Officials from the for-profit EdisonLearning company, which the Davenport Community School District pays more than $3.1 million per year to operate one of its elementary schools, made a rare appearance Monday night at a Davenport Community School Board meeting.
Natalie Williams, senior vice president of educational services, and Brett Fechner, who provides direct support to Jefferson-Edison Elementary School in Davenport, said they attended to announce the hiring of Christie Pitts as principal of the school, which the company has operated since 1999.
They also spoke about EdisonLearning’s new improvement plan for Jefferson, which they said the company already is working with Pitts to implement for the coming school year.
“We’ve been working diligently for the last three or four weeks to make sure everything is up and running and we have a great collaboration in the next school year,” Williams told the board.
Pitts replaces Charlie Driscoll, who left his position at Jefferson a week before the school year ended in May, transferring to a new post at Central High School.
“I know my staff, and quite a few of them are here, are in support of the Edison project,” Pitts said, adding that she plans to attend a training event in Colorado for new principals at other EdisonLearning schools. “I just think it’s a unique opportunity for Jefferson to have this unique model that’s different than the other schools.”
This is the only school in Iowa that EdisonLearning runs, company representatives said.
Williams said the school’s new leadership will bring a renewed sense of energy to the campus, and help teachers follow the company’s school development rubric to help facilitate student success.
“We want to focus on developing all of us as instructional leaders,” Fechner said.
The officials said the company plans to lead a more focused effort on continuously collecting and reviewing student assessment data, and providing specialized professional development for teachers to help those students improve.
“At three months, we’ll have a checkpoint. At six months, we’ll have a checkpoint,” Williams said. “It will be a very transparent and open process.”
Fechner also briefly reviewed Iowa Test of Basic Skills results for Jefferson students over the past year, when the school increased the amount of students who met or exceeded their grade level in math at all grades.
Reading scores improved at the second-and third-grade levels, but declined in the fourth- and fifth-grades, not only at Jefferson, but across the district, Fechner said.
Board member Ken Krumwiede asked how EdisonLearning’s support at Jefferson differs from what the district offers at its other schools. Williams said it’s the company’s intellectual property, which includes lesson-planning templates and specialized observational tools.
“We then tailor our professional development to meet the needs of our composition of our school, so they will be on different tracts,” she said, adding that the principal also provides one-on-one feedback.
Krumwiede also asked if, over the 13 years of the company’s relationship with the district, how children who leave Jefferson-Edison and enter intermediate schools in Davenport compare with those who come from other schools.
Fechner and Williams said they don’t have that data, but can look at the comparison.
“A lot of the discussion I’m hearing is the kind of discussion I’d expect in a first or second year, not a 13th year,” school board member Bill Sherwood. “Director Krumwiede’s question is a common sense question asked across the country by school districts, so I’m a little concerned about that.”
Sherwood said he read in the district’s contract with EdisonLearning that the company is required to present an annual report to the school board. However, Williams said Monday’s presentation was not meant as that report.
“I would like to see the trend lines since you’ve been involved with us, and how that has compared to similar demographics with other schools in our districts,” Sherwood said. “You take a pretty good hunk of profit out of this district, so we need to know you’re providing what we’re paying for.”
Board member Larry Roberson said he wants to hear more from Jefferson staff members and parents about their perspectives of the partnership.
Another board member, Rich Clewell, asked, “Are you where you wanted to be with our students?”
“No, we wouldn’t be where we wanted to be until we had performance results that are outperforming the national averages,” Williams said. “We recognize there are areas of growth. I think next year is the year we really need to turn it around.”
In other business, the board also voted 6-1 against spending $10,459 to renew the district’s annual membership in the Iowa Association of School Boards. However, the board did vote unanimously to pay $8,500 to renew its annual membership in the Urban Education Network of Iowa.