School Improvement

The Southeast Comprehensive Center works closely with education leaders in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, providing technical assistance to help them improve the schools in their states.

Photo of a school staff discussing issues. Educators often stress the importance of helping people acquire the skills and resources to solve a problem instead of simply telling a person what needs to be done. This is also true when providing technical assistance to education leaders. SEDL's Southeast Comprehensive Center (SECC) works closely with education leaders in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, providing technical assistance to help them improve the schools in their states. The SECC's work varies depending on each state's needs and goals, but SECC staff use similar strategies in each state. They help state education leaders use research to guide their work and decisions; adopt school improvement strategies that can have a lasting impact; and cultivate a collaborative environment to gain the trust and support of stakeholders like institutions of higher education, teachers, parents, and community members.

Georgia Literacy Task Force

In Georgia, SECC staff participated in the Georgia Literacy Task Force to help the Georgia Department of Education develop a plan to promote K–12 literacy across the state. The plan was intended to provide a framework for instructional leadership in the area of literacy and ongoing support in the form of time, money, and job-embedded professional development. Some of the steps in developing the literacy plan included reviewing literacy plans from other states and research on literacy instruction. The task force also created four subgroups—one each for primary, elementary, middle, and high school literacy—that developed recommendations for the entire group.

"The SECC role was one of guiding task force members' approach to using research and making sure all of their recommendations had evidence-based research to support them."

Ramona Chauvin, SEDL program associate

SECC staff often played a facilitative role to ensure that task force members created a literacy plan that districts and schools would implement and use. They helped plan committee and subgroup meetings. They also attended all subgroup meetings and helped members understand and effectively use the research for their recommendations. "The SECC role was one of guiding task force members' approach to using research and making sure all of their recommendations had evidence-based research to support them," says SEDL program associate Ramona Chauvin, who was one of the SECC staff to participate in the task force. SECC staff have also helped facilitate some of the work in writing the literacy plan. The literacy task force plans to pilot the literacy plan in 2009.

Response to Intervention

In 2008, SECC staff worked with approximately 25 people from the Mississippi Department of Education's Office of Instructional Programs and Services, the Southeast Regional Resource Center, the Southeast Equity Center, and the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) to develop an initiative for implementing Response to Intervention (RtI) in Mississippi schools. RtI offers a way to help struggling students through graduated levels of support, targeted goals for progress, and frequent progress monitoring. This strategy allows educators to identify problems and provide interventions when a student first begins to experience learning difficulties.

Photo of a student holding a sign with the words 'Ask Questions'. The group began the RtI initiative as a way to avoid having a disproportional percentage of minority students identified as special needs but ultimately decided to expand the focus beyond special needs students. "We didn't want it to be a special education initiative," says SEDL program associate Ada Muoneke. Although RtI is often associated with identifying learning disabilities, Muoneke points out, "RtI gives districts and schools more options when they work with struggling students. It can be a way to identify special needs students, but RtI can also be used to decrease high school dropout rates. By using RtI, educators can be sure that struggling students who are in special needs classes really should be there. It is a way to make sure that all students get the help they need."

Through a series of working groups, participants developed and implemented action steps that included developing an RtI manual and staff training; coordinating technical assistance; rolling out RtI to stakeholders like parents and institutions of higher education; and planning and delivering district-level RtI professional development.

As the MDE has completed the first action steps and some schools have begun using RtI, SEDL is helping the MDE refine ongoing implementation plans. SEDL is also working with the MDE funding subcommittee to create a decision tree to guide local education agencies in requesting and using funding to implement RtI in their districts.

Working With Low-Performing Schools

The SECC also provides guidance to state and district leaders when a school fails to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward statewide proficiency goals as stipulated by the No Child Left Behind Act. When schools do not make AYP, students can transfer to a higher-performing school or remain at their home school and receive supplemental education services (SES) like tutoring or remedial help.

In 2008, SECC staff helped the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) find ways to communicate SES options to parents whose students attend low-performing schools. For example, SECC staff are working with ALSDE leaders to develop a Web site that will provide SES information to parents, track student participation, and collect consumer satisfaction information.

"By using RtI, educators can be sure that struggling students who are in special needs classes really should be there. It is a way to make sure that all students get the help they need."

Ada Muoneke, SEDL program associate

"Parents were reporting to districts that they either were not receiving information about SES opportunities for their children, or when they received information, they found it difficult to understand," says SEDL program associate Mary Lou Meadows. "We are working with ALSDE to help them create a parent-friendly Web site with information and resources they can understand and use."

SECC staff also help low-performing schools create and implement school improvement plans. In South Carolina, for example, SECC staff provided professional development sessions to help education leaders introduce SEDL's Professional Teaching and Learning Cycle (PTLC) in schools that have not made AYP. The PTLC is a professional development process in which teachers collaboratively plan and implement lessons aligned to their state standards. After carrying out the selected lessons, the teacher teams meet again to discuss their different teaching experiences and the engagement of students in those activities and then decide how to refine and improve their lessons.

Through PTLC training, SECC staff are helping schools provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development. "The PTLC is a way to get reform efforts to the classroom level," explains SEDL program associate Concepción Molina. "We work with district leaders, but it is a process that must involve education professionals on all levels if it is going to work."

Based on positive feedback from the training sessions, a number of participants requested support and follow-up for using the PTLC process in their school districts. In response, the SECC is preparing to help the South Carolina Department of Education plan for implementation of PTLC in targeted school districts.