Quick Fixes Don’t Work: Improving Idaho Schools From the Inside Out

Tuesday, March 31 2009

March 31, 2008

Written by Cheryl Dudley

MOSCOW, Idaho – Help is on the way for eligible North Idaho schools not meeting Annual Yearly Progress. The University of Idaho College of Education has been awarded $682,000 from the State Board of Education Federal Title I funds to assist low-performing schools for the next three years.

Schools not meeting AYP were invited by the State Department of Education to apply for the assistance, and were then selected by the College of Education based on their readiness to benefit from the program.

The program, titled the Idaho Building Capacity Project, will provide schools with help based on a capacity building process described in Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools, created from research done in the State of Washington. Gail Hanninen, who received her doctorate in educational administration and special education from the University of Idaho in 1989, was hired as regional coordinator to oversee the project. She hired seven capacity builders, who began work in February with 14 school and district sites in North Idaho.

The program was piloted last year by Boise State University’s Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies in Caldwell and Mountain Home schools, and found to be promising. This year the program has gone statewide and will include 10 counties in Northern and Central Idaho with 28 school districts. Each of the three state universities – University of Idaho, Idaho State University, and Boise State University – have established regional offices to coordinate the delivery of services to schools in their areas. Regional coordinators in each of the three areas are responsible for providing the necessary support to the schools and school districts to improve student achievement.

Paul Rowland, dean of the College of Education, will provide oversight for the University of Idaho project, and anticipates growth in the future. “We have the potential to grow and to service other schools,” he said. “Funds are expected for a number of years, with an anticipated increase from stimulus funds.”

Hanninen has worked on a similar project in Washington for the last five years after “retiring” and moved back to Idaho, where she was born and raised. Washington has been involved in the project for eight years, and Hanninen has had the opportunity to see how the bigger picture looks through her work there. During her career, she also has served in a number of capacities in education, including supervisor of dropout prevention programs for the Office of Public Instruction in Olympia, director of special services in Yakima and Sumner school districts, and overseer of drug and alcohol education programs, professional technical programs and curriculum and instruction. “They’ve all been challenging roles,” she said.

Last year, Hanninen contracted with Boise State University to serve as a consultant for the initial set-up of the Idaho Building Capacity Project. Her past experience with Washington was valuable for developing and piloting Idaho’s program last year. The Title I funded programs were initially started with the George W. Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind legislation and have been implemented in a number of states the last eight years. Idaho will benefit from the trials and errors of these other state programs.

“I think the Idaho program will change as we go along,” she said. “Invariably, when a school is not meeting annual progress, it’s a reflection of a number of systemic issues. One of our tendencies in education is to look for quick fixes, which are not sustainable. First order change may be a new curriculum – but that doesn’t change teacher behavior. Second order change is more sustainable.”

The Idaho Building Capacity Project is about assisting schools and districts in building their own internal capacity to sustain school improvement efforts and ultimately improve student achievement.

“We help create an action plan that centers around three areas,” said Hanninen. These areas include a readiness to benefit from making changes, empowering the building leader to empower the school staff, and focusing on sustainability. “Ultimately, everyone needs to be involved in change, including teachers and community. There is a strong relationship between schools and school districts and communities. That connectedness is important.”

The project is guided by the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools, developed by the state of Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction from 20 recent research studies that examined the common characteristics of high performing schools. OSPI found that there was no single factor that accounted for success and improvement in schools, but a combination of common, second-order characteristics that include: a clear and shared focus; high standards and expectations for all students; effective school leadership; high levels of collaboration and communication; curriculum, instruction and assessments aligned with state standards; frequent monitoring of learning and teaching; focused professional development; supportive learning environment; and high levels of parent and community involvement.

The Idaho Capacity Builders and the schools and districts they will be assisting are: West Bonner School District, Linda McGeachy; Priest River Elementary, Debbie Long; Kellogg School District, David Rawls; Sunnyside Elementary, Tony Feldhausen; Pinehurst Elementary, Mollie Feldhausen; Coeur d’Alene School District and Project CDA, Gail Hanninen; Plummer/Worley School District, David Rawls; Lakeside High School, Teresa Hurliman; Lakeside Middle School, Tony Feldhausen; Lakeside Elementary, Mollie Feldhausen; Kendrick School District and Juliaetta Elementary, David Rawls; and Orofino School District, Judy Adamson.

The Idaho Building Capacity Project is one of the many outreach programs in which the College of Education partners with and supports Idaho schools. By helping schools achieve success, the College of Education is investing in Idaho’s most valuable asset.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu

Media Contact: Cheryl Dudley, College of Education, (208) 885-0119, cdudley@uidaho.edu

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.