Earlier this summer, the Des Moines School Board concluded an extensive process to establish a set of student expectation goals. School Board chair Cindy Elsbernd writes about the process to establish those goals, what the goals are, and why this matters for both students and the community.

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Cindy Elsbernd, chair of the Des Moines School Board

The primary role of a school board is to represent the collective vision and values of the community. This is most effectively done through governance policy that outlines expectations for student performance and limitations on the means by which those expectations are to be achieved (think guardrails). It then becomes the role of the Superintendent – the Board’s only employee – to incorporate those expectations and limitations in administrative policies and plans for achievement and compliance.

The DMPS Board has been working diligently to incorporate the Student Outcomes Focused Governance Framework© (SOFG) into its existing Policy Governance© structure. SOFG is a research-inspired framework that relies on the adage: “Student outcomes don’t change until adult behaviors change.” What the research tells us – some of which originated in Iowa with the Lighthouse Study – is that there are Board behaviors that can have a profound influence on student outcomes, including collaboratively setting non-negotiable student outcomes goals and then routinely monitoring progress toward them. It is a continuous improvement framework that, with public input, allows the Board, in collaboration with the Superintendent, to narrow and intensify its focus toward significant performance improvement.

As part of the goal-setting process the Board, along with contracted coaches rigorously trained in SOFG framework implementation, facilitated a number of public sessions that included parents, community members/partners, staff, and students to collect information around two critical questions:

  1. What is the impact you want our school system to make on our students?
  2. What do you want students to know and be able to do?

Participants were then asked to list three student outcomes representative of their answers, which were collected and categorized. Participants then helped rank and prioritize the category areas.

The Board reviewed all the information gathered from those sessions as well as a host of district data, then spent hours in collaboration with the Superintendent and staff to analyze it. That community engagement produced three specific, measurable, time-targeted goals and one limitation in the areas of early literacy, algebra, and social and emotional learning. These were adopted as policy at the June 18 Board meeting as follows:

Student Expectation Goal 1
The percent of all third grade students on track in reading will increase from 52% to 72% by June 2023, as measured by FAST.

Student Expectation Goal 2
The percent of black male third grade students on track in reading will increase from 35% to 72% by June 2023, as measured by FAST.

Student Expectation Goal 3
The percent of black male students completing Algebra I with a B or higher by the end of grade 9 will increase from 17% to 35% by August 2023.

Management Limitation 1: Social and Emotional Learning
The Superintendent shall not cause or allow conditions that do not support the social and emotional learning and needs of all students. Without limiting the above, the superintendent shall not:

  1. Operate without full integration of learning supports (e.g. behavioral, social services, mental health), instruction, and school management within a comprehensive cohesive approach that facilitates multi-disciplinary collaboration.
  2. Operate without the staff complement to support social and emotional needs of all students.
  3. Operate without a professional development plan to support social and emotional learning outcomes and student needs.
  4. Operate without curriculum for social and emotional learning.
  5. Operate without an assessment tool to measure social and emotional learning outcomes.
  6. Operate with policies or processes that cause conditions adversely impacting the physical and/or psychological safety and well-being of students and/or limiting the ability of building leadership and/or teachers to provide a safe school setting and the optimum conditions for teaching and learning.

The Board will begin monitoring progress toward these three new goals and one new limitation at meetings throughout the year in a very transparent way.

Why specify black males in two of the three goals?
The data tells us that this group has the lowest rates of achievement in the district. It doesn’t mean that black males are low achievers, but that our system’s performance in creating success for black males is critically low and it needs to be named to be addressed. It recognizes the need for change within the system to evolve into one that does not continue to marginalize various student populations. This means that in a system operated by adults, success will be driven through support and development of adult behavior change — doing things the same way and expecting different results has proven to be ineffective.

What does this mean for our other students?
This is not a zero-sum game and viewing this with an “us versus them” lens only serves to reinforce ways of thinking that prevent high expectations for students of color and negatively impact overall educational progress. Believing in and supporting black males to achieve at high levels is not an infringement on high expectations and educational service delivery for other students. These goal choices and their implementation will serve to provide better results for everyone.

What does this mean for other curriculum areas?
While the three goals will be monitored by the Board with intense focus, the district will still deliver rigorous instruction in all core areas and a complement of electives. Conditions created for improvement in goal areas will influence improvement in other areas of instruction as well, again benefitting all learners.

What does this mean for the community?
Anytime we talk about our students the “our” cannot be defined within the confines of Des Moines Public Schools. As a community of both individuals and agencies, we share responsibility in addressing challenges, in supporting students and families, and in creating the conditions to achieve these and many other goals. Des Moines Public Schools cannot do it alone. Be ready. We’re relying on you.

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