Education for Every Child: The Tacoma Whole Child Initiative

Wouldn’t it be great if every single child could succeed in school? What if every child could perform at grade level, regardless of their socio-economic background, ethnicity, or risk factors? Can it be done with education reform? That’s the vision of educators in the Tacoma Public School District (TPS) and researchers at the University of Washington, Tacoma who are rolling out an eight-year plan called the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative (TWCI).

IRIS_June02_03-035The “whole child” describes a student who is both academically successful and socially strong. The Initiative intends to create a whole child out of every student.

Educators and researchers have created the TWCI as a roadmap for transforming Tacoma’s schools. The Initiative would implement best practices and data-driven decision making as well as new benchmarks and social learning programs. TPS also intends to implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in all of their schools. This will create school climates that support academic success.

The initiative proposes to reach four goals:

1)      Academic excellence

2)      Partnerships (with parents, community and staff)

3)      Early learning (pre-K through third grade)

4)      Safety

How does the Initiative plan to reach these goals? The TWCI has an approach that links practices (interventions, strategies and professional development), data (to assess status and effects of interventions), and systems (organizational support) with outcomes (academic and behavioral performance measures). From a presentation on the TWCI: “To transform TPS and help to meet the three goals established by TPS’s Board, we will link data, systems, and practices to achieve the desired performance outcomes, namely the creation of whole children who perform at grade level academically and behaviorally by the end of third grade. Linking data, systems, and practices will also lead to improved staff outcomes and better decision-making for continuous improvement.”

IRIS_Padres_Preparados-014The Initiative begins with building readiness by creating leadership teams and benchmark data and systems that will be used throughout the eight-year implementation. In years two and three, schools will focus on school climate and safe learning environments by implementing PBIS. In years four and five, academic achievement data will be collected in the areas of reading, writing and math. In years six and seven, the full implementation of data and systems will be in place. By the end of eight years, there will be multi-level interventions, and the data gathering and the entire system will be sustainable in the long-term.

Researchers from the University of Washington are involved in the Initiative. They have a new data gathering system called the UWT Implementation Dashboard that helps teachers and administrators collect and use RTI data about their students so they can see which students need more interventions and where improvements in the schools need to be made.

Listen - pay attention2In the United States, it is the intention of our public school system to give every child an education. But there are students who fall through the cracks. Research shows that children who are not able to perform at grade level by the end of third grade will have a hard time catching up. These students can also have behavior problems, which can lead to school suspensions and dropping out of high school. It makes sense to give every child a good early education as the foundation for a better life and to hold schools accountable for doing so. It will be interesting to find out what happens in Tacoma with this initiative, and we’ll check back in with them in a later post.

This article was written with the help of a presentation from TWCI written by Kubista, Traufler, and Garcia of Tacoma Public Schools and Hagerty and Benner of the University of Washington, Tacoma.

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