At the center of our district’s Learning Model, one of our Guiding Documents that directs all we do in LISD, is “focus on student learning.” After all, the whole reason our district exists is to provide an education to the children in our boundaries. While our teachers and staff have done an outstanding job over the years working to foster a challenging, supportive and effective learning experience, we recognize the benefit of taking a step back every so often to ensure our many educational pieces are creating a cohesive puzzle.
Our last official audit was conducted nearly 20 years ago under Superintendent Tom Glenn. Since then, we have experienced incredible population growth in our area, as well as great strides in the teaching and assessment arenas. With these factors in mind, my predecessor, Dr. Bret Champion; our Board of Trustees; and district Teaching & Learning staff recognized the need for an updated assessment. It is to their credit that we have voluntarily dedicated the time and resources necessary to bring our curriculum management processes up to a level that will help us continually improve on the quality of education we offer.
We partnered with the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and Curriculum Management Solutions Inc. to bring an external audit team of professional educators — five from Texas and five from other states — to visit LISD during the week of Oct. 31-Nov. 4, 2016. Their purpose was to take an objective look at how well our system is doing in “the core business of teaching and learning when benchmarked against research-based standards,” and to provide specific recommendations for improvement.
The team was extremely thorough, reviewing thousands of curriculum documents and examining numerous educational programs throughout our system — everything from finance to transportation to human resources. They visited each of our campuses, observing how well expectations for teaching and learning were reflected in the classroom. They interviewed each Board member, as well as principals, teachers, parents and community members. Additionally, they conducted an online survey to collect information and perceptions, yielding some 1,500 responses.
To be clear, the audit performed was not an opportunity to gather praise on the things we are doing well to afford us bragging rights. This was a deficit audit, an exercise in which auditors were instructed to look for our shortcomings so we can address and improve them. The team studied LISD using five audit standards: governance and leadership; curriculum and learning; equality, equity and connectivity; feedback and assessment; and productivity and resource use.
The audit identified several areas of improvement, including things like creating high-quality, easy-to-access manuals that make clear instructional expectations for every grade and course; defining expectations of curriculum management for all departments; aligning what is written, taught and assessed regarding curriculum; and updating job descriptions to ensure duties align with expectations. One of our Board members explained, as a smaller, close-knit district, we became accustomed to simply reaching out to a department head or principal to institute a new idea or policy; now as a large district, to ensure continuity and equity, we clearly need to take a more systematic approach in order to improve.
As expected, the thorough audit produced a thorough report — a more than 350-page document explaining methodology, findings and recommendations — which we received in mid-March. Since then, we have been carefully combing through each page, communicating the information with the appropriate departments and developing “next steps.” While we will spend the next few months discussing these findings in more detail during Board meetings, the process to improve existing systems, create new ones and re-evaluate will be a years-long endeavor.
We are thankful for the wonderful contacts we have at Clear Creek, Humble and Keller ISDs, which have recently undergone the same curriculum audit and are sharing best practices. Additionally, our outstanding Teaching & Learning team created a Curriculum Taskforce last summer in preparation for the audit to ensure we were ready to take action on improving our systems. I am encouraged by the vigor our staff has shown throughout and following this audit and by their passion for being change-makers.
I am excited to delve more deeply into our curriculum audit and to share with you the improvements we are making as they happen. Again, nothing is more important to us than doing everything we can, utilizing every resource, involving every stakeholder, to make sure every LISD student receives the best possible learning experience during their time here. Thank you for your continued support in leading our students to a bright future!