It’s official: Davenport Schools are only conditionally accredited by the Iowa Board of Education.
The Department of Education’s report was made public last week, but the recommendations weren’t official until the state board voted. Unanimously — barring Bettie Bolar, who was absent — the board approved the recommendations.
While there are 14 new legal citations — plus two carrying over from the 2018 report — with deadlines in place, state representatives will negotiate milestones with the district for other recommendations, which should be presented at the board’s June meeting.
Vice President Michael Bearden insisted no district in Iowa was “too big to fail.” With more than 15,000 students, Davenport is one of Iowa’s largest districts, and the largest in the state to receive a Phase II visit. Now, it’s the largest district to receive conditional accreditation.
What’s considered in a Phase II audit? A lot — including even more than the state board could cover in its almost 70 minutes of discussion.
Part of the 2018 report was addressing 2,866 individualized education plans, or IEPs, within Davenport schools for suspected issues with placement or services being delivered to students with disabilities. The district reported April 22 that the re-evaluations were completed, one day ahead of the federal deadline.
Nearly 14 percent of students re-evaluated were determined to be owed compensatory education. Depending on a number of factors, including absences, suspensions and incorrect services, those students were determined to be owed extra hours of instruction outside of normal school hours to make up for the time lost.
Williamson said 14 percent was in line with other times large determinations of compensatory education needed to be made.
Those nearly 400 students were prescribed 6,509 hours collectively; the district has delivered 14.5 percent of those hours. There is no timeline to complete the hours, but it’s expected to be done as quickly as possible.
“It has to be meaningful for the kids,” Williamson said. “... It’s also a case by case issue.”
Director Mike May said he was concerned about services being delivered quickly, as he didn’t think students could progress in their normal schooling if they were already behind.
“That seems like something that really needs to be done in a timely way,” he said. “... They’re owed that. It seems to me it’s hard for them to go forward until we deliver on that.”
Historic flooding in downtown Davenport
The record-breaking flooding in Davenport was “demoralizing,” to the community Interim Superintendent TJ Schneckloth said.
Williams said recommended deadlines had been written before the flooding hit, and the board should keep that in consideration with their expectations.
Davenport’s Creative Arts Academy is located in the area hit hardest by the flooding, and Associate Superintendent Bill Schneden said community services that had been helping the district had to refocus their efforts.
“Their energy has shifted to providing for families affected by the flood,” he said. “...It’s split with the work we were really getting going on.”
Incoming Superintendent Robert Kobylski had filed for a waiver for his Wisconsin license to be transferred to Iowa; it was denied.
Now, he’s working on transferring his Illinois licensure — obtained through his doctoral program at Loyola, a regionally-accredited program — to Iowa, and taking coursework in “anticipated deficits.”
“I’m a little worried,” President Brooke Axiotis said. “... It doesn’t look good.”
Kobylski’s start-date has already been pushed back from June 1 to July 1 to accommodate his coursework, although the contract has not officially been changed. Director Julie DeSalvo said Schneckloth had agreed to stay put in an interim capacity until Kobylski could start.
“He’s doing everything feasible to not be temporarily licensed, but to be fully licensed,” Schneckloth said of Kobylski.
Central office restructuring
While not a legal citation, one recommendation from the Department of Education was for Davenport to “remedy” its “uncommon” structure, which saw directors reporting directly to the superintendent, rather than to an associate superintendent.
“We can’t prescribe a structure to a district, but we believe the lack of stability in leadership has contributed,” Williamson said, adding she thought Schneckloth had been “terrific,” but it’s hard for an interim superintendent to feel “empowered” to drive a new vision for a district.
Schneckloth said restructuring and realigning would be two-fold, not only from Kobylski taking over and rearranging, but from staff reductions the district must make to meet its state-mandated budget cuts.
“With the reductions we have to make, everyone is doing more,” he said. “... Reducing some positions will cause restructures.”
Several state board members said they were impressed with Schneckloth’s work.
“I commend you for stepping into this mess. There’s no leadership program that could prepare you for what you’ve gone through,” Director Josh Byrnes said. “... I’m sure your future is bright.”
Many of the citations and recommendations involve a change that’s relatively easy to track: re-evaluation 170 students in Life Skills program, beginning central office evaluations, and starting peer evaluation for teachers.
Systemic issues like the disproportionate treatment of minority students when it comes to discipline and special education, though, are trickier to quantify.
“Some of this is so systemic. I think [we’ll need] milestones and periodic check-ins to see how things are going,” Byrnes said. “... I think it’s going to be so much better moving forward, but we know it’s not going to be in a year. It’s probably multiple years down the road to see that systemic culture change.”
Before the June meeting, Williamson and yet-to-be-determined state board members will negotiate with the district on what those milestones and deadlines should look like. They will be presented at the June meeting.
“We need a date,” Director Kimberly Waye said. “We need to see them honoring it and to see progress.”
From the conditional accreditation approval, Iowa Code sets out the following timeline: the district will receive a remediation plan — including both citation action items and recommendations from the state; the accreditation team will visit a second time; a report will be made to the board; the board will vote again, to either fully accredit, remove accreditation and dissolve the district, or to grant conditional accreditation again, which would push the district through another cycle.
There is no limit on the number of times a district can be conditionally accredited.