Standard 4: Resources and Support Systems
The system has resources and provides services in all schools that support its purpose and direction to ensure success for all students.
Overall System Rating: 3.38
Standard 4 Narrative
Richland Two has resources and provides services in all schools that support its purpose and direction to ensure success for all students. Policies of the Richland Two Board of Trustees support our work in each area and are included with other supporting documentation.
Areas of Strength
Richland Two is especially proud of its use of resources to support instruction and district priorities. As part of this self-assessment, stakeholder teams met to discuss this area and noted strengths in: the use of instructional time, material resources, and fiscal resources (4.2); maintenance of facilities, services and equipment (4.3); and provision of a technology infrastructure and equipment (4.6).
Use of time, materials and finances is strongly focused to support student learning and the district mission (4.2). The budget process begins with a staff budget survey to obtain feedback, identify needs, and assist with strategic abandonment. Schools and departments present proposals and data on requested initiatives and align these to the district mission and purpose. The Richland Two School Board focuses on classroom resources and funds teacher FTEs to maintain average class size at eighteen students per classroom in grades one through three, between seventeen and eighteen in middle schools, and approximately seventeen in high school. The Board and staff develop and support a variety of innovative educational experiences at every level and secure and maintain funding and resources for these and other initiatives. While district priorities are critical, schools are also given discretionary budgets to support initiatives and materials that meet specific needs. To supplement general funds, Richland Two, on average, secures a total of $2.5 million in competitive grants from federal, state, and local grants, under the leadership of a Director of Grants Initiatives. Classroom time is protected by school leaders and students are immersed in instruction and learning experiences from the minute they enter our buildings. District commitment to student instruction is reflected in the selection of make-up time for students and staff during historic community flooding in 2015. Instructional time and focus are also maximized by the variety of collaborative and experiential activities available which increases student engagement and staff commitment. The recent opening of R2i2 illustrates the creative use of resources, as the district uses school buses and public transportation to provide opportunities for all students to attend this exciting instructional space.
Maintenance of facilities and equipment is a particular source of pride for the Richland Two community (4.3). The Board of Trustees annually commits to fund recurring facility and equipment capital needs by utilizing the eight percent constitutional debt capacity available to the district under state law. We are devoted stewards of beautiful older properties, such as Forest Lake and Joseph Keels Elementary Schools constructed in the 1950s, which shine with the care, maintenance, and craftsmanship of staff. Recent targeted efforts updated somewhat newer buildings, such as Ridge View High School, with upgrades to sidewalks and athletic facilities. Newer buildings are carefully maintained to preserve their beauty and functionality. Projected enrollment and facilities needs result in the design and construction of beautiful buildings such as Westwood High School, which opened in 2012, and the district’s newest building, the Richland Two Institute of Innovation (R2i2), which opened in the fall of 2016. Both of these gems include state-of-the-art learning space for students and our community. R2i2, certain to be a centerpiece of the Northeast Columbia community, incorporates a unique juxtaposition of district offices, student technology education space, a community library, and a conference center. The tying of building design features, such as solar panels, a wind turbine, and exposed ductwork, to student needs and instruction illustrates the careful attention to detail in district facilities.
The safety of students, employees, and buildings is reinforced by the use of training videos at the beginning of every school year, a safety incentive program, a district Safety Committee which meets regularly, and safety reviews by representatives from every school, building and, when needed, outside inspectors. Richland Two also employs its own 24-hour security force, which conducts security checks, assists with traffic safety, and patrols parking lots, among other duties. Emergency procedures guides are reviewed and updated annually. Employee health is safeguarded by events scheduled by the school nurses, including yearly opportunities for flu shots, mammograms, and worksite screenings.
Richland Two clearly excels in its provision of technology infrastructure and equipment (4.6). The Richland Two enterprise network comprises thirty-seven physical locations interconnected with district-owned fiber optics, installed underground connecting all facilities for the purpose of high speed, 10 Gbps connectivity supporting high bandwidth requirements such as streaming video and for seamless voice over IP services. The fiber optic Wide Area Network is fully redundant for surviving any cabling disruptions between schools. The revamped wireless network provides campus wide coverage, designed to support dense concentrations of devices for the student 1TWO1 computing initiative. Approximately 33,000 users and 44,000 computing devices leverage our network resources daily. Devices include 8,500 desktops and 4,000 laptops, 4,500 tablets and 27,000 Chromebooks for student 1TWO1 computing in grades three through twelve. Students in grades kindergarten through two have a mixture of Chromebooks and tablets for enhancing their learning. Additionally, students and staff are able to utilize a “bring your own device” option if they choose.
A new state-of-the-art data center and offsite disaster recovery site ensure fast, reliable and fault tolerant access to a wide range of internal and Internet-based applications and services. Data storage “snapshots” occur hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly with those snapshots being replicated across the network to a redundant location. Then, mission critical application data is replicated daily to the Cloud and stored in a data backup instance in Oregon, giving the district ultra-high protection for business and data continuity in the event of a disaster locally. The district heavily utilizes server virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure. Approximately 114 network servers are virtualized including a data storage virtualization layer for maximizing efficiency within the solid state disk storage arrays. The virtual desktop infrastructure allows computer labs to extend their life expectancy, thus saving money while delivering high performance software applications for students on computers that otherwise would have to be retired.
