Curriculum auditor scores District 'better than many'

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has a new assignment: to show it teaches what it says it's teaching.

That task, presented to the school board when it met in Homer on Sept. 13, comes from a recently completed $100,000 curriculum audit requested by the district and paid for with federal stimulus dollars.

A seven-member team, led by John Rouse from International Curriculum Management Audit Center at Phi Delta Kappa International, conducted the audit.

The most revealing aspect of the lengthy audit addresses the lack of alignment between "What we say we do and what we actually teach," said school board vice president Liz Downing, of Homer. "We need to reflect on the curriculum and in all of our classrooms have a deep alignment between what we expect and what is taught so all of our students graduate with a quality education."

The shortcomings, and a multi-year plan to address them, impact every area of the district.

"The answers fell on every department, including the school board," said board clerk Sunni Hilts of Seldovia. "We need to set higher standards for ourselves and we need to see those standards are met. We've been doing the best we could, but we found out new things that can make a difference. The kind of difference between knowing your car needs a tune-up and having the mechanic give you a list of what needs to be tuned up."

For Steve Atwater, district superintendent, the most glaring need highlighted by the audit was for the district to establish common assessments.

"If you're learning to divide fractions, for instance, you have an assessment throughout the district that teachers use to determine if students are learning how to divide fractions," said Atwater. "I don't want to suggest teachers don't ensure that, but the district has no way of monitoring it right now."

The audit wasn't designed to deliver good news, but intended to point out areas in need of improvement.

"Sometimes when you're looking at yourself, you don't see the lines and creases, so this was a way for us to get our baseline established," said Atwater. "We're excited. It gives us a point of reference from which to work."

The next step falls to the district's leadership team to prioritize the audit's findings.

Some items have already been scratched.

For instance, the report suggested that distribution of financial resources be determined by school performance, with lower performing schools receiving greater amounts of funding.

"We do provide resources for schools that are struggling, but to go into the general fund and undo the district's funding formula would be a hard sell," said Atwater.

School capacity was another area targeted by the auditors, with 30 percent of the district's buildings found to be operating at less than 50 percent of their capacity.

"Unless issues surrounding building capacities are addressed, the district's efficiency and productivity will be compromised," said the report.

This can be challenging, however, in as geographically widespread a district.

"It was one of the very impractical pieces (of the audit)," said Atwater. "Sterling Elementary has empty classrooms, and Chapman Elementary (in Anchor Point), but for us to combine schools that are 30 or more miles apart won't work."

After reviewing the report and listening to Rouse's presentation, Hilts asked how KPBSD compared to other districts he had audited.

"I don't want to give a number or letter grade ... but your district scores better than many I've seen in the overall perspective," said Rouse. "(Your district) has people capacity and financial resources to deal with the issues that we pointed out in this report. You're poised where you can take this and move the district forward."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.



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