During her fourth trip to Del Norte County on Thursday, WestEd representative Roni Jones gave school board members a summary of information gleaned earlier this year from a series of interviews with parents, teachers, administrators, tribal and community representatives.

Jones, organizational development specialist for WestEd, a joint powers agency governed by public entities in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, also presented Del Norte County Unified School District trustees a “theory of action.” This, she said, would help provide differentiated assistance to the school district.

“Anybody who might be a hiker or a backpacker, you know that you need certain tools to get where you need to be,” Jones said. “You need a topographic map, you need a compass, you need some of those kinds of things to make sure you don’t get lost along the way, and this is our map.”

This theory of action includes implementing strategies such as coaching to foster leadership skills in district administrators, working with statewide and regional agencies, including the California Department of Education’s special education division, designing and implementing a communication plan and professional learning for district and school administrators.

With help from WestEd, the district hopes to improve community engagement and create a “customer service culture,” according to Jones.

Ultimately the district hopes to create a climate in which students experience consistent and high quality instruction and support; that families and students feel informed and welcomed at district sites, and that district staff use data for continuous improvement, Jones said. These are long-term goals that could take three to five years to work toward, she said.

Meanwhile, according to Superintendent Jeff Harris, because partnering with WestEd on a systems-wide approach to differentiated assistance is unique, California Department of Education representatives will visit Del Norte County.

Jones said representatives with the California Department of Education will be sending a team to Del Norte County to work with school principals.

“We need to finish working through what that’s going to look like, but they’re going to come up and work with some teams,” she said.

The district partnered with WestEd after a new state accountability model, the California School Dashboard, found several of its student groups struggling. The Dashboard measures a district’s chronic absenteeism, suspension rate, English learner progress, graduation rate and performance in English-language arts and mathematics. The accountability model includes data for a district’s entire student body as well as several subgroups including English language learners, foster students, homeless students, low-income students, students with disabilities and Native American students.

Performance in the above categories are rated on a color scale with red indicating the lowest performance and blue indicating the highest performance, according to www.caschooldashboard.org.

Any district with two or more subgroups in the red or orange categories for two years qualifies for differentiated assistance, or help in analyzing the barriers to success those students are experiencing, Harris told the Triplicate in June.

Del Norte County Unified School District was identified for differentiated assistance in the foster, homeless, special education and Native American subgroups, according to Harris.

However, according to Jones, rather than focusing on the subgroups that have been identified as being eligible for differentiated assistance, WestEd has used a “systems approach” to provide assistance. WestEd began working with the school district in January, speaking with roughly 100 people to learn the district’s strengths and weaknesses.

This week, WestEd representatives spent three days working with school principals.

“We’ve been working with site administrators to plan how they’re interacting with teachers at their sites,” Jones said. “Using them as leaders, especially in the initial days coming back to school, to increase collaboration as well as providing additional supports and services to teachers to really focus on that instructional part.”

She noted school principals are excited to learn about other things happening in education across the state, but because Del Norte County is so remote, working with their colleagues from other districts is difficult.

“I think the isolation has really led to them not having as broad a spectrum of opportunities to collaborate and learn from others,” Jones said. “We’re also trying to build systems where they can support each other and learn from each other in more effective ways.”

According to Jones, the only stakeholder group WestEd hasn’t talked with yet are students. She said they plan to talk with students soon.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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