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Like a car that has multiple interacting fuel, cooling, braking and other systems to operate, the state-controlled Little Rock and Dollarway school districts also have systems that must be in working order for district success.

Arkansas Department of Education staff and representatives of the two districts will work together over the coming days and weeks to analyze the different systems in the districts to identify deficiencies and the support that will be needed to address the gaps.

The targeted areas will be academics, communications and parent engagement, student support, personnel, finances, and facilities, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key told the state Board of Education on Friday.

The board will receive reports at its October meeting on the findings of the systems analyses in the two districts.

In November, the Education Board will be asked to vote on recommendations for "transition support plans" to address the deficiencies over the remainder of the school year, said Mike Hernandez, state superintendent for coordinated support services.

The analyses and transition plans in the state-controlled districts are the result of recent changes in the way schools and districts are held responsible for student learning.

Those changes include the replacement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 with the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, plus the passage of Arkansas Act 930 of 2017 that does away with identifying low-performing schools and districts as being in "academic distress."

Earlier this year, the state Education Board classified the Little Rock and Dollarway districts as being in "Level 5 -- Intensive support" as is required by Act 930 for districts that are under state control. Act 930 required the classification change and continued supports and interventions to the districts "to ensure a smooth transition" from one accountability system to another.

The state took over the management of the Little Rock district in January 2015 -- putting the superintendent under the supervision of the education commissioner and dissolving the elected School Board -- because six of the district's 48 schools had been labeled as being in academic distress as the result of chronically low student test scores over three years. The number of identified schools has since been reduced to three.

The state took control of the Pine Bluff-based Dollarway district in December 2015 because of the academic distress status of the high school and because of conflicts between its School Board and district administration.

Hernandez said the department team, equipped with data collected by the Education Department, will interview district leaders about the district functions.

"We're trying to see where some of these systems have issues," he said. "Is it the academic system? Is it the fiscal system or the student support system? From there, that will help us take a little bit deeper dive, in partnership with the districts, to say 'OK, this is what we have identified as what you are needing support in.'"

That kind of preliminary information will be shared with the state Education Board in October, he said.

The districts will also be asked to determine what support they can give to their schools and what kinds of support the districts will need from the state agency and from education service cooperatives, Hernandez said.

The systems analysis will be an improvement over the past practice of addressing concerns in a piecemeal manner, Key said.

"This is going to look at it in a more holistic standpoint, with a multidisciplinary team of folks from the department to go in and identify where we think the district can make some improvements or suggest that they look at some things," he said.

"In some cases there won't be immediate fixes," Key continued, saying that in systems and organizations, it frequently takes a while to make those policy changes.

Metro on 09/16/2017

Print Headline: 2 state-run districts to get systems review

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