending ESSA implementation will mean for their school and you’ll get a variety of responses. It’s not surprising that ESSA’s wide-scoping requirements mean many things to various stakeholders. District administrators are expected to not only understand ESSA's far-reaching implications, but also communicate its impact to their publics. With all there is to digest and comprehend, how are districts to know where to start when communicating to their community?
We’ve listed four questions that districts should consider to start the conversation with the public regarding their plans for ESSA.
1. What does ESSA entail? What changes will be happening as a result of ESSA?
Sifting through legislation can be overwhelming and time-consuming, so it’s important to have a simplified explanation of how each of ESSA’s eight components is likely to impact your community stakeholders. ESSA places an emphasis on transparency, so be clear about the impact that ESSA will have within your school district. Additionally, since ESSA requires that districts reserve at least 1% of Title I funds they receive for parent and family engagement activities, be sure to address these in specifics with members of your community. Detail your strategy for effective family and community involvement to instill confidence and trust with your public stakeholders.
2. What ESSA aligned resources, policies, and practices are you implementing to improve public schools in your district?
School districts are an investment for stakeholders. Once your district’s goals have been established metrically, stakeholders will likely want to know what actionable items are in place for the district to achieve those goals so that they can feel secure in the district’s commitment to improving their public schools according to ESSA mandates. For community members, especially parents, showing where your district stands and where it would like to be with clear and concise strategies will allow stakeholders the opportunity to feel engaged and informed about the changes that will occur as a result of ESSA. Be prepared to discuss how your district will address the conditions that are faced by your students and teachers on a daily basis, in very concrete ways. Meet with the students and administrators of your schools regularly to get their insights and perspectives, and let their input help you craft the action plan that you share with your public stakeholders.
3. How will your district address underperforming schools?
ESSA will require states to identify the lowest-performing five percent of the schools in the state that receive Title I funding, all public high schools that fail to graduate one-third or more of their students, as well as schools where any subgroup of students consistently underperforms. School districts will have to create and execute targeted support and improvement plans for these schools to address the resource gaps. Make sure your district can articulate your plan to improve the public school experience for underperforming schools in your districts. Since these plans will be monitored and reviewed by the state, be prepared to detail the specifics as to how you plan to help these schools meet the state-defined criteria for improvement with definitive dates for benchmarking and reviewing your progress.
4. How does your district plan on allocating resources equitably in the future?
To ensure equitable allocations for all students, districts will need to evaluate and refine their allocation methods. For the first time, per-pupil spending will be at the forefront alongside the school’s student performance. Per-pupil spending will understandably vary from school to school, and the varied allocation amounts may cause concern for many in the community. To keep generalizations and assumptions about the data at bay, make sure your district leaders, principals, and board members not only understand what the data actually means, but also the district’s strategy and plans for improvement.
To provide equitable learning spaces for all students, districts should create and implement strategies that provide additional time and assistance to students requiring it the most. Additionally, remember that transparency is the name of the game. Consider providing monthly budget updates to your board members and stakeholders so they can better understand how discretionary funding is being spent. Districts should also seek to provide annual reports to the community, either online or in print, that plainly answers what was bought with tax dollars, and outlines the results that taxpayers can expect from those investments.
Lastly, parents and community leaders may ask about the individual school budgets for books and supplies, computer equipment, professional development, or incidental expenses. While the answers to these questions may vary based on the amount of autonomy that principals and school leadership teams have in deciding how to spend their lump-sum budgets, be prepared to address questions like these with a satisfying and thoughtful response.