MSU K-12 Outreach: Helping Priority and Focus Schools Improve Learning

October 21, 2013

By Angela Son and
Kathleen Snyder

Cheryl Irving, assistant superintendent of Lincoln Park Public Schools, presented challenges faced by her district during the Summer Institutes coordinated by the MSU Office of K-12 Outreach.

Cheryl Irving, assistant superintendent of Lincoln Park Public Schools, presented challenges faced by her district during the Summer Institutes coordinated by the MSU Office of K-12 Outreach.

For more than a decade, the Michigan State University Office of K-12 Outreach has been playing a critical role in supporting Michigan schools as they strive to improve. Since 2007, K-12 Outreach has been an integral part of Michigan’s MI Excel Statewide System of Support. Then, last year, the State of Michigan was granted flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The waiver initiated new accountability and improvement structures for K-12 schools, namely the inception of Priority and Focus schools. The Office of K-12 Outreach became one of the key partners in the effort to assist schools identified within these categories.

Barbara Markle, assistant dean of K-12 outreach, said the office designed, developed and implemented new interventions at the district level in order to further assist Priority and Focus schools.

“As the outreach arm of Michigan State University’s top-rated College of Education, we were well-prepared to draw upon the university’s deep capabilities, active network of top education experts and decades of work in the field to promote lasting performance at all levels of schooling,” Markle said.

The Office of K-12 Outreach just completed its first year of assisting Priority and Focus schools. Some of the highlights of the year included:

  • Specialists and facilitators at districts/schools: Intervention specialists and district improvement facilitators from MSU provided technical assistance to schools using customized data tools.
  • Summer Institutes: Superintendents, principals and teachers identified and strategized one of the four gap areas for their schools, such as English language learners, socioeconomic status, special education and African-American males.
  • National Coaching Conference: Teachers gained ideas to minimize the student achievement gap, especially for specific ethnic groups or content areas.

The work that K-12 Outreach has been doing in conjunction with its primary partners, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA), has been well-received by schools and districts. Even more importantly, many schools and districts have made huge steps toward raising student achievement.

Raupp Elementary School in Lincoln Park Public Schools is one of the 146 schools identified as Priority schools in fall 2012. According to JoAnn Andrees, an intervention specialist for K-12 Outreach, the principal at Raupp elementary encouraged staff to create a data dialogue in the form of data walls and binders, which elicited 100 percent participation among teachers.

“‘We’re all in this together’ was the idea,” Andrees said. “Unless you have the support of the central office, decisions cannot be made on the spot. Having decisionmakers with us at the table saves time and ambiguity.”

While strides have been made over the past year, there is more to be done, and MSU K-12 Outreach is in the thick of it, planning and implementing new tools, training and projects to help schools improve. The office recently launched MI Toolkit, a new website designed to provide tools, information and resources for both Priority and Focus schools.

“While oriented toward our Priority and Focus schools, any school or district will find the information on the website useful, particularly those who are seeking to address achievement gaps,” Markle said.

Another online tool, the Michigan Coaches Registry, also is up and running for fall 2013. This tool will help connect districts with potential educational coaches. Districts will be able to search the registry by location/region, school type, content area or coach’s name to find the coach who has the qualifications and experience for their needs. Coaches will also be able to utilize the site as a job board.

“The Michigan Coaches Registry is an innovative approach that will ensure that districts can find individuals who have the training and qualifications to be effective educational coaches throughout the school improvement process,” explained Markle.

Capitalizing and building upon a successful first year working with Priority and Focus schools, the Office of K-12 Outreach plans to continue its mission of increasing schools’ capacity to improve student learning. They will continue a multifaceted approach, engaging the school and district leaders in data dialogues and assisting them in creating a customized approach to improving student achievement. Help will be available online, in training and face-to-face.

Says Markle: “Really, it’s about offering the support and resources schools and districts need, that’s what we do.”