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Dickinson schools receive $1.1M school climate grant

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Dickinson Public Schools Central Administration office. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

What makes a good school? Marzano Resources has compiled 40 years of educational research into effective school practices to create the High Reliability Schools model, which Dickinson Public Schools will soon implement.

The school district received the U.S. Department of Education's School Climate Transformation Grant of nearly $1.1 million, which it will receive in installments of over $200,000 a year for five years, to implement the program.

Superintendent Shon Hocker brought the idea to the school district last year.

“That was something I brought to the table and said, ‘If we really want to make a difference for Dickinson students and Dickinson teachers and Dickinson community, following this High Reliability Schools model is the way to go,’" he said.

Hocker said it guarantees that students from all schools will receive the same quality education.

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“The HRS model is a filtration of all of those kinds of best practices down to some simplistic ideas that a school can use to become a consistent, good solid school," he said. "It’s like McDonald’s. When you have a successful franchise, it’s because very few things vary … that Big Mac is about the same whether you’re in New York or you’re in California or whether you’re in Tokyo. It’s a very consistent product … We have no quality control of kids coming in. We have to work with all kinds of kids. HRS gives us that best opportunity for success."

The program is structured into five levels: a safe, supportive and collaborative culture; effective teaching in every classroom; a guaranteed and viable curriculum; standards-referenced reporting; competency-based education.

Each level has indicators that the schools must meet in order to be certified at that level.

"You will know that you are a level 1 certified school system if you can show evidence that you are doing these 8 things effectively. If one of the leading indicators has to do with perceptions of our community on safety at school, … I have to be able to say that we’re good in that," Hocker said.

The school district is currently working on level one, which includes eight indicators:

  • 1.1: The faculty and staff perceive the school environment as safe and orderly.
  • 1.2: Students, parents and the community perceive the school environment as safe and orderly.
  • 1.3: Teachers have formal roles in the decision-making process regarding school initiatives.
  • 1.4: Teacher teams and collaborative groups regularly interact to address common issues regarding curriculum, assessment, instruction and the achievement of all students.
  • 1.5: Teachers and staff have formal ways to provide input regarding the optimal functioning of the school.
  • 1.6: Students, parents and the community have formal ways to provide input regarding the optimal functioning of the school.
  • 1.7: The success of the whole school, as well as individuals within the school, is appropriately acknowledged.
  • 1.8: The fiscal, operational and technological resources of the school are managed in a way that directly supports teachers. \

Schools must provide evidence that they have met all of the indicators in order to be certified.
“The grant is actually going to pay for Marzano’s organization to come in and do our certification amongst all of our schools later this spring. Five years later, our goal is to be completed with level five," Hocker said.

Dickinson Middle School Principal Marcus Lewton addressed the school board at its last meeting on the steps his school has been taking towards achieving level one.

"We did a quantitative survey about a month and a half ago where we identified some strengths and areas of opportunity for growth," Lewton said.

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Two areas they found were strengths were 1.1 and 1.3. They found they needed to work on 1.2.

"After we did some questioning, that really came down to a communication thing, probably. There’s some things we can’t share … but there’s things that we need to do a better job of sharing, too," he said.

They also identified 1.2 as an area of weakness.

"We developed a parent survey. We rolled that out last Friday through our social media platform, and then on our website. When that survey closes, the leadership team will use that to see where we can improve on communication," Lewton said.

To address a perceived weakness in 1.6, the school developed a social media platform.

"We designed some criteria and restraints that if people are going to use our social media essentially to provide feedback, it has to be related to the education within the school," Lewton said. "It can’t be critical of individuals or individual departments, per se. We’re going to use that social media platform … to essentially create a dialogue. Knowing that some people do want to provide very critical information or criticisms sometimes, we developed … a couple boxes. Families and students can provide anonymous feedback."

The first level heavily involves the district's relationship to the community it serves, which Community Relations Coordinator Sarah Trustem said was a focus even prior to receiving the grant.

"We want to make sure that we’re engaging with the community and that channel of communication goes both ways, which leads us to the Superintendent’s Community Advisory Committee," she said. "It actually coincides with this grant because we said we would create something similar, so to have that formal board that we can bounce ideas off of and really get their input on what they think the direction of Dickinson Public Schools looks like is going to be really beneficial, so we’re really looking forward to that."

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The grant will provide training for administrators and faculty, as well as some community events. It will also cover 40% of the Trustem's salary. She will serve as the school climate community liaison and project director for the grant.

Trustem and Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris worked with a grant writing company over the summer to put together the grant proposal.

“We really wanted this grant," Hocker said. "This was really high on my want list. If I could pick any of the grants that I knew about at the time, this was the one I wanted because there’s a lot of flexibility in the grant. A lot of grants stink, honestly. You get a 5,10,20k grant and there’s more hoops to jump through than it’s worth. It creates more work, let alone the countless hours it takes to even put the grant application together in and of itself."

The School Climate Transformation Grant will provide $42.4 million to 69 districts across the country.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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