West Allegheny develops student achievement plan

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Engage students in classroom work. Involve parents. Train teachers. Prepare for graduation exams. Diversify the staff.

Those are among the goals in the West Allegheny School District's first-ever comprehensive plan for student achievement.

A core group of 56 individuals from the school and the community examined the district's strengths and weaknesses, and over the past eight months, they developed a plan for improving academic performance in all grades, said Christine Assetta, assistant to the superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"Everything we identified in our action plan is something we really need to improve upon as a district, and we've never had that kind of reflection before," she said.

School board members voted 7-0 on Nov. 21 to approve the 106-page plan, for July 2013 through June 2016, and submit it to the state Department of Education.

"It's always good to have a goal to reach for because there's always room for improvement," board president Debbie Mirich said when contacted later.

The state now requires student-focused plans rather than strategic plans that encompass district operations such as fiscal management and facilities, Ms. Assetta said.

West Allegheny, which encompasses Findlay, North Fayette and Oakdale, is among the first districts in the state to develop the new type of plan, she said.

One of West Allegheny's goals is to build a positive learning atmosphere that encourages diversity and cultural understanding.

Diversity training includes helping staff interact with students of different backgrounds and holding workshops for pupils in seventh and eleventh grades, she said.

Also, the district will carry out a plan to actively recruit teacher candidates from various ethnic backgrounds, choose textbooks and instructional materials that address diversity in a positive way and share progress with a committee that includes parents, Ms. Assetta said.

The district is revising curriculum and student assessments to focus on the material tested through the state-mandated Keystone Exams, which will begin as early as December in West Allegheny.

"Because the expectations are much more rigorous, it really forces us to change the way we approach teaching," Ms. Assetta said. "We're promoting more student engagement. It's more teacher-facilitated. We're trying to get away from teacher lecturing."

Students are encouraged to work with classmates, ask questions, complete activities and use technology because being actively involved helps them master concepts, she said.

Meanwhile, teachers constantly assess whether pupils are grasping the material. If not, teachers must immediately change how they are presenting the material, she said.

In the spirit of involving family in the educational process, parents will be surveyed for feedback on what the district can do to help students succeed.

"They're one of the stakeholders that will help promote academic achievement, so they definitely need to be involved in this whole process," Ms. Assetta said.

Another initiative encourages each student to have an adult mentor.

"We're trying to promote that all students have a special connection with at least one adult at the high school," Ms. Assetta said.

Other goals involve ensuring consistent instruction across all school buildings, aligning curricula to Common Core Standards and revising teacher evaluations to meet new state guidelines.

Carrying out the comprehensive plan was estimated to cost about $121,000 during the 2013-14 school year, and less in the following two years.

Developing the plan was a long process involving hundreds of people and a lot of research, Ms. Assetta said.

Since the project started in March, all of the district's teachers, principals and administrators have been involved, along with a core committee of 56 people, including parents, students, business owners, school board members and other community members.

Ms. Assetta said the final plan is meaningful because it reflected everyone's perspective.

"It was very time-consuming and tedious, but we appreciate that we were made to go through this process because we found it to be extremely beneficial," she said.

The plan is available on the school district's website, www.westasd.org

education - neigh_west

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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