"Algebra is the gatekeeper for kids entering and being successful in college," Superintendent Maurice Ghysels said. "We need to improve in mathematics. We have a lot of opportunity to improve math in our district."
With eighth graders demonstrating lower proficiency levels than in years past and the high schools changing their math curriculums to remediate struggling ninth graders, district educators are well aware of their responsibility to adequately teach their students math.
"The preparation of our eighth graders is a reflection on the entire K-8 spectrum. We must exit students meeting state expectations," one team member wrote on a goals-chart board.
Recruiting diverse and qualified teachers who reflect the demographics of the student body also placed highly on the group's list.
"It's very hard to do anything with student achievement if you don't have highly qualified staff," said Stephanie Totter, assistant superintendent for human resources and student services. Teachers who speak Spanish can serve as role models for the children and offer more assistance to the district's large number of Hispanic students, she said.
Educators outlined four "big rocks" under which all district strategic initiatives must be aligned: math achievement, English-language learner achievement, Continuous Improvement implementation, and "response to intervention" — a look at how efficiently the district spends its money.
The district plans to "get control of special education expenses," the group agreed, because special education intervention programs are currently using a substantial portion of district funds. Also, the district needs to be more careful in identifying students as disabled, administrators said.
Group members also agreed to place high priorities on accelerating English-language learner skills, increase parent participation and ensure that all personnel receive adequate Continuous Improvement training.
Elementary schools are facing crowding issues, administrators said, leading to a pledge to optimize space at the school sites.
The goals will set the district's focus for the next three to five years. Trustees, administrators and principals will adopt final strategic plan goals in a few weeks.