To accommodate online student standardized testing, the district has engineered methods for administering secure testing using the student Chromebooks with assessments such as SCPASS, MAP and End-of-Course tests. Richland Two administers these online assessments for thousands of students simultaneously. For Internet access the district has implemented a high speed 3 Gbps Internet connection that offers students and staff a productive and pleasant experience. Internet content filtering is efficiently and effectively administered through high quality products while students are at school, and is extended to them after hours for at-home content filtering on their Chromebooks. A forced proxy routes the students back through the district content filtering system while they are away from campus. Safety and security are foremost. A multi-layered approach with solutions from industry leading technology providers including Google, Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, Dell, Microsoft and Kaspersky affords a safe environment conducive to teaching and learning. A recently commissioned external technology infrastructure security audit found that our systems are operating above industry norms and serves as a component in our ongoing effort to provide a safe and secure experience for students and staff. In the areas of technology infrastructure recognition, the district was awarded the Palmetto Pillar award for Infrastructure Services given by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Information Technology Council. The runners-up were companies from the private sector.
Two standards reflect emerging strengths and deserve particular mention: effective use of information resources to support student learning (4.5) and positive supports for student educational and career needs (4.8). Information resources (4.5) are supported by Richland Two highly qualified media staff, including media specialists at every site, who are guided by district leads for elementary and secondary media specialists in the Department of Teaching and Learning. These professionals support school specialists and assist them in the complicated process of moving from primarily paper holdings to a rich mix of electronic access and inventory. The district also extends its available resources with a partnership with the Richland Library (RL) and all students are given RL cards. It is especially noteworthy that the RL will be a featured addition to the R2i2 site. Students have been given greater access to information resources through the 1TWO1 computing initiative, and the district engaged an outside team to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of that program between December 2011 and May 2014. The team made specific recommendations for follow-up which have impacted actions since that point. Parents receive regularly updated information about student progress through an online Parent Portal. Teachers and staff access district information through multiple sources, including Facebook. Stakeholders also noted the district’s technology learning specialists (TLCs) at each school, who master instructional applications and help staff use information and technology tools. Richland Two provides professional development on information resources, including hosting the Midlands Technology Summit each year.
The second emerging strength is in support for student educational and career needs (4.8). The Lead School Counselor assists sites in implementing the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) model of a comprehensive school counseling program. Counselors are evaluating their activities, proposing goals to administrators, and developing comprehensive school counseling programs based on standards in academic, career and personal/social development. Staff, parents, and students receive training on AVID and GEAR UP instructional strategies, which support students in developing skills for college. Lonnie B Nelson Elementary, Killian Elementary, and Kelly Mill Middle are AVID demonstration sites. Career Development Facilitators (CDFs) work in every middle and high school and College Information Specialists are in every high school. Additional CDFs were placed in groups of elementary schools this year. Opportunities for dual enrollment and Transition Specialists in the Special Education Department enhance career and educational planning for all students. Individual Graduation Plans (IGP) are developed for every student, under the leadership of counselors and CDFs. A 2016 Career Pathways Expo, open to students in grades seven through 12 and families, provided opportunities to learn about multiple employment choices and course offerings at R2i2, including training in energy, computers, and supply chain logistics, to name a few. Intervention Assistance Teams (IAT) operate at every school, and training emphasizes the need to connect students with appropriate resources or referrals. The Special Education Department completed rigorous training of all staff in procedures to ensure development of solid Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities.
Actions to Sustain Areas of Strengths:
Steps that maintain the integrity of successful practices and initiatives are built into the district system and culture. The budget development process, with feedback from all stakeholders, ensures that key needs are identified and supported. Board and community support for maintaining these allocations insures that quality programs are evaluated and continue as appropriate. Facilities evaluations and maintenance will continue at established schedules. Rigorous reviews and long-range planning for technology equipment, network, and infrastructure are integrated into the operations throughout the district. Internal evaluations of programs, such as R2i2 offerings to students, will help determine expansions and student needs. Departmental reviews identify practices and programs which merit continuation. Data from counselor task studies, special education audits, and trainings assist in fine tuning practices and initiatives. District leads in media specialties and enhanced collaboration with the Richland Library will lead to more effective use of information resources. Finally, internal initiatives such as Leading Up (referenced in 4.1) will encourage employees to identify and develop methods to sustain effective practices as a part of their roles.
Areas in Need of Improvement:
After completing the self-assessment of district use of resources, stakeholders identified no weaknesses in this area, with all indicators rated as either a 3 or 4. It is not appropriate, then, to describe any indicator as a weakness. Instead, reviewers chose to identify three areas which the district is currently addressing and that show a need for continued focus: staff recruitment, employment, and retention (4.1); strategic resource management including long-range planning (4.4); and provision, coordination, and evaluation of services for student physical, social and emotional needs (4.7).
