State education officials visit Prineville schools for first time since NCLB was enacted

by: SHELBY CASE/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Cecil Sly kindergartners Natali Lopez Chavez and Jose Vargas-Robles were busy Thursday afternoon reviewing courtesy expressions in English Language Development teacher Mary Duggan's class.

Oregon Department of Education (ODE) officials were in Prineville three days this week, monitoring local schools to make sure they are meeting all of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements.
   "This is an audit visit from the ODE regarding federal Title funding and how it is being used to forward student achievement under NCLB and its guidelines," said Crook County School District Superintendent Steve Swisher.
   "They are looking to see if the programs we are funding with Title dollars from the federal government meet the guidelines established for use of this money under federal and state law," Swisher explained.
   Five ODE personnel were in town Tuesday through Thursday.
   "These are all ODE employees," Swisher said. "None work directly for the feds but most of them have significant funding from the feds for their ODE positions."
   "This is the first visit since the inception of NCLB," said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dennis Kostelecky. "The Department of Education monitored Title 1A in 1999. Jan Boles was the director. I have been the director of all Title programs for the past five years. Prior to that, different people had been responsible for different title programs."
   Federal title money
   Kostelecky said that in general, the by state personnel is for reviewing all of the laws associated with NCLB.
   "There are 94 areas of compliance in Titles I-A, I-D, I-C, II-A, VA and an approximately equal number in Title III," Kostelecky said. The district uses Title I-A services to serve elementary students in all schools except Powell Butte Elementary, which does not meet the free and reduced lunch criteria. Crook County Middle School, Crook County High School and Pioneer High School do not get the federal Title I-A funds. Title ID's purpose is to improve educational services for delinquent children and youth. In the local case, the district provides educational services to youth in grades 8-12 who are remanded to Rimrock Trails for drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation. Title IC (migrant) funds are also part of the pie. Crook County serves about 90 students with two instructional assistants.
   Title II-A money can be used to supplement staff development for teachers or class size reduction.
   Feedback to come
   back from the state
   The district anticipates getting a report back in about a month, according to Swisher.
   "They will give some verbal feedback as they leave," the superintendent continued.
   Swisher said the average number of issues the ODE are finding in Oregon school districts is about 20.
   "We expect to be no different. We have been working very closely with them over the last three years to make improvements (to) our compliance issues such as the method of funding the all-day kindergarten programs with Title funding."
   Kostelecky added to this, saying that "the law allows ODE to have 30 days to review results and send them to the school district."
   The district then has 60 days to make corrections.
   "The consequences can range from 'giving back money' to withholding funding if corrections are not made," Kostelecky said.
   He remained optimistic.
   "We feel good about the visit," the curriculum director said. "There will be some work ahead in making corrections to some documents and processes, but the district is confident that changes will improve the quality of education for all students."
   Superintendent Swisher agreed.
   "We welcome the visit, as it gives us an onsite ability to get technical assistance from ODE staff and a good chance to review our practices in comparison to other districts, and best practices as determined by the U.S. Department of Education, as well as our state regulations," Swisher said.
   Crook County teachers have been taking steps to make sure all children meet the NCLB requirements.
   "We are focusing on reading programs and interventions, as well as best practices for English Language Learners (ELL) and other students (who) may need additional assistance to meet academic standards," the superintendent emphasized. "The Title funding helps us supplement our efforts in these areas."
   In another development the district is awaiting survey results from parents in the school district regarding the schools their children attend and how that relates to the NCLB visit.
   The next visit from ODE personnel will probably be in another six years, Swisher anticipated.
   "That appears to be the cycle they have established for all Oregon school districts," Swisher said.
   Kostelecky added that the monitoring will be a "desk audit" in 2010-2011 and at that time, district personnel provide evidence of compliance.
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