Accelerating student achievement
Five years ago, The Rapides Foundation asked all nine school districts in its service area to begin working more closely than ever. It was a bold step. The Foundation had a new approach to improving education in Central Louisiana, but it would not work without district participation. The Foundation was already working with individual schools in literacy and math. Since 1999 it had been providing training and tools so teachers could improve their skills to advance student achievement.
The Foundation purposefully started small to gain trust and build relationships inthe educational communities. But to make the most impact, the work needed to move system-wide. As a result, the Foundation dedicated $10 million over the next five years for its new Systemic Initiative in Education (SIE). Districts began receiving their grants in the fall of 2004.
Work moves to district level
“We were ready to take the next logical step, to expand the Foundation’s scope and work directly with the school districts,” Foundation President and CEO Joe Rosier said. “They are at the heart of any meaningful educational reform if it’s to be sustained over the long term.”
With the shift from school- to districtlevel funding, one constant remained. It was the Foundation’s belief that professional development is the key to educational success.
Districts were required to make this a top priority. “Studies confirm that the quality of teaching is the most important school-based factor that influences student achievement” Rosier said.
The SIE grants focused on math and literacy with each district customizing its own plans tailored to its needs. The plans ranged from enhancing math and literacy content to providing training for highly skilled educators to mentor less-experienced teachers. Many districts established Professional Learning Communities, where teams of teachers at the school and district level led instructional improvement.
Each district was assigned a designated educational leader to help coordinate the SIE efforts and ensure that grant dollars were maximized. Marguerita Krause, the district coordinator for Catahoula Parish, said the transition from school- to district-level grants was seamless, thanks to the Foundation’s extensive groundwork leading up to the Systemic Initiative.
“The focus of our effort has been on increasing student performance in math and language arts through focused instruction and improved leadership skills. We had already begun that work through the Foundation’s individual grants to schools, so this was a natural transition,” Krause said.