School District Of The City Of York
Superintendent: The results are in, and our Recovery Plan is working
By Eric B. Holmes, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools
The most ambitious school recovery plan in Pennsylvania history is working.
The independent education experts at Mass Insight — whose evaluation and recommendations framed the strategies the School District of the City of York has been using since 2015 to improve student achievement — have concluded, three years later, substantial progress has been made.
“On nearly every element of the plan, the district and the individual schools have done what they committed to doing, and in most cases, there is evidence that the work has made a difference,” Mass Insight said in its report delivered to the district earlier this month.
Hired by the state of Pennsylvania, Mass Insight visited the district in early March to observe classroom instruction and interview district staff and community stakeholders to gauge their sense of the district’s progress. They also collected surveys from more than 300 employees and reviewed district data and documentation.
They found increased trust between teachers and administrators and a growing belief among all district staff that “we can do this” and “we’re on the right track.”
Quoted in the Mass Insight report, several teachers said, “They have done what they said they were going to do.”
Mass Insight’s report addressed the priorities it set for us back in 2015 – support for instruction, communication, talent, resource alignment and performance management. They found that nearly all of these priorities have already had a measureable positive impact and, of the 23 strategies identified in the four-year plan, 11 have been fully implemented and the other 12 are moving toward completion.
We asked this enormous organization of more than 5,000 students and 800 employees to make a commitment to change. We asked them to trust in a plan that had the potential to transform the way we do things around here, and they’ve done it.
We have brand new curriculum written by our teachers, customized for our students. We have committed ourselves to open lines of communication with the community and within the organization. We have prioritized leadership training for our principals and teachers. We have implemented teacher looping at the elementary level and launched career academies at the William Penn Senior High School and at the Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy.
This district has a top-notch team of educators and support staff who have chosen to believe in the potential of children who deserve every opportunity to lead happy, healthy, productive lives.
The first sign of district or school transformation is the reduction of students scoring below basic in math and ELA on standardized tests. Last fall, the district received our first measureable evidence of significant academic progress.
The data from our students’ performance on the 2016-17 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) confirmed that York City students are growing academically.
In 2017, district-wide growth in both math and ELA for grades 4 to 8 exceeded the state standard for academic growth. The district had been falling short of that standard for many years prior.
“The most encouraging student assessment data available at the elementary level is the decline of students at the below basic level on the ELA PSSA,” Mass Insight reported.
Since 2014, six of our seven elementary schools have reduced the number of below basic students, bringing them into basic in ELA PSSA testing. Three of our schools have increased the number of students in advanced and proficient by more than 5 percent.
When it comes to PSSA Math scores, we’re significantly reducing the number of students in below basic and increasing the number who are advanced and proficient. Our PVAAS data shows that our students are meeting the state standard in ELA and exceeding growth in math.
At the high school level, Keystone Exam data show that York City students are meeting the state standard for growth in literature and exceeding it in algebra and biology.
I believe and I hope we will see evidence of continued academic growth reflected in the 2017-18 PSSA data when it is reported later this year.
Our challenges remain stubborn and significant.
Of all 500 Pennsylvania school districts, the School District of the City of York has the highest percentage – 55 percent — of students living in “acute poverty,” a category of extreme poverty that influences the state’s newest education funding formula.
That formula uses socioeconomic data to calculate the funding needs of a school district’s students – but it only applies to new money.
If that formula were applied to all education funding, the School District of the City of York would receive an additional $51.7 million from the state, according to a new report from Equity First, an organization that fights for equality in Pennsylvania education.
On a per-student basis, York City is the most under-funded school district in the state with a per-student deficit of more than $6,500.
Nonetheless, with our current resources, the School District of the City of York is implementing our recovery plan with fidelity.
We will continue to strengthen the curriculum, recruit and retain talented teachers, develop school leadership, support student readiness to learn and tell our story of growth and promise.
“Moving forward, (Mass Insight) recommends that the district stay the course, doubling down on its theory of action, core values, and those initiatives that will have a direct impact on strengthening the instructional core – the interaction between the teacher, the student, and the content – where learning happens.”
You can find the full Mass Insight report on our website here.
You can also find this column in the York Daily Record here.