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After First Year Of School Improvement Pilot, PA's Governor Looks To Expand

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) -- The Wolf administration is touting a new approach to coordinating with schools on the district level around the state.

After running a pilot program in three school districts last year, the state Education Department said it's trying to give those districts as much flexibility as possible.

The pilot involved 10 representatives from the administration working with 19 schools in the Pittsburgh, Allentown, and Juniata County  districts--chosen to represent small, medium-sized, and large districts.

The effort stems from the federal government's Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the previous No Child Left Behind Act in 2015.

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said the goal is shifting to more bespoke approaches to specific districts' needs.

Previously, "there was an expectation that you're going to engage in a real specific, small menu of activities, and then the penalty for not meeting academic goals was very prescriptive," he said. "So now what we're going is creating a system of continuous improvement."

Officials said one of the most important lessons they learned was being flexible in how they coordinate with district superintendents.

For instance, Special Advisor on School Improvement Rosemary Hughes said the superintendent in sprawling, rural Juniata County wears a lot of hats and is often too busy for sit-down meetings.

"We just got creative about what time of day we engaged in that connection or what mode of communication we used," she said. "I do think in the end he felt he was in a position to be able to figure out how to use the funding to support the action plan of the school."

The department got $2 million from the General Assembly in last year's budget, and the funding was renewed this year. They also got a million dollars in federal funds to expand the program.

Rivera said several other low-performing schools are adopting approaches from the pilot effort.

Going forward, the department plan to focus broadly on the bottom five percent of schools.