New York State School Boards Association

Innovation and collaboration pays off for Nassau BOCES

by Susan Bergtraum

On Board Online • November 28, 2011

By Susan Bergtraum
Area 11 Director

Everyone says public education has to improve, but how? Several initiatives by Nassau BOCES show how innovation and collaboration can help us do what seems so elusive – delivering better educational services, improving efficiency and sometimes even saving money.

Nassau BOCES has had a good experience with a pilot project that initially involved using a computer adaptive in seven Nassau County school districts. The aim of the pilot was to assess the ease of administering the test, created by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), as well as the quality of the information obtained and the efficacy of districts’ use of the information.

One superintendent involved in the pilot gave this assessment: “The NWEA has quickly proven to be an invaluable instructional tool for several reasons. First, it provides virtually instant results to students, parents and teachers. Second, it’s an adaptive assessment and, moreover, one without a floor or ceiling so it provides and equally accurate assessment of achievement for students across a full spectrum of achievement. Third, it has a vertical scale so growth can be measured accurately from one year to the next (a scale which has not changed over 30 years and one which is not subject to change by educational authorities for any purpose). Fourth, it provides a great deal of very specific information to teachers about what students are capable of doing which allows them to organize and tailor instruction to be as efficient and effective as possible.”

Now 19 Nassau County school districts are using the NWEA test. The Nassau BOCES has scheduled an information session for new districts interested in learning more about NWEA. Of particular interest to some districts is the fact that the NWEA instrument can be used as part of the annual professional performance review process.

In addition, Nassau BOCES (along with co-sponsor NWEA) is sponsoring a workshop for districts entitled “Comprehensive Assessment Planning Process” that is designed to bring together school district assessment teams to:

  • Collaborate and identify shared values regarding assessments.
  • Articulate the purpose of assessments.
  • Discover gaps and redundancies in current assessment systems.
  • Clarify district priorities and define academic targets.
  • Identify and coordinate resources and needs.
  • Determine how progress toward goals can be measured.
  • Create an individualized assessment plan that can increase value and improve results for each participating district.

This collaboration is just one way Nassau BOCES is working with its component districts to help meet their needs regarding new standards and assessments. Eight districts are bringing a team to the workshop.

To assist districts in collecting and assessing information, Nassau BOCES has offered a data warehouse service to its component districts. The service provides comparative information and reports using the data collected from New York State assessments, some publishers’ tests and No Child Left Behind accountability.

School districts can use this information to analyze weaknesses in curriculum and track trends overtime. The data can then be used to inform professional development opportunities and enhance decisions regarding teaching and learning to increase student achievement. Nassau BOCES plans to expand the data warehouse to incorporate new local assessments used by the component districts so that all data is housed in one repository.

Another initiative that has reached new milestones was funded by the New York State Department of State through a 21st Century Demonstration Grant-School and Municipal Initiative awarded in July 2001. The initiative was a collaboration between the Nassau BOCES and its component districts and Nassau County. It has since expanded to include local municipalities as well. The aim of the grant was to help promote major service sharing of non-instructional services between and among Nassau BOCES, school districts and Nassau County. As we proceeded, four areas of promising savings were identified. They were, and continue to be information technology (IT) /telecommunications, internal audit, purchasing and transportation.

The objectives for IT and telecommunications were to cooperatively bid for IT/telecommunications services and create “NassauNet” over the next five years. NassauNet is predicted to include the 56 school districts in Nassau County as well as the county government and municipalities, where possible. Thus far savings have been as follows:

  •  Cellular initiative: $160,000 annually.
  • NassauNet: initial savings $60,000 for two districts.
  • Fiber conversion: $50,000 annually.
  • Phone line redundