California’s 58 county offices of education generally receive far less attention than the school districts within their geographic boundaries. But they have been given an important role in implementing the financial reforms championed by Gov. Jerry Brown. In particular, they are responsible for approving the Local Control and Accountability Plans that every district is required to draw up. Here, Sacramento County schools superintendent David Gordon gives his views on how the LCAPs are working.
What lessons have you learned from the first two years of LCAPs in your county?
Districts benefit from customized technical assistance. They have different needs depending on their size and resources. The process for developing an LCAP cannot be concentrated into a few months. Key events and activities, such as reporting on metrics as they become available, must be scheduled throughout the year. Change takes time, and this is an enormous adjustment for everyone.
Are you inspired, frustrated, overwhelmed or any combination of those?
We must be careful that completing a template not become a compliance exercise. We need to keep the districts focused on continuous improvement, which can be extremely challenging. We are all waiting for more information on the rubrics and eager to learn how they will be structured and used. There is a good deal of anticipation about how support for districts will be provided and customized to the needs at the local level.
What goals did you start with two years ago, and where are you now?
Many districts that began the process with numerous goals have consolidated them into fewer goals, with the actions and services aligned accordingly. The consolidation comes from realizing that fewer goals help to see the plan in a more holistic manner. In our own county LCAP we have maintained the same five goals because they are aligned to our accountability model. Districts were able to report progress in many areas after the first year of implementation, but some targets will take more time to achieve.
What examples of significant changes have you seen in your county?
The fiscal and program staff have collaborated to develop and monitor the LCAP, whereas this may not have been the way other plans were implemented in the past. There also has been an increase in the stakeholder engagement process: broader representation, groups working in a more advisory capacity, and more opportunities for involvement. The transparency of the planning process has been at the forefront.
The document may be longer with the addition of the annual update. Can parents, students and community groups understand it?
The LCAPs should be about the same length in year three as they were in year two as a result of the Annual Update that was added a year ago. Many districts break the components into smaller sections or present the information in a simplified format so they can share it with the various stakeholder groups and solicit their input. Some districts share LCAP updates and information in newsletters and online. Districts also have translated the materials into languages that parents are able to best understand.
What is your overall assessment of the LCAPs going into their third year? Do they matter? If so, how? If not, how could they be improved?
The LCAPs continue to play an important role in the local planning process. Using the same template this year will help districts concentrate on the content of the plan rather than focusing on a new format, which was very time-consuming. Districts now have greater access to state data regarding the metrics that must be reported in the LCAP. We look forward to seeing how the LCAP requirements will dovetail with any plans associated with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
For interviews with four county superintendents, go here.