Schools and Districts: Process and Impact SEA

By The Indiana Department of Education Office of Early Learning and Intervention / September 25, 2015

The STLC is very excited to invite you to join and follow staff from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) as they share their reflections via a monthly blog on how they are using the SIG pre-implementation year to strategically change the way they think and interact with schools. This is the second blog in the series. Read the first blog in the series here.


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The tremendous amount of time and effort to complete Indiana’s SIG application seems miniscule compared to the process of selecting and awarding SIG schools.  Ensuring the right school is ready to do the right work and has the right support is essential in SIG success.  One of the biggest lessons that has been learned over the first five cohorts is that not all schools are ready for transformation.  Working hand in hand with LEAs to provide clarity around what makes a school ready and what the Indiana conditions are is essential in building a foundation for transformation. What is always a complex decision seems to be amplified this year with selecting the right school for this specific, competitive, five year grant.  As a SIG team with representation across multiple offices at the IDOE, we worked together throughout the entire process from application design to review to interview and finally to a decision.  This process has resulted in an amazing cohort of schools that have the Indiana conditions for true school transformation.

A multi-step rigorous application process is essential in determining the right school that is ready for transformation.  Of the 40 applicants, 13 schools met the first round threshold and had a second review by a different reviewer.  After the second review, some schools were scheduled to receive phone interviews with our team and other schools were scheduled for an onsite visit.  We intentionally created our SIG interview team to consist of different positions within the department to help create a well-rounded analysis of the phone interviews.  These interviews proved to be a vital component of understanding the readiness of the schools.  Each was required to have a diverse group of stakeholders including school board representation, executive leadership, union representatives, teachers, and administrators available to answer specific questions related to the grant outcomes, readiness, and support.  The phone interviews were a very critical piece to this process to help determine which schools were truly prepared to implement this grant.

Whether or not a school is awarded, a rigorous process provides a unique opportunity for learning and continuous improvement for any school that participates.  If a school that applies for SIG already knew what to do for transformation, it would have already been done.  As schools went through the technical assistance and application processes, the team saw tremendous growth around what truly needs to occur for transformation.  As a team we not only discovered which schools would be awarded through a selection process, but we also impacted all applicants through shared feedback.  By creating an open setting for our team to ask questions of schools and for schools to ask questions of us, we succeeded in being transparent with our expectations for a school that is ready to implement such a plan.  Not only was the verbal questioning helpful to make connections, but schools also received written feedback on why or why not schools were recommended to be awarded.  The feedback provided help to strengthen the process or cause someone to relook at a particular procedure or initiative.  The feedback  strengthened LEA capacity, and demonstrated convergence from the SEA and LEA level can be achieved through communicating clearly.  The SEA’s willingness to share thoughts and opinions and to allow schools to respond creates a pathway for the two entities to collaborate in a partnership.

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Indiana established high expectations of LEAs from the beginning of the SIG application process in order to ensure practices, protocols, and policies are in place that allows for turnaround and also positively impacts the LEA. Indiana encouraged the engagement of the LEA in all SIG related webinars, open phone calls, technical assistance supports, and throughout the grant application process.  Several parts of the application were devoted specifically for the LEA to; provide assurances, provide analysis and justification of model, provide a district model on how the school would be supported after the five year grant, and complete an LEA risk assessment.  The most important way in which Indiana included the LEA was through the required Indiana Conditions of each model. These conditions were specifically designed so that the LEA would implement effective support practices to increase the success of the implemented model. It is evident the LEA participation in this process was a critical role in the quality of the application, interview, and overall preparation for the school through the selection process.  It was the intention of the SEA, whether a school would be chosen or not, that the LEA would take into consideration the process that was created with how involved the LEA was a part of the grant to reflect on their school infrastructures in their district.

The phone interviews revealed which schools had widespread knowledge of their grant’s content and which did not.  Questions from the SEA quickly showed if schools were unclear on how their plan would be implemented.  The SEA looked for schools where people from different positions could speak to the grant and how it would impact their school.  This process allowed for our SIG team to learn how important probing questions become when selecting which schools were equipped to implement the grant and which schools were not.

The SIG application process provides opportunities to think differently about the SEA and LEA relationship and to begin to form ways to work together.  This happens by providing clarity, a rigorous multi-step process, an attitude of continuous improvement, providing feedback, and allowing schools the opportunity to speak to something they have produced.  Through this process, we are confident with the cohort we have selected and know we have also helped provide an opportunity to grow for all who participated.

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