Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno says she wants to make the school district’s “innovation” designation, bestowed last year by the state, into something more than a label.
On Wednesday, she outlined some of her ideas to members of the City Club of Tacoma.
Earning the right to be called innovative doesn’t happen by accident, Santorno said.
“It takes specific planning,” she said. “When I talk about a world-class education, to me it is not rhetoric.”
Santorno – recently named superintendent by the School Board after serving as interim since January – offered several new ideas. She mentioned some in her speech to City Club, and talked about them afterward with The News Tribune. Among the possibilities:
• Spread the teaching of first-year algebra over two years – possibly eighth and ninth grade – for students who need it. She said the concept has been tried in other school districts.
Santorno said Tacoma spends a lot of money on students who miss crucial concepts early in their algebra instruction. Those students repeat the course, but keep getting stuck and never move beyond a certain point in their understanding of that crucial math fundamental.
Giving students who struggle more time to absorb the material may help, Santorno said.
• Give students a voice in evaluating teachers so that teachers get valuable feedback on what works – and what doesn’t.
Santorno acknowledges that she hasn’t yet talked to the teachers union about this idea. But she said the system would not be punitive; it would be designed to inform teachers on how they’re doing.
“A lot of times teachers don’t know what’s effective,” she said.
Santorno talked about measuring results using more than just state test scores.
“We have to change achievement and start educating students better,” she said.
As an example, she cited improving the district’s high school graduation rate. Tacoma graduated nearly 62 percent of the class of 2011 – the most recent statistics available from state education officials. That compares with a statewide average of nearly 77 percent.
She said that by paying more attention to ninth-graders and how they fare in their first year of high school, educators should be able to help more students graduate as seniors.
Next week, she said, the School Board is preparing to take a big step toward tracking progress. At its Sept. 27 meeting, the board is scheduled to adopt ways to measure improvements at key grade levels.
The results will be posted on the district website (www.tacoma.k12.wa.us) so that the public can see how closely the district is measuring up to its own email@example.com