Innovation and Equity: Improving Instruction Through Professional Learning
Sioux City Community School District (SCCSD), a small city district located in Woodbury County, Iowa, has a progressive history of supporting student success through innovative curricula and technology-enhanced learning environments. The district, which serves 14,600 students, maintains a strong community of motivated students, supportive staff, and strong leadership under the direction of Superintendent Paul Gausman, recognized as Iowa’s 2014 superintendent of the year.
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education recognized SCCSD as one of the original Future Ready Schools® (FRS) districts for its preliminary work leveraging technology to enhance student learning. During the past three years alone, the district increased its four-year high school graduation rate from 87.19 percent to 87.5 percent; implemented a staterecognized one-to-one student-to-device initiative at the high school level; expanded multiple science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), and career-focused program offerings; and developed seventeen school construction projects currently being implemented. As the district continues to expand its transformation efforts, SCCSD remains committed to providing relevant, rigorous, and innovative academic experiences to every student in the district.
By 2016, trends in student performance as well as challenges with attendance forced the district to think differently about the way it approaches student learning. That year, the district’s overall proficiency rates on state assessments in grades 3–11 increased by 0.21 percentage points in reading comprehension and decreased by 0.4 percentage points in math. When analyzed by subgroups of students, the data shows significant gaps in student achievement at the elementary and middle school levels. Underrepresented students including Native American, African American, and Latino students; students from low-income families; and English language learners scored between 7 and 21 percentage points lower in reading and math proficiency than the district average.
Additionally, SCCSD’s experiences with chronic absenteeism at the elementary level further justified the need for more strategic approaches to reengage students and empower them to take charge of their learning. For the past four years, the district reported approximately 1,800 K–12 students identified as chronically absent or missing at least 10 percent of school days each year. In response to both academic challenges and absenteeism, SCCSD developed Focus 2022, a six-year strategic plan to expand the use of personalized learning as an approach to instruction and improve student achievement in reading and math. Leveraging technology to better prepare students for the future and improve districtwide proficiency in reading and math became the district’s primary focus.
As a means of addressing the district’s inequities in academic achievement, SCCSD piloted a professional learning program in 2017 to help teachers leverage technology for high-quality, rigorous instruction in the classroom. This case study discusses SCCSD’s progress implementing this professional learning program and challenges the district faced to ensure that all students, particularly those underperforming, receive the resources they need to succeed academically.