Standard 1: Purpose and Direction
The system maintains and communicates at all levels of the organization a purpose and direction for continuous improvement that commit to high expectations for learning as well as shared values and beliefs about teaching and learning.
Overall System Rating: 3.75
Standard 1 Narrative
Richland School District Two (Richland Two) maintains and communicates at all levels of the system a purpose and direction for continuous improvement that commit to high expectations for learning as well as shared values and beliefs about teaching and learning.
Richland Two, “in partnership with our community, prepares all students for success by providing meaningful, challenging, and engaging learning experiences.” To achieve this mission, Richland Two focuses on Four Squares to Success: Learning, Character, Community and Joy. Dr. Hamm unveiled the Four Squares in the summer of 2013 after having conversations with key stakeholders following the announcement that she had been named interim superintendent.
The Four Squares became the rallying cry for our mission. They provided a path back to our historic roots of providing excellence in education for all students and placed emphasis on having joy throughout the district — in our classrooms, gyms, hallways, cafeterias, media centers, offices, playgrounds, athletic fields and school buses — and in everything we do.
We believe that students who take part in rigorous learning experiences while building character, engaging in their communities, and experiencing joy will have a strong foundation to achieve success. Through the innovative and effective application of technology, real-world experiences in the classroom, and student-centered learning opportunities, our students acquire world-class knowledge and develop world-class life and career skills that serve them well in all stages of their life. In a recently received Teacher of the Year nomination letter, a Richland Two graduate asked the selection committee “to take into account the belief squares that make up the foundation of Richland Two.” The author went on to say of his teacher, “she begins every class with a smile on her face, she is a board certified educator with many years of experience, she is active within her community, and her character, through curriculum and commitment, is more than evident.”
During the 2013–2014 school year, Dr. Hamm consulted with school leaders to establish action items for each of the Four Squares. These action items were incorporated into school planning and consistently shared as priorities. In June 2014, while building on these action items, a group of district and school administrators and teachers identified nine priority areas. Robust and consistent communications of the Four Squares and focused, multi-year work on the district’s nine priorities enabled the district to begin work on improving the communication of the strategic plan and ensuring the alignment of board goals, district goals, and budget priorities. Clarity of purpose and commitment to stakeholder involvement sparked a new energy in the district’s strategic planning process. The district sought and received a waiver from the South Carolina Department of Education so that district and school plans could be closely aligned.
Richland Two’s continuous strategic planning process is focused on high expectations for learning. District leaders have met with hundreds of stakeholders including school principals, School Improvement Councils, advisory groups, Education Foundations and others to gather input on instruction, differentiation, data and goals related to student success. Specifically, we asked the following three questions of each group:
- What aspirations do you have for the district?
- What are the system’s strengths?
- What are the areas of improvement?
Synthesizing more than five hundred online survey responses and feedback from stakeholder meetings led to the identification of five principal practices across the system: 1) Innovation, 2) Data, 3) Diversity and Inclusion, 4) Partnering, and 5) Communication. These practices validate our system’s direction of shared values and beliefs about teaching and learning. To sustain the collegial nature of the Four Squares to Success, Dr. Davis and staff members have offered an updated version of the Strategic Areas of Focus and Core Values that incorporates these five principal practices as well as three focus areas: Culture and Environment, Talent, and Achievement. All too often, those who develop a new or revised strategic plan make immediate changes in organizations without really understanding the culture or DNA of the organization. This continuation of a familiar comprehensive process to review, revise, and communicate a system-wide purpose for student success safeguards our innovative culture and sustains the district’s commitment to excellence and joyful learning.
