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School system readies strategic waiver application
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The Effingham County Board of Education will take the next step in its chosen model of governance.

The school board will hold a public hearing Thursday night as part of its 7 p.m. meeting about the strategic waiver application.

School board members chose last year to be an IE2 system, or Investing in Educational Excellence system. Since then, the state has changed the nomenclature to strategic waiver system

“It was very intentional and it takes into account the strategic plan the district has been working on,” said strategic waiver facilitator Judith Shuman. “That forms the foundation of the decision making for the strategic waiver.”

Under the terms of the strategic waiver, the school system enters into a contract with the state about student performance. The system can ask for waivers on certain state standards but in return must commit to a certain level of student performance or show it is working toward that mark.

There are a number of rules and regulations for which no system can receive a waiver, mostly concerning student health and safety. More than 130 school systems are applying for strategic waivers.

To gauge the Effingham system’s performance, the state will use the current year’s data as a baseline. The strategic waiver is a five-year contract between the system and the state. The state will take the next five years of data to see if the system is holding up to its end of the deal. The seventh year is a lag year in the incoming data.

“From that point, they will begin measuring school by school whether they are making progress to the goals they set for us,” Shuman said.
Under the strategic waivers, systems have to increase the gap between their baseline CCRPI score and 100.

“But they also recognize when a school is a high-performing school,” Shuman said.

For instance, if school is at 92 percent in English/language arts in third grade, getting a 3 percent bump might be difficult. The state then will see if the school is in the top quartile in the grade cluster and if it remains there.

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement will be monitor the schools and will develop the targets from the baseline year of data.

“They will approve our contract before our goals are set,” Shuman explained.

The school system must specify which state statutes and board rules it wants waived. For example, the system can ask for waivers on class sizes

“Our waivers have to be strategically chosen,” Shuman said.

Other potential waivers include teacher recruitment and retention. As an example, assistant superintendent Becky Long said, the schools may have a chemical engineer who wants to teach but “doesn’t have the right piece of paper.”

“We don’t want to do away with all the rules,” she said. “We want to employ that person. It will be on us to make sure that person knows how to grade and knows classroom management issues.”

Should the system ask for a waiver and not need to use it, it will not be obligated to put into place. There also isn’t a limit to how many waivers the system can request — only a page limit on the application.

Among the items systems can’t request waivers on include federal regulations, such as those pertaining to civil rights. The system can’t ask for physical education to be waived but can request a waiver on the number of minutes devoted to PE. The system also can’t ask for waivers to ease graduation requirements and it cannot use waivers to increase its QBE funding.

Some systems also have requested waivers on allowing for fewer than 180 instructional days.

“We were surprised at how man systems were operating at fewer than 180 days,” Shuman said.

A school system can opt not to use a waiver one year but use it during other parts of the contract.

The strategic plan work began with a community focus group in September, followed by an online survey.

The school system’s strategic plan, which is being developed, drives the strategic waiver application process, Shuman said.

“The plan is about what our district faces in terms of challenges, and how we could overcome those challenges if we had just a little leeway from the impositions given to us by state statutes or state board rules,” Shuman said.

Schools that fail to meet target scores but perform better than schools with similar demographics will be considered to be “Beating the Odds,” which replaces the Safe Harbor category in the old adequate yearly progress metrics.

The school system can extend the contract on a year-by-year basis, and it can be amended and renewed for another five years. Systems had a choice between being a strategic waiver, charter or status quo system.

“We can renew for that sixth year and depending on that performance, re-up for five more years,” Shuman said.

The goal is to have the school board approve the strategic waiver and strategic plan at the March 2 meeting, then it will go to the state’s policy division. The state will provide feedback and suggestions for change, and the state Department of Education could act on the application by the end of March.