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A diagnostic review presented to the York City School Board Tuesday by its state-appointed chief recovery officer highlighted the district's strengths and weaknesses and gave immediate recommendations that include a system for consistent and effective communication, aligning the district's central office to support the schools' institutional needs and stabilizing school leadership.

The recommendations from Boston-based Mass Insight's report are based on information gathered from performance data, existing reports and documents, and feedback gathered from interviews, focus groups — there were 27 groups in total, with more than 150 participants — and two separate surveys, with a total of nearly 300 responses.

The district diagnostic was broken down into 10 different domains — including finance, academics, human resources and external affairs — and each category was evaluated for strengths and weaknesses and then given its own set of recommendations.

Key focus: "The primary focus needs to be on the student, the teacher and the content," chief recovery officer Carol Saylor said. "Everything else is on the outside and needs to support those areas."

The report states that the district needs a "set of strategies that support the instructional core," a strategy that emphasizes providing academically demanding content, engaging students and improving teachers' instructional practices.

The district has been working to develop both consistent and challenging curriculum, Saylor said, though before teachers' instructional practices can be improved, they have to make it to their classrooms.

"There's the good, the bad and the ugly of the report," Saylor said.

"The ugly is teacher attendance is down to 88 percent. Our student attendance is better than that."

The percentage dropped from last year's 91 percent.

Finances and academics: The district's per-pupil funding is on par with the Pennsylvania state average and only slightly lower than comparable districts, according to the report. However, the low proficiency and academic scores suggest a need to ensure spending practices focus on student learning.

"The unique thing about financial recovery is that it is filled with one-way doors," Saylor said. "You get into it all through a financial door, but the only way to recover, the only out, is through the academic door."

According to a survey, nearly 80 percent of staff do not believe they have the financial resources to be successful, which seems to be reflected in students' test scores.

While most survey takers and focus groups seemed to believe that high-quality education was taking place in the district, "the test scores just aren't where we need them to be," Saylor said.

Special populations: The report compares the district's special populations with several other recovery districts as well as the entire state.

Of the nearly 6,000 students enrolled in the district, 100 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches, 21 percent are in special education and 26 percent are English-language learners.

"The percentage of students we have in special education is significantly higher than the Pennsylvania numbers," Saylor said, noting the number of English-language learners in the district shows an even larger discrepancy compared to state numbers.

There are 469 students in the district who are both English-language learners and in the special-education program, she said.

Saylor expressed concern for how high the number was and said it would require "more digging."

"We have to be careful that we are not overidentifying special-education students because they don't speak English," she said.

90-day plans: Saylor said she intends to utilize a series of 90-day implementation plans to follow up on the recommendations and findings in the report.

"Mass Insight will continue a short-term relationship with the district and will help with the writing of the revised recovery plan," Saylor said.

Phase one, which has already seen several successes, includes stabilizing school leadership, facilitating cross-school learning, implementing the freshman academy — a resource for students to help them transition into high school which will be open later this month — aligning the central office to better facilitate structural needs and ensuring consistent communication.

Some of the initiatives in later phases include aligning federal and state funding with recovery strategies, publishing an annual report, conducting a technology audit and providing instructional coaching in core subjects.

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.

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