The Richland Two Human Resources (HR) Department realizes the importance of quality employees and the impact of the application process on recruitment (4.1). HR manages an online application system and schedules multiple opportunities to recruit and interview high quality candidates for all positions, including a Virtual Career Fair and a Get on the Bus! recruitment activity for students from Winthrop University. Recruitment of qualified candidates for high need positions, such as special education, science, and math, requires collaborative efforts across departments, schools, and staff to coordinate the interviewing and employment of teachers and support staff. In-state and out-of-state recruitment trips are part of our intense efforts. In 2016, the Board of Trustees authorized the district to use international teachers to fill critical teaching positions. Recruiting efforts also include opportunities to seek applicants for teaching assistant and other non-certified positions, such as community outreach through a partnership with the Richland County Workforce Development office and VetReady, which provides veterans with employment information for Richland Two. The district works to increase the success of new teachers by providing upfront training on district procedures and curriculum and ongoing coaching from trained educational coaches, previously described in 3.7. Additional retention practices include the provision of a stipend for National Board Certified Teachers, high quality professional development activities for teachers and other staff, an Administrator Development Series, and a leadership academy, Leading Up, available to all employees. Annual salary studies for all job categories provide information that assists in making staffing and salary plans. Recent specific efforts focused on retention of school bus drivers, an area of identified need. In spite of these efforts, as a large system, Richland Two seeks a great number of qualified individuals each year. The district recently instituted an online survey for employees who leave, and data are used to evaluate employee retention. Data from 2015–2016 show that 94 percent of employees who separated from Richland Two did so for reasons of relocation, retirement, or family changes rather than unhappiness with the work environment or the desire to change professions.
In the spring of 2016, the district identified the strategic planning process and resource management as a need for focus (4.4). The current strategic plan is scheduled for review this year, and analysis of that plan showed it to be largely operational rather than strategic. Based on the results of initial stakeholder surveys, data indicated the district was poised to incorporate current data trends and structures into the strategic planning process. The district engaged the assistance of a consultant to help stakeholders review data and examine district priorities and efforts. Steps to this point have solidified commitment to the Four Squares, identified three areas of focus, and determined five core values. Actions call for the completion of the plan by April 2017, with the goal to have a plan that will become a piece of the nomenclature and culture for all employees. In addition to strategic planning efforts, the district uses long-range planning processes and documents for Capital Improvements, for Information Technology Planning, and for Facilities Planning.
Richland Two’s provision of services for student physical, social and emotional needs is an area of current focus (4.7). School helping professionals (counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, family intervention services) comprise the Learning Support Services (LSS) Department and are guided by the LSS leadership team, leads or coordinators for each group of helping professionals. LSS leadership works together to develop consistent practices across schools and helpers and provides trainings to develop needed skills. LSS collaboration within schools is encouraged and fostered. School counselors are implementing the ASCA model which requires a focus on personal/social development of students. School counselors and other district leaders developed a Mentoring Framework for Richland Two, and the mentoring committee sponsors district-wide events to celebrate mentors and mentees. These events include Girls and Pearls, Bowties and Brunch, and a Spring Mentoring Conference for boys. District office staff are involved in student support at schools through the Table Talkers program. School nurses are actively engaged in LSS leadership and were instrumental in developing a concussion protocol and procedures for the safe use of epinephrine. The LSS team is strengthened by the addition of initiatives that address specific needs. Richland Two is the lead agency for the Project CARE Coalition, a grant-funded community coalition with a goal of reducing substance use by youth, and Family Intervention Services provides individual and group family interventions and counseling to assist families in meeting student needs. An agreement with Francis Marion University’s Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty provides professional learning opportunities for staff. Under the leadership of our Chief Diversity and Multicultural Inclusion Officer, the district offered staff training in practices that support our multicultural and diverse community. In 2014–2015, the district and community Discipline Task Force reviewed data, literature, and community needs. The task force identified the need to reduce suspensions and expulsions, and in 2015, the district hired a behavior intervention specialist to launch a multi-tiered system of positive behavior supports, professional development, and student supports in four pilot school sites. This initiative expanded in 2016 after showing decreases in discipline referrals and increases in interventions for students with needs in pilot sites. The B.E.S.T. model, currently under expansion, requires school and LSS team members to identify student needs and deliver interventions to all students.
Actions to Improve Areas of Need:
District initiatives to improve each need are clearly related to the activities currently in place. Enhanced recruitment efforts will be multi-departmental and retention efforts will incorporate data from exiting employees. Retention efforts will include professional development related to specific concerns, such as multicultural needs and student interventions. Continued strategic planning efforts will result in a meaningful plan ready for implementation by this spring. Actions to enhance the provision of services for student physical, social and emotional needs include continued emphasis on school counseling, other LSS services, and the B.E.S.T. model. Future efforts in these areas are already identified and include complete implementation of the ASCA model, sustainability planning for Project CARE, and further expansion of B.E.S.T. The use of consistent positive behavioral interventions and the provision of training related to them will have implications across the system which will include enhanced teacher retention and improved outcomes for students.