Strategies to narrow achievement gap proposed

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BELOIT - The School District of Beloit Board of Education will be considering a number of reform recommendations from its ad hoc academic achievement committee, intended to improve student performance.

After meeting and conducting research since February, the committee came up with a list of strategies to help. They include devoting more resources to early education, hiring more mental health staff and giving new principals more training and support.

The committee first presented its recommendations to the board at the Nov. 28 meeting, and will have follow-up discussion with board members at the upcoming Dec. 12 meeting. Some of the initial recommendations will be approved at the beginning of the new year, according to Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning and Innovation Anthony Bonds.

The committee was charged with examining and recommending actionable strategies to close the achievement gap. The achievement gap is commonly defined as the difference in academic performance of white students compared to other groups of students, including black, Latino, special education and English Language Learners, Bonds said.

The effort included the following subcommittees: learning environment, instructional leadership, academic achievement and parent and community engagement.

The committee's first recommendation is to offer intermediate and high school students a class period focusing on study skills, and other academic support.

Its second strategy is to provide seven additional full-time positions such as guidance counselors and social workers.

"We recognize our students require additional support for social and emotional learning," Bonds said.

Another strategy is to implement a mentoring program for new principals with experienced administrators, and to create an orientation series and handbook for all new administrators. The fifth strategy will explore the potential of adopting the Frontline Leadership training to develop leadership skills for principals.

"The nature of principal-ship has changed over the past decade. It requires a higher degree of leadership skills and qualities. We want to make sure we are providing principals with skills and strategies to be successful," Bonds said.

The committee also advised placing a higher priority on early childhood education and ensuring the quality of 4K through third grades is enhanced.

Suggestions include studying the effectiveness of the district's 4K and kindergarten program in raising test scores, and creating a literacy intervention program for children from a disadvantaged background, especially from 4K to third grade levels. One-on-one support for struggling learners is highly recommended.

Recommendations also included efforts to reduce school absences among disadvantaged students; collaborating with Beloit College to commission research and data collection on student achievement to determine needs; and developing a volunteer program with two full-time positions to lead it.

Bonds thanked all the committee members for their service. He said every subcommittee spent time doing research, making contacts with experts in the field and visiting other school districts.

Bonds said the committee is still meeting and is working on identifying additional strategies to close the achievement gap.

"The group is continuing to research best practices, and share and gather feedback from district staff and community stakeholders. We will present a more comprehensive plan in the spring," Bonds said.

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