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Award Winning District Reaches All its Kids: Chugach School District

by Wendy Battino

"The Chugach School District exemplifies agility, innovation and focus on the future in the way they conduct the ongoing business of the district. They constantly collect data on student performance and use date to drive all decisions. This focus makes them proactive in their daily operations and change quickly when needed rather than just reacting to crises as most districts do. Continuous improvement is a norm that permeates all levels of the organization.

What impresses me the most about Chugach School District is their willingness to provide training and technical assistance to districts throughout Alaska in moving toward a data driven performance-based system, designed to help all students meet world class standards. I have never seen a district that is so committed to continuous improvement for all kids not only in their district, but in the entire state of Alaska".

-J. Kelly Tonsmeire, Director, Alaska Staff Development Network

Chugach is the only school district in the United States to be awarded the New American High School Award, a national award earned by top performing high schools. Innovative programs developed district-wide brought Chugach School District (CSD) the award. Every student is expected to master the same rigorous academic materials. We felt that by demonstrating proficiency at graduation level in all content areas, our students would be much more accountable for their learning than if we measured their learning by counting Carnegie units or "seat time". We wanted students to show us they could successfully apply skills and knowledge in real and unpredictable situations rather than show us how long they were enrolled in our classes with credits.

The CSD is located in South-central Alaska and includes most of the Prince William Sound (PWS) coastline and islands. The Chugach students are scattered throughout 22,000 square miles of isolated and remote area. Some village and school sites are 100% Aleut (Native Alaskan), while other sites include heterogeneous groups. Students receive educational services in one of three small villages, accessible by small aircraft, or from itinerant teachers who regularly visit wilderness homes in the Valdez and Fairbanks regions through the Extension School Program. The Anchorage Extension Program services students in the Anchorage Area. These services provide our students with standards-based education from preschool to beyond graduation. A sixth school site, Anchorage House (AH), was created to provide a nurturing environment with positive role models. Youth see beyond village life and experience a safe environment. This program connects students to social learning situations, work site experiences, and articulated post-secondary education programs.

A comprehensive restructuring effort was initiated in 1994. Using input from our schools, communities, and businesses, CSD realigned its curriculum to create ten performance-based standards; mathematics, science, technology, reading, writing, social sciences, service learning, career development, cultural awareness and expression, and personal/social/health development. Individual Learning Plans (ILP), Student Assessment Binders (SAB), Student Learning Profiles (SLP), and Student Lifeskills Portfolios support and document consistent progress toward proficiency in all standards. CSD developed performance standards continuums for all content areas. These continuums of standards are a working document for our students, parents, and teachers. The continuum encompasses our P-14 curriculum, report card, standards, and a roadmap of clear expectations towards success for our students. In order to break away from traditional modes of education, CSD applied for a waiver from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to forgo traditional Carnegie units, or credits, as graduation requirements in lieu of our performance standards as graduation requirements. This waiver was granted, opening the way for CSD to meet the needs of students. Student results are measured formally and informally through a system of multiple assessments. The support of our partners, in addition to multiple grant awards, has made all of these opportunities a reality for our students.

Humans learn and develop at different rates, but educational systems do not allow for this individuality. The power of this system is that students are given the flexibility to achieve levels at their own pace. Some students achieve graduation levels at 14 years of age while others reach them at age 21. This individualizing of our educational system allows all students throughout the entire spectrum to meet with success, take ownership of their educational careers, and reach the graduation levels at a pace that is developmentally appropriate for them. No student waits for the rest of the class or is pushed into learning beyond their developmental level. Working at individual levels and meeting with success has created confidence in students.

Graduation requirements exceed state requirements in many ways. We spell out the quality that students must demonstrate in all areas. In our original system, a student who receives a "C" or "D" in a high school language arts class would receive credit and move on. In our current system, a student must prove proficient in multiple-assessments, which equate to a "B" in the old system. Students are allowed extra time to achieve that level if necessary, but must meet the rigor of graduation level. Another way that CSD graduation requirements exceed state requirements is exemplified by our ten content areas. While the Alaska High School Graduate Qualifying and Benchmark Exams (HSGQ&BE) assess students with criterion-based reading, writing, and math exams, the Chugach assessment system gives criterion exams in ten content areas. We assess students in the traditional subjects of reading, writing, math, social sciences, and science, but have added other nontraditional areas. All students must successfully apply knowledge and skills in additional content areas: service learning, career development, personal/social/health development, technology, cultural awareness and expression.