Richland Two has already begun regular, extensive communication with partners about the areas of focus. Valuable stakeholder input guides the district in developing goals, outcomes, and evaluations associated with the areas of focus. The system, by contracting with an external strategic planning specialist, has already taken specific steps to transform the strategic plan into a dynamic, authentic document that will be used on a daily basis. Richland Two’s strategic planning process will be ongoing and intensive with every effort focused on improving conditions that support student learning. Most recently, the district has been working with the Chief Strategy Officer at the South Carolina Department of Education to review the district’s strategic planning work. Her suggestions and recommendations are being incorporated within the plan. With the addition of an innovative strategic planning format, our schools will be provided with a template to use in designing and improving their school renewal plans. With district-level guidance, school plans will be aligned with the system’s strategic plan to help ensure consistency of direction across the system.
Key Leaders meetings, data audit meetings with the principals, meetings of the Faculty Advisory Council, and other stakeholder meetings are only part of the process where our conversations become practices. Each principal will continue to meet with district staff at least twice each year to review data, set goals, and monitor progress related to student success. We recognize that these frequent collaborations contribute to the overall sustainability of our strengths as a system.
Along with a clear purpose and strategic plan, system Practices for Immediate Impact are reviewed annually and revised by a team of key leaders and then shared with the school board, all administrators, all advisory groups, and teachers. Practices for the 2016–2017 school year are specifically focused on a renewed commitment to high expectations for learning.
Richland Two has a long-standing reputation of being highly innovative with multiple pathways to success. With the recent opening of the Richland Two Institute of Innovation (R2i2), we now have the capacity to advance innovation at a higher, more authentic level. Richland Two was the first district in the Midlands to implement 1TWO1 technology in grades three through 12, putting computing devices directly into the hands of students for school and at-home use. Our technology engineers worked with an external vendor to develop the student information system that is now used by every school in South Carolina. Our innovation incubator provides the opportunity for teams from our schools to dream, design, develop, and launch their own ideas to improve their local community, across states, or nation-wide.
Richland Two has a history of nurturing the growth of its employees and preparing them for the next level of success in their professional careers. Dr. Hamm’s selection as superintendent is evidence of the importance of this practice. Dr. Hamm came to Richland Two in 1977, and it has been her professional home, the place where her children and now her grandchildren have gone to school. Dr. Hamm began working in the district after completing graduate school. She has received a host of opportunities throughout her career. Undoubtedly, her greatest honor and privilege has been to serve as superintendent, which has allowed her to work in the company of extraordinary coworkers and supporters. In July 2016, Dr. Hamm announced her retirement. She was excited about planning the next chapter in her life because she knew Richland Two was ready for the next great chapter in its story. Her commitment to our students, parents, employees and community has been to continue to do all she can to make the 2016–2017 school year a success and to make the transition to a new superintendent a smooth one.
Soon after Dr. Hamm’s announcement, the Richland Two Board of Trustees, recognizing the need for the district to continue to grow and excel during the transition between her retirement and the selection of a new superintendent, voted to promote then Assistant Superintendent Dr. Baron R. Davis to the position of superintendent-elect. He will succeed Dr. Hamm when she retires in June 2017. Promoting from within the organization and having a one-year transition intentionally allowed for the smooth implementation of the succession plan with minimal to no disruption to teaching and learning for the system as a whole. Dr. Hamm and Dr. Davis are working collaboratively to make certain our purpose remains strong and targeted. They have provided strong synergistic leadership in three phases: shadowing, collaboration and coaching. The effect has been continuous quality improvement at a time when valuable strategic initiatives could have faltered.
Areas of Strength
As part of the self-assessment, stakeholders rated Indicator 1.1 a “4.” Richland Two has a long-standing board policy, Policy ADA School District Mission, which provides direction for the review, revision, and communication of the district’s mission and vision. “In partnership with our community, Richland School District Two prepares all students for success by providing meaningful, challenging, and engaging learning experiences.” This statement clearly embodies the importance of providing a high quality education for every student. The district’s mission statement was most recently revised in February 2013 by community members, advisory groups, teachers, school administrators, board members, and district administrators to focus more on meeting students’ needs. The mission statement was reviewed by hundreds of our diverse stakeholders as part of our current strategic planning process and will continued to be reviewed through that systematic process.
