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Legislature gives DPI new tools to help under-performing schools

The 2023 Legislature has given the Department of Public Instruction some new tools to deal with under-performing schools.

State school superintendent Kirsten Baesler said when a school is identified as a “chronically under-performing school,” it is put under a three-year improvement plan. She said if improvements aren’t seen after three years, the state superintendent can take some other actions.

"In the fourth year, DPI can hold funds in escrow, or the superintendent of designee can put a team together — that's what other states do," Baesler said. "They can actually come in, and determine which programs — math, reading, writing — the school must spend their money on."

Baesler said the state already had the authority to go into a school and change curriculum, change the professional development training for teachers, change instruction strategies – and even change the school calendar. She said under the new law, the Superintendent can actually change school staff.

"Essentially, if the local school superintendent or the building principal, or the fifth grade teacher, are chronically under-performing, the state does have the opportunity to come in and make those hiring changes," Baesler said. "But that's only in year four, after that school hasn't shown any improvement."

Baesler said the new law requires a “memorandum of understanding” between DPI and the underperforming school.

"When you force people to do things, that changes doesn't last very long," Baesler said. "So this just details that this must be a plan devised together."

Baesler said one other part of the new law is that a chronically under-performing school or school district must complete DPI’s “school board leadership program, called "The North Dakota Be Legendary School Board Institute." She said she got that program going about three years ago, with COVID funds.

"It helps our school board members understand that their budget decisions have a direct impact on how well their students do in reading, writing and mathematics," Baesler said.

Unlike other states, DPI does not have the authority to actually take over a school or school district, such as what happened in Texas.

"I can't be the boss of everyone," Baesler said. "That's not the way I have worked over the past 11 years."

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