Teachers, parents, students, and community members are aware of student educational goals because they helped to create the standard. All opportunities are available to students regardless of their learning abilities; our reporting system provides students achievement data. District-wide multiple assessments have been created to evaluate student progress. Given thirty days of staff development annually, teachers have the time and skills to make their instruction effective so students know exactly how to achieve their educational goals.

Alaska has long attracted people who are independent pioneers, innovative risk takers and nature lovers. CSD encompasses remote wilderness, glaciers, mountains and waters of exceeding beauty and climatic challenge. Relationships among teachers, students, and community members are necessarily close-knit in an environment where people rely on one another, often for survival. Communities are small; populations range from 60-289.

Our organization draws on many strengths of its few people; we have become barrier-bashers in the journey to achieve Excellence in Education. To establish a shared vision, the Onwards to Excellence (OTE) process was followed. Community, school, and business partner meetings were held on a regular bases. Input from all of these stakeholders held five common threads, which became our Organizational Performance Goals (OPG). Stake holders requested that accountability be built into the educational system for all and embedded within all organizational goals. This grassroots school reform process established a cohesive shared vision, which directed future efforts. Values and beliefs were created from the shared visions. Figure P.1-1 summaries the CSD shared vision, values and beliefs, OPG, and Baldridge categories.

Shared Vision

The Chugach School District is committed to developing and supporting a partnership with parents, community and business which equally shares the responsibility of preparing students to meet the challenges of the ever-changing world in which they live. Students shall possess the academic skills and personal characteristics necessary to reach their full potential. Students will contribute to their community in a manner that displays respect for human dignity and validates the history and culture of all ethnic groups.

Chugach Values & Beliefs

Reading, Writing, and Math are the foundation skills necessary for all other learning, enabling students to reach their full potential

All students should have respect for self & others, including elders, teachers, parents, students & community folks

Students will act in a manner that reflects honesty, integrity, and a never-give-up attitude

A low pupil-to-teacher ratio is important to address the needs of all students

It is essential that the students, parents, and community accept join responsibility in the education of our students

To foster student potential, instruction must be meaningful and motivating

All cultures, languages, and religions should be recognized and respected

Transitional skills are necessary to prepare students to meet the challenge of an ever-changing society

Organizational Performance Goals

Basic Skills• • Individual Needs of Students • Character Development • Transition Skills • '!Technology


Goal Deployment
Strategic Planning

PDER Process
Strategic Objectives
Action Plan
Key Performance Indicators

Information Analysis

Performance Measure
Performance Analysis
Data Availability
Data Quality

CSD Work System
Continuum of Collegiality
Development Schedule
Key Measures and Targets
Root Cause Analysis Process Management
Design & Delivery Process
Student Services
Support Processes
Student Success
Stakeholder Satisfaction
Financial Improvements
Valuing Staff
Organizational Performances

Student performance has skyrocketed as a result of innovations and flexibility. Our district was in crisis several years ago due to low student reading ability. CSD is now a supplier of leading-edge education where all students are reading at or above their potential. We have created a seamless and connected educational system that works for all of our students from preschool until after graduation. California Achievement Tests (CAT) scores soared from the bottom quartile to an average of 72nd percentile in five years. In 2000, CSD students ranked second in the state on a statewide writing assessment. One hundred percent of Chugach graduates are making a successful transition to further educational opportunities. While such results are encouraging, the plan does not end here. New innovations are currently being charged to help CSD provide the best education possible for all students.

Read more about the Chugach School District

The Journey to Excellence Continues: A Chugach Update Wendy Battino
After winning the Baldridge Award in 2001, this Alaskan school district was swamped with requests for guidance from schools around the world, and that has led to the creation of a non profit organization to help all schools in their quest for change.

About the Author

Wendy Battino has been a part of the Chugach School District for 8 years as a teacher, principal, and consultant. She continues her educational consultant work with Chugach and several districts around the nation, focusing on reinventing schools based on the Chugach Model. Ms. Battino has an extensive background in school improvement planning, Baldrige processing, and standards-based instruction and assessment. She resides in Talkeetna, Alaska.

© March 2002

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