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Palm Beach County: Bringing it to the People
In 1999, Dr. Alison Adler, Chief of Safety and Learning Environment, brought Efficacy to Palm Beach County. Five years later the three initial "Efficacy" schools had made such significant progress, that plans were formulated to extend the program to another 39 schools in the district. We detailed the Palm Beach County-Efficacy success in a 2004 case study, which ends with a cliffhanger of a last line: "To be continued..." Three years later, have their efforts paid off? In 2007, where is Palm Beach County now?
Sustained Academic Progress
Of the seven urban school districts in Florida, Palm Beach County is the only one to have earned an 'A' from the Department of Education for three consecutive years. "We've been growing progressively every year," says Manager of Single School Culture for Academics, Cheryl Baker.
Ms. Baker reports that around 100 schools within the district are now using Efficacy practices through their "Single School Culture" initiative. There are several components of the Single School Culture, focusing on academics, behavior, and climate, she says, but "The Efficacy piece is really the umbrella that holds everything together - and we use the D/F/S [Data/Feedback/Strategy Method] as the driving force."
Rose Backhus, Assistant Director of Single School Culture for Academics goes on to describe Palm Beach County as a "data rich" district. "Making feedback from the data has become a big part of our culture here," she says, adding that their practices have evolved to become progressively more fine-tuned. She also notes that students learn to use the D/F/S Method as one way to get involved in their own development; so students in 50 "high needs" schools all receive copies of, and instruction in, our Efficacy Student Tools.
The Community Component
But one of the biggest moves Palm Beach County has made since 2004 was bringing Efficacy to the community. Efficacy Administrator Dr. Dione Christy explains "We started the Single School Culture in the schools, but we knew we needed to get more adults involved. So we launched the Campaign, Step Up for Proficiency, as a call for community leaders to share the same Efficacy purpose in their respective agencies."
In June 2007, 10 community leaders were certified as Efficacy trainers; as of late November, they have provided Efficacy instruction to over 1,000 adults via community training sessions. There are six of these sessions offered in a sequence, designed to move participants through a change of belief about their children's true intelligence, to an examination of the effectiveness of their current parenting strategies, and on to instruction in more effective strategies for helping children achieve in academics and character development. Dr. Christy says that involvement in training sessions has grown from parents to include other caring adults in the community (relatives, neighbors, family friends, and members of faith-based organizations). Many of these adults arrive as guests of parents who have previously attended training sessions - this is just one perk of offering trainings in six-session series. The multiple-meeting format not only grows a sense of community within trainings, it also offers participants the chance to ask questions, and make feedback, about their experiences using Efficacy.
But the community work doesn't stop there. "Not only are we doing trainings," says Dr. Christy, "but the organizations our trainers represent have made Efficacy a core practice for their employees. By making it a part of their practices internally, the effect of Efficacy will expand at a much greater rate." The Step Up for Proficiency Campaign is also spreading its message via billboards and banners: The Campaign name will soon be found in terminals and at baggage claim in the Palm Beach airport, on local buses and a commuter rail (with service to Miami), in movie theater previews, and on highway billboards. And don't be surprised if they soon have a Step Up for Proficiency commercial on TV; they've already aired programs on the radio.
Looking for Big Change
"We're really looking to make a paradigm shift," says Ms. Backhus. "We don't want a quick fix; we're looking for systemic change." Efficacy Director of School Services, Barbara Logan, points out that Palm Beach County has done major work to engage all the key players: Teachers, students, and the community. And at every step of the way, Efficacy leaders in Palm Beach County are careful to practice what they preach by using the D/F/S Method to monitor their own progress. "We had a systematic plan," says Dr. Christy. "We really mapped out a system for change - and we're monitoring what we're doing on a regular basis."
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