For National Superintendent of the Year winner Betty Morgan, who pilots the helm of Maryland’s Washington County School District, technology is integral to a school system’s efficiency.
Morgan’s district, whose 22,000 students come from areas ranging from urban cities to rural Appalachian communities, is considered an example of excellence for other districts to follow.
Forty-one percent of the district’s school-age population qualifies for the federal lunch program. Yet Morgan—who is in her ninth year as superintendent of Washington County—has been able to increase the district’s graduation rate and reduce its dropout rate through the development of a student-focused strategic plan.
Under her direction, test scores have steadily increased each year, particularly for minority and poverty groups, and the school system has achieved Adequate Yearly Progress in all schools and in all areas. In recent years, the district started one of the state’s few International Baccalaureate programs and spread magnet programs to all school levels.
In interviews with eSchool News, Morgan credited her district’s use of software from Florida-based Performance Matters for helping school leaders track student progress toward academic goals. She also talked about the key factors in being a successful superintendent, one of which is empowering people to work toward a common vision for helping students.
“I wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for the incredible work that teachers and support staff and administrators have done in Washington County—and I include the business community and parents [as well], because all of those support networks have helped us do our good work,” she said.
“Good superintendents are folks who understand people, who have emotional intelligence, who can put people in the right jobs so they can be maximized,” she continued. “Good superintendents also are able to bring people together. I think that’s a very key factor, because there’s a strength in numbers … when you can bring people together to all put their minds and their efforts toward a problem, or to create a program.”
According to Morgan, a large part of the district’s success can be credited to the implementation of a district-wide data management system in January 2004.
“We’re a district that believes in formative assessments for our students,” she said. “We believe that teachers need information about where their students have come from curriculum-wise, and where they are now, in order to do the best job they can. Six years ago, our district put out a bid to vendors, seeking a comprehensive data management system.”
After narrowing the list to about four or five contenders, Morgan said, one company really stood out: Performance Matters.
“We received bids from major companies like IBM, but all they wanted to offer us was an off-the-shelf program that would have cost us if we wanted even a simple customization,” she said. “Performance Matters said they wanted to hear our needs and goals for the district, and then build around those needs and goals. This is what we were looking for.”
Performance Matters, which provides web-based data management systems for some 50 school districts across the United States, offers four staple products: (1) High Stakes Edition, which includes dashboards and reports to analyze state test performance; (2) Progress Monitoring Edition, which allows for analysis of district and classroom assessments to monitor learning and differentiate instruction; (3) Accountability Edition, which blends analysis of high-stakes test results with current local assessments; and (4) Enterprise Edition, which can correlate and analyze all student performance data from multiple sources.
“We wanted to drive student proficiency and classroom efficiency with data-driven decision making, and Performance Matters provided this to us with an easy-to-use format for teachers and administrators,” Morgan said.
She added: “There are many detailed analyses that can be done, but many simple ones, too, such as: How many students are [special-needs students], and what are their reading levels?—basic information that every teachers needs to do their best job.”
For Morgan, a data management system isn’t just an add-on technology—it’s an integral step in maintaining efficiency and success.
“I always ask this question to people: If you were told that a brain surgeon was going to operate on your brain, only he or she hadn’t seen any brain scan or had [no] information about your condition or prior medical history, would you want that operation?” she said. “The answer is always no, and that’s the way it is with a well-functioning data management system. You need one to function and do a good job.”
Morgan also discussed how data management systems are becoming a part of everyday life, and not just in education.
“The other day I was in a clothing store and was using a coupon. Once the coupon was scanned, the sales woman asked me how I like my recent purchase of my jacket last week, and based on my other purchases, [she] gave me a list of other items I might like. Data management systems are everywhere, they’re a part of any successful business—and schools are no different.”
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