Today, districts across the nation face increasing budget cuts. Strategic resource use is no longer a goal to strive toward but a fiscal imperative. Despite the unquestionable need to do more with less, the task is challenging. However, during our work with the Georgia Department of Education, we saw a shining example of a district that already strategically leverages its people, time, and money in the face of low funding levels and has seen steady growth in student achievement. Vidalia City Schools shows how to do more with less in tough times and improve student achievement year after year. So much so, we produced a video to tell the story.
In 2010-2011, Vidalia spent just $7.4K per pupil, which was $1.6K less than the average district in Georgia, yet saw consistent gains in student achievement. In 2010, Vidalia City outperformed the state on the Math End-of-Course Test (EOCT), with 75% of students scoring proficient or advanced, while the state averaged 64% proficient or advanced. From 2007 to 2011, Vidalia caught up with the state on ELA state tests, with 85% of students scoring meets or exceeds in 2011. Superintendent Garrett Wilcox attributes these gains to a strong leadership team, effective resource use, and an unrelenting commitment to education. “Even through the cuts we’ve had the last 4 or 5 years, the leadership continued to press forward. We were charged with providing a quality education and we were going to try and do the best we could with what we had,” said Wilcox.
Doing the best with what they have requires strategic use of people, time, and money. Vidalia develops its people through professional learning communities (PLCs). Though challenging to do effectively, good PLCs ensure productive support for teachers and individualized attention for students. In Vidalia, teachers meet in data-driven PLCs to discuss student performance and work collaboratively towards a solution, allowing teachers to adjust instruction in real time to meet student need. Keeping a pulse on student performance is pivotal to ensuring high-performing students are consistently challenged and struggling students are supported.
More Time for Struggling Students
Once students are identified as “struggling” in math or ELA, they receive additional time in Vidalia, roughly 70% more time, in those subjects for remediation. Though other districts provide additional time in math, Vidalia is the only district in our analysis that provides additional time in ELA as well. The district achieves this through strategic scheduling that prioritizes academic time for students and develops core teachers during elective periods. According to Superintendent Wilcox, this strategic use of time is invaluable. “It allows teachers to go back, slow down, pre-teach, re-teach, and remediate.”
Focus on Core Academics
Vidalia also chooses to invest more in core classes than in non-core classes. By intentionally reducing non-core offerings and driving up non-core class sizes, Vidalia spends roughly half as much on 12th grade non-core classes than it does on 9th grade core. Vidalia does not view the decision as lowering opportunities in electives but rather investing more in remedial opportunities. Catching students up was imperative and Vidalia has seen increases in high school graduation rates as a result.
Visiting Vidalia City Schools, the results of student-centered strategies are evident. The leadership is present and hands on, keeping a watchful eye on the progression of the carefully constructed school day. Teachers adorn their classroom doors with colorful signs, indicating which rooms are open for extra help during recess. And most important, students are vibrant, attentive, and eager, seeming to understand the investment the school is making in them and the investment they are making in themselves.
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