During its meeting Monday in Seward, the school board OK’d the district’s application to participate in a comprehensive school improvement service offered by the Association of Alaska School Boards.
If the district’s application is accepted, the Quality Schools/Quality Students program (QS2) would be implemented at Tebugna School in Tyonek, at Seward Elementary, Middle and High schools, Ninilchik School and Nanwalek School.
“It started as help for smaller schools districts, to help with strategic planning, to bring the community into the school and to help students,” said board president Debra Mullins of the program, which is in its seventh year. “This is the first time it’s been opened to individual schools. Our district has been too large to apply for a grant. We’re excited because this is the first year we could apply for it. ... This is something I think the board has been watching for five or six years and asking, ‘When can we do it?’”
According to AASB Web site, the goal of QS2 is to close the gap between where a school is and where it wants to be. Through the program, each school will develop a community-based strategic plan. Once a district is selected as a QS2 partner, it can then secure funds through the federally funded Alaska Initiative for Community Engagement to support community engagement.
“One of the things you have to have is community buy-in,” Mullins said. “The community has to be willing partners with the staff, as well as the kids, as well as the board and the administration.”
The QS2 program begins with the district’s application to participate, which the board approved Monday. Step two involves data collection in which students, teachers, administrators and community members are surveyed and interviewed. Strategic planning lays out a vision for the community, and action plans are developed to meet goals.
The final step of the QS2 program is implementation. Activities undertaken are continuously evaluated for their effects on students.
The Sitka School District is in its third year of participation in the QS2 program. Matthew Turner, who initiates community engagement activities for the district using QS2 funds, said their have been some positive results from the program. He cited a recent activity in which students from several schools in Sitka worked with the board of an environmental group on an Earth Day project.
“The net result has been pulling in some community organizations that wouldn’t normally be thinking first of getting kids involved with what they do,” Turner said.
Because the funds don’t come with a lot of strings attached, Turner said there is a lot of room for creativity in how they are used.
While a lot of good things came from the program in Sitka, Turner said the district did not take advantage of the program’s full potential. For the program to be truly successful, participating communities need to embrace the assessment portion of the program and everyone involved needs to be focused on the same goals.
“If that happens, then really great things can occur,” Turner said. “... The other key piece of this is it comes down to people. It comes down to who is going to champion the projects, really cheer-lead and cajole and keep people working together. If those districts have that person who can see the big picture, some really big things can come out of it.”
For more information on Quality Schools/Quality Students, visit the Association of Alaska School Boards Web site at www.aasb.org.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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