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Rethinking School During Challenging Times: A Reflection on Lessons Learned


Posted March 14, 2022


Supporting high-quality Expanded Learning Time (ELT) has been a key priority of FourPoint Education Partners (FourPoint) from our inception. Over the past two years, FourPoint has partnered with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Texas Impact Network (TIN), Education Resource Strategies (ERS), The Learning Agenda (TLA) and several Design and Implementation (DI) Partners, to help districts plan strategically to redesign for an ‘Additional Days School Year’ (ADSY) through summer learning as well as full-year redesign models. The support we have provided gives us a unique perspective and experience to support additional communities, in Texas and around the country, as education leaders identify, plan, and implement approaches to incorporating ELT into their work to close the persistent equity gaps that have been widened by the pandemic.  

Learning from Leaders in Texas

In June 2019, the Texas Legislature passed HB3, which included half-day formula funding for school systems that add up to 30 instructional days to any of their elementary schools, starting in the 2020-2021 school year kicking off its ADSY program. TEA also provided additional planning support to a cohort of districts – Planning and Execution Program (PEP) grants – to accelerate success and create a knowledge base to support more districts in the future.

Under PEP, local education agencies (LEAs) have the option of implementing:

  • Voluntary Summer Learning (VSL) by adding 25 to 30 days of summer programming, with daily academic instruction and enrichment opportunities.
  • Full Year Redesign (FYR) by expanding the school year to 210-day calendar days increasing time for planning and student brain breaks.

This school year, TEA included the VSL and FYR models as part of the Texas COVID Learning Acceleration Supports grant program. In partnership with the TEA, FourPoint has facilitated technical support to a cohort of local education agencies (LEAs). With the addition of these federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, the cohort of districts receiving support for ADSY has grown significantly. 

The following lessons can be used by others in the field looking to expand learning time:

  1. Engagement with school staff and families primes the pump for success. Adding time, especially when it involves changing  a school’s schedule, affects everyone in the building. By including stakeholders in the planning process, schedule changes can minimize disruptions and best meet needs of students, families and staff. Working with ADSY LEAs, it became clear that:
    • Teachers will be responsible for implementing changes to calendar and curriculum–so, they deserve an authentic seat at the table for ADSY program design. Teacher input can help ensure the additional time is used to make their jobs better and help their students grow.  LEAs can prevent ADSY burnout by providing teachers with additional time for planning and collaboration with colleagues, crafting meaningful lesson plans, and building deeper relationships with students.
    • Parents and families know their students best and can help target enrichment activities provided through ADSY to student interests. In other words, parents can help learning be more fun and for students to be excited about coming to school more often! Listening to parents can also help LEAs account for challenges that families may encounter in the implementation of a longer school calendar.
  1. Articulate the WHY to build support.  Research has made clear that high quality expanded learning programs can accelerate academic progress and support the social and emotional development of students. 
    • LEA leaders are building public will around ADSY initiatives by clearly and consistently communicating the WHY behind ADSY for their students, staff, and families.  By combining compelling research with local information, stakeholders can see why and how ADSY can make a difference for students.
    • Several districts have created short videos using their staff and students to promote ADSY.  These videos have helped to promote engagement and show the many benefits of more time.
  1. Establish planning teams and share the load. Like their peers across the country, Texas LEAs are busy implementing a variety of new programs and strategies to address equity and promote recovery from COVID related disruptions.  Creating a planning team helps to share the workload and improve the program by including multiple voices.
    • Since ADSY design impacts all aspects of a school community, a diverse planning committee is necessary to support the work ahead. Members of the planning team often include expertise from academics, human resources, finance, communications, parent engagement, and operations.  Together, these teams have been able to solve complications big and small.
    • Through the planning process, several LEAs have identified staff interests and talents from dance, to art, to karate, that are being tapped to support enrichment activities.  This is a win-win for students and teachers who get to share their passions in new ways.
  1. Technical Assistance Partners help ensure success at every step of the way.  ADSY design and implementation partners are helping districts with every phase of planning from establishing a steering committee to choosing curricula to identifying how progress will be tracked to drive continuous improvements.  In each case, the support looks a little different but it all focuses on helping LEAs to create a comprehensive plan.
    • ADSY Technical Assistance Partners add capacity, filling needs to accommodate the realities of districts of all sizes. Examples of ADSY support have included development of communications materials (informational videos, presentation and outreach materials, etc.) in English and Spanish, facilitating planning meetings, providing support with academics/curriculum, developing budgets, and identifying community partnerships to expand enrichment opportunities. 
  1. Clear lines of communication and flexibility from the State is helping to make redesign a reality in more LEAs.  As with any new program, the first years of operation raise unanticipated issues.  The willingness of TEA to make small adjustments and or accommodations has made it  possible for more districts to implement ADSY.
    • While TEA has set clear timelines for planning, they have also been flexible with districts that, for one reason or another, needed additional time to launch.  In some cases, districts have put off implementation for a whole year as they better organize, in other cases districts were granted additional time to complete pieces of the plan.
    • TEA’s ADSY team participates in the learning communities for  FYR and VSL. TEA has allowed TEA to address issues and challenges as they emerge.
  1. Philanthropic support is filling gaps and adding expertise.  The ADSY program has benefited greatly from philanthropic partnerships with the Texas Impact Network, The Houston Endowment and the Wallace Foundation.Outside support from foundations, channeled through the Texas Impact Network is helping to build a knowledge base of successful practices, to enhance technical assistance and provide expertise to make ADSY a reality in more districts. 
    • In several large districts, philanthropic funds are helping districts to explore ADSY options to determine which model–FYR, VSL or intersession–make the most sense in particular localities.  
    • Support from local philanthropic funders, including the Houston Endowment’s coordination with TIN in support of Goose Creek CISD and Spring ISD, have empowered local leaders with the assurance that everything does not have to stay on a preconceived, strict planning schedule in the current environment.
    • Philanthropic funding is providing support to promote long-term sustainability.  One way this is happening is through support for cross-site budget analyses of summer programs.  This work will identify expected costs and various ways LEAs are stacking funds to support VSL. This information can then be used by LEAs and the TEA to expand ADSY. 

Full Year Redesign Team

FourPoint VP Rudy Ruiz leads the FYR team with support from Associate Dr. Blaine Carpenter, who served as an ADSY project manager for San Marcos ISD in the 2020-2021 school year, as well as Associates Margaret Byrd and Dr. Maritza González. The FYR team is currently supporting 4 LEAs.

Voluntary Summer Learning Team

FourPoint VP Sharon Deich leads the VSL team, with Senior Associates Meghan Neary and  Heather Padgette, Lead Data Analyst Amy Cox, and Associates Ife Bell, Courtney Reeve, and Nick Yannopoulos. The VSL team is currently supporting nine districts in their planning and implementation of summer programming.

In addition to this Design & Implementation Partner team, FourPoint also provides finance and budgeting support to all districts involved with VSL PEP. This includes creation of budget tools, analysis of LEA budgets, ongoing support and office-hours, as well as district and DI partner training sessions.

Post written by FourPoint Associate Dr. Blaine Carpenter.

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