The Strategic Areas of Focus and Core Values is another fundamental document for communicating the district vision. While the Four Squares provide the exterior circle, the areas of focus are captured within a triangle. Culture and environment are critical to our system as it lays the foundation for success. Culture and environment attract talent. Richland Two continuously seeks to recruit the highest quality of talent for staffing as well as identifying and nurturing each student’s unique talents. Achievement completes the triangle, with achievement being the result of a strong and inclusive culture and environment while working with strong, synergetic personnel and students.
The Profile of the South Carolina Graduate is another foundational document that exemplifies the system’s commitment to challenging, equitable educational programs and experiences. Richland Two was one of the first districts to adopt the profile. Other organizations and state agencies soon followed. The profile is a shared vision created by TransformSC, an education initiative of the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, and collaboration among the educators, business leaders, and policymakers who are working to transform the public education system. The profile contains a blend of education and skills for the ideal workforce, including: World-Class Knowledge; World-Class Skills; and Life and Career Characteristics. The adoption of the profile signifies our intent for our graduates to be creative, critical thinkers who have mastered rigorous standards in math, science, technology, engineering, arts, languages, social sciences and career readiness. They will be good communicators, know how to learn, have a global perspective and strong work ethic. While the profile may be revised in future years to meet the growing needs of students, this foundational document will remain an integral part of the purpose of Richland Two. Unquestionably, Richland Two graduates are leaving ready for the best and brightest future in whatever path they choose — college, career, and/or the military. They are moving along A Pipeline to Success.
The district communicates its mission and purpose systematically through annual events, electronic media, and other outreach opportunities with our stakeholders. Each school has a school news coordinator who is responsible for ensuring the school’s communication practices mirror that of the district-level. Our Communications & Strategic Partnerships Department is well-respected by stakeholders internally and externally. The department is exemplary in its use of various technologies to effectively communicate with all publics. In 2015, based on concerns from stakeholders, the school board and superintendent approved a communications audit. The audit was conducted by the National School Public Relations Association. Auditors made several recommendations to enhance communication efforts. As a result, a comprehensive communication plan has been developed. Employees, key partners, and parents are now receiving a regular electronic newsletter with information specifically tailored for each stakeholder. The newsletter is also translated into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families. A number of high quality communication and marketing publications and media projects are produced such as the Back-2-School Handbook, Annual Report and various brochures and flyers. The district is also regularly featured in local educational magazines and newspapers regarding upcoming events and awards received. Time Warner Cable Channel 12 (Richland Two Television - R2TV) is the district’s cable-access channel that airs in the northeast Columbia area. R2TV programs are produced in-house, broadcast on the television station, and made available on demand on the district’s YouTube page. Several new shows are being developed that will give stakeholders a deeper look into our framework of learning, diversity and multicultural inclusion initiatives, priority areas, and more. A strong social media presence ensures a multi-channel communication effort via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Flickr. The new Richland Two app was recently released in the Apple Store and Google Play Store. The district has a newly designed website that is more user-friendly and more mobile friendly. Additionally, the district utilizes the Blackboard mass notification system to disseminate general and emergency information to parents and students. Annually, in collaboration with the superintendent, the department organizes an annual State of the District event to provide stakeholders with updates on student achievement, continuous improvement, and innovation across the district. While considering all of these mediums, we still believe the best method of communicating our mission is word of mouth — in the grocery store, on the soccer field, or other locations in the community.
Stakeholders also rated Indicator 1.2 as a “4.” Although our district serves more than 27,000 students, we maintain the Richland Two close-knit family culture. With an increased enrollment averaging 400 students each year, district executive staff collaborates with all forty-one principals and system staff to provide purpose and direction for student success. Key Leaders meetings are held monthly to provide face-to-face opportunities for rich collegial conversations as well as confirming shared values using a common language. Additional system-level meetings with principals are held regularly to discuss specific topics of interest. Principals also meet monthly by level to discuss topics that are pertinent to their student population and include system-level staff to clarify or discuss topics as needed.
