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, Tulare County schools superintendent Jim Vidak gives his views on how the LCAPs are working.
What lessons have you learned from the first two years of LCAPs in your county?
We have learned that implementation of the LCAP is as much about process as it is about producing a workable document. For example, how stakeholders are involved in the plan, and how we measure the effectiveness of what we are doing with students, are very important for a living document that isn’t just about compliance. We also have to remember that these are local plans and districts have local needs.
Are you inspired, frustrated, overwhelmed or any combination of those?
We need to keep in mind the LCAP is an evolving process. It is inspiring to see how other districts and county offices are collaborating to share ideas in order to meet the expectations of the LCAP. Recognizing that the LCAP is about continuous improvement and utilizing collaboration as a viable resource can alleviate feeling overwhelmed. The fact that we have added additional LCAP technical support and have promoted a professional learning community among our districts through our “Leadership and Learning” forums has gone a long way to better serve our districts and help them avoid frustration.
What goals did you start with two years ago, and where are you now?
We are continuing to work on goals that center on increasing and improving services for students, particularly for those students who are considered the most fragile in our county. Students who are attending community school as a result of an expulsion, or on probation, or those educated in our court and community schools continue to be the focus of our goals and the related actions and services.
What examples of significant changes have you seen in your county?
One area that we are very excited about is looking for ways to expand and improve services for our students who are foster youth. With a new foster youth services coordinator on staff, we are exploring ways of improving services for this subgroup to better connect them to school and to provide them with ongoing stability in the educational system countywide. In addition, we will be adding six student transition specialists to our court/community schools for the purpose of ensuring that our students can return to their home schools and/or obtain a high school diploma at the completion of their program.
The LCAP document is longer with the addition of the annual update. Can parents, students and community groups understand it?
It’s important that we write LCAPs that stakeholders can access and understand. This means working to make the language in our plans concise and transparent, and to avoid the “educationalese” that is difficult for our parents and community members to understand. We advocate this to our districts in order to improve stakeholder understanding of their plans. Next year, we will have a one-page bilingual LCAP summary for our stakeholders that will help parents better understand the purpose and goals of the LCAP.
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 matter, and with the impending alignment of the state and federal continuous improvement, support and accountability system, they will continue to be prominent as we plan strategically to meet the needs of all students. The LCAP is a viable working document that is referred to on a regular basis as it guides us through the academic year. It’s important for leaders in education to be involved in giving input on future template revisions and other tools such as the rubrics that will support this important process in our state.
For interviews with four county superintendents, go here.