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, Santa Clara County schools superintendent Jon Gundry gives his views on how the LCAPs are working.
What lessons have you learned from the first two years of LCAPs in your county?
One of the first lessons learned was that in order for the process to be successful, there was a need to be collaborative. This collaboration is twofold: As a county office we need to cultivate a relationship with our local districts in order to be partners throughout the process. Secondly, there was a need to build and maintain a high level of teamwork between our educational services and our business services branch in order to provide the highest level of technical assistance through the process and have a solid review in the summer.
Are you inspired, frustrated, overwhelmed or any combination of those?
The process of aligning the work of our districts with the ultimate goal of student success is exciting. However, we must also understand that the transition to a new way of funding Local Education Agencies (LEAs) with local control was a shift in California. Large transitions like these are complex. It is inspiring to see local districts engaging their stakeholders with the goal of increasing and improving student outcomes like never before.
What goals did you start with two years ago, and where are you now?
The timeline the first year was very short, so the goals were to train the LEAs, provide guidance as it was received from the state and create an internal plan for the review process. We now have a system of support for our LEAs where we match a district with one educational services staff member and one business services advisor so that there is a consistent pair of staff who are the points of contact for our local districts.
We also have worked with our surrounding counties, as well as statewide, on calibration of the review process. While we still see ourselves as partners in the work with our districts, we also know that the roles of County Offices are evolving to include being a technical assistance provider for districts whose LCAPs are not approved, when a district requests technical assistance, or when districts fail to improve pupil achievement.
What examples of significant changes have you seen in your county?
The largest significant change in the county and in the state is the stakeholder engagement process in creating the plan. Prior to the LCAP, there was no mechanism for meaningful stakeholder engagement for all districts. In our county, we have seen individual districts engage stakeholders and receive feedback from a tremendous cross-section of their district. In our largest high school district, we have seen the addition of participatory budgeting where students, parents, teachers, classified staff and the community held a democratic process to decide how they felt funds should be used.
The document is longer with the addition of the annual update. Can parents, students and community groups understand it?
We anticipate a change in the template for the 2017-2018 cycle. In our county, we have met with several members of community-based organizations who voiced concern about the transparency and readability of LCAPs, which can be more than 100 pages long. We have advocated that districts create executive summaries that are no longer than two pages. We also have explained that these executive summaries should be translated into the appropriate languages. We are working on creating a template for the executive summary that districts can use.
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?
LCAPs are extremely important. They are the district’s three-year plan for how they will meet the needs of their students and community. They work hand in hand with local strategic plans to identify goals, objectives and specific actions and strategies in order to increase student outcomes. We also will also use our LCAPs for our federal accountability system.
For interviews with four county superintendents, go here.