Since September, York City School District teachers have collectively contacted their students' parents more than 30,000 times.

That number represents a "tenfold" increase in phone calls or face-to-face meetings between parents and teachers compared to the previous year, Superintendent Eric Holmes said.

But it's still not enough.

"We would like to have even more than that," Holmes said this week.

While it's been encouraged in the past, this is the first year all district teachers have been required to contact parents — two a day, to be precise — and record those interactions. It's one part of a larger initiative to track the district's progress toward academic success and, ultimately, financial solvency through the implementation of a state-mandated recovery plan.

District administrators, principals and a rotating cast of teachers are regularly visiting classrooms to score teachers and schools on a set of criteria that, they believe, are the key to achieving the big-picture goals.

For example, the district is trying to evaluate "student engagement" in classrooms.

"We didn't just want to see students sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher talk," Holmes said.

Engaged students are working in groups, asking questions and working on projects, for example. Seen through that lens, the district is making great strides, Holmes said.

At the same time, the superintendent said, he would like the level of rigor to increase.

"What we are seeing is kids are actively engaged. We see that teachers are working hard. But what we want them to do is step it up to the next level," he said.

The ongoing evaluations also measure student attendance, the number of student behavioral plans and the number of disciplinary incidents.

Holmes delivered a brief report last week to members of the Community Education Council about what he and other administrators are seeing in classrooms.

"We see growth across the board," Holmes told them. "Not as much as we would like."

That statement, Holmes said, referred primarily to the results of "formative assessments," which are tests students have taken three times so far this year. The tests are designed to indicate students' math and language-arts skills.

Those tests are "not an exact science," but district officials are still aiming for steadily improving scores, Holmes said.

"In some buildings, we're seeing that happen. In other buildings, it's going slower than we thought," he said.

But it's the PSSA tests, which York City students will take in late March, that really matter, Holmes said. The district will get its first look at the scores in July.

Holmes said he remains confident the district will achieve its goals.

"Of course I'm not satisfied with the results. I'd like to see higher test scores. I'd like to see more rigor. I'd like to see more engagement. I'd like to see more phone calls," Holmes said. "But I think things have changed, and I'm hoping that the teachers feel that way. I'm hoping that the parents feel that way."

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.