Each school, as modeled by the district, engages in a systematic and comprehensive process to review, revise and communicate a school purpose for student success. This process occurs annually and is described within each school’s self-assessment. All schools bring together a diverse community comprised of parents, community stakeholders, students, classified and certified staff, and administrators to ensure that the school’s mission and purpose are still valid and relevant. This continuous process also ensures that the schools’ missions are aligned with the system. Assistant superintendents and principals meet regularly to ensure district and school goals for student success are aligned and continuously updated based on available data and other information.
Indicator 1.3 was also rated as a “4” by stakeholders during our self-assessment. Because school leadership and staff at all levels of the system commit to a culture that is based on shared values and beliefs about teaching and learning, the system initiates and supports challenging and equitable educational programs. As mentioned, Richland Two was an early adopter of what has become the state’s profile of a graduate. The profile articulates “World Class Knowledge,” “World Class Skills,” and “World Class Life and Career Characteristics.” We believe these skills prepare students for college, career and life. Richland Two staff exemplify these skills through professional development on project based learning, character education, and our 1TWO1 computing initiative.
Richland Two offers customized learning experiences to meet diverse student interests within forty-one schools and centers. Specifically, the system supports thirty-seven specialized magnet programs and centers, an adult education center, a new student innovation center, an alternative school, an adult education center, and an early childhood development center. The system has a keen sense of understanding equity and takes full responsibility for ensuring that all students receive the highest quality of learning possible — regardless of ability, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic status. Recognizing the need to provide instructional strategies for a diverse group of students, the system has provided numerous opportunities for professional development in the areas of diversity and inclusion. A Diversity Task Force comprised of district and community stakeholders reviewed system processes and procedures and recommended the establishment of a new position of Chief Diversity and Multicultural Inclusion Officer. That office has been staffed and is tasked with helping to ensure that district programs and initiatives are equitable and inclusive.
Actions to Sustain Areas of Strength
Richland Two’s organizational plan is intentionally structured to ensure that our purpose remains strong and focused. Regular collaboration among district departments, between the district office and schools, among schools, and with staff across the system contribute to the overall sustainability of our strengths as a system.
System and school staff members will continue to maintain and communicate at all levels of the organization a purpose and direction for continuous improvement that commit to high expectations for learning as well as shared values and beliefs about teaching and learning. As our new strategic plan is rolled out, its details will be communicated to our many stakeholders and stakeholder groups. We will be vigilant about maintaining communication and our culture despite continued growth.
The continuation of this familiar comprehensive process to review, revise, and communicate a system-wide purpose for student success ensures our innovative culture coupled with joyful learning continues. The Profile of the South Carolina Graduate will continue to exemplify the system’s commitment to challenging, equitable educational programs and learning experiences that include achievement of learning, thinking, and life skills. The system’s clear annual process of review and revision of system priorities will provide continuous improvement.
Areas in Need of Improvement
As part of the self-assessment, stakeholders rated Indicator 1.4 a “3.” Richland Two must continue focusing on and providing optimal learning conditions that support the unique needs and learning styles of all students across the district. Stakeholders have recognized and encouraged greater clarity of goals aligned to specific outcomes, more robust use of data, and development of a more specific set of instructional expectations.
Actions to Improve Areas in Need of Improvement
As Richland Two moves forward with its strategic plan priorities, our purpose and direction needs to be clearly communicated on a regular basis. Every opportunity should be exhausted to ensure all employees, students, parents and community stakeholders are aware of adjustments and changes planned as identified through the continuous improvement process.
The demands placed on schools are ever-increasing. As such, district-level support for schools will increase to accommodate these demands. While the Four Squares to Success and nine priorities are a familiar refrain at school board meetings, administrative meetings and community events, we need to define a measurable way of knowing how well they are translated in our schools to teachers, students and staff. As outlined in Standard 2, the district will continue to align our work to the strategic plan to ensure sustained success. This summer, the district will launch a new professional development program focused on instructional leadership for our school administrators. As these improvements occur we will properly communicate the adjustments and improvements made across our system.