NASD learning from audit report findings

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, March 19, 2013

NATCHEZ — A Natchez-Adams School District audit highlighted many of the district’s shortcomings, but district officials say that hearing the problems is the only way to find the solutions.

Board president Wayne Barnett said the tough, but honest report is just what was needed to jumpstart efforts throughout the entire district.

“We’re not afraid as a board to recognize we have problems and to do something about those problems,” Barnett said. “We cannot afford to take this report and put it on a shelf and leave it.”

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Superintendent Frederick Hill will discuss some of the audit findings, as well as a variety of other topics within the district, at 6 p.m. tonight at the Community Center during a town hall meeting.

Zollie Stevenson Jr., associate professor of educational leadership at Howard University and auditor for Phi Delta Kappa International, presented the NASD board of trustees Thursday with the results of the district-wide curriculum audit.

Stevenson said he and his team of three other auditors interviewed more than 71 teachers, principals, administrators and other district officials as well as visiting every school in the district.

Apart from analyzing and dissecting the material taught in the classroom, Stevenson said the audit looked at how the material is taught by teachers, the district’s policies and the flow of communication between employees and their supervisors.

“The goal here is to improve achievement outcomes for the students in the Natchez-Adams School District,” Stevenson said. “We’re leaving Natchez with a lot of positive images of the district, but also some things that need work.”

The audit standards that served as the basis of the audit included control, direction, connectivity, feedback and productivity.

In the control standard, the audit revealed a failure to provide any measure of quality control for effective management of curriculum, instruction or district support.

The audit also revealed a lack a systematic, cohesive planning process and a district-wide plan necessary for preventing deterioration of education opportunities for students.

“There’s a lot of conversation of where the district ought to go, but until you put it into a plan, you don’t have anything that can be monitored to see if those things are being addressed that were agreed upon,” Stevenson said. “You have a professional development plan and a technology plan, but you don’t have an assessment plan or a curriculum plan, and those need to be developed.”

In the feedback standard, the audit revealed a lack of comprehensive student assessments and a program evaluation plan to provide direction for producing desired learning results.

“The thought is that if kids aren’t able to read or multiply decimals, the way to solve it is to buy new programs, but the way to solve it is to teach the proper curriculum deeply to solve the problem,” Stevenson said. “There has to be some kind of systemic review of what (students’) needs are and make decisions to keep stuff or get rid of it based on analysis.”

In the connectivity standard, the audit revealed that curriculum delivery by teachers in the classroom didn’t focus on advanced complexity and did not engage student’s individual differences adequately.

“This was absolutely terrible in the middle school,” Stevenson said. “When you have an aligned curriculum, you actually cover more material, and the students learn more. When they’re assessed, they do better because you’re going into greater depth.”

After the presentation of the audit findings, Stevenson presented the six recommendations, which included developing a technology plan and student assessment plan, among other things.

Hill said the district’s curriculum problems will be addressed, and hopefully solved, this summer when a team of 130 employees work to rewrite the district’s curriculum for all grades.

The curriculum-writing project will work to improve student achievement while also aligning the material taught with the Common Core State Standards, which set clear educational standards that states across the country can share and adopt.

The other issues mentioned in the audit, such as professional development and teacher instruction, will require different plans that Hill said he is currently working to finalize.

“We’re in the process of gathering a group of teachers to do some professional development this summer, and they would become our ‘master teachers’ that would go back and train the other teachers in the building,” Hill said. “I think the best way to do something is by learning it ourselves instead of hiring an outside consultant to come in and do it for us.”

Until Hill receives the final copy of the audit, which is expected to arrive this week, he said jumping to conclusions on changes to programs or teacher effectiveness might not be the best solution.

“We don’t want to just jump out there and try to correct things that may not necessarily need a whole lot of attention,” Hill said. “Once we get the final report, we’ll be able to see what things exactly were adequate and inadequate.

“But that audit, in general terms, pretty much solidifies the changes that we need to make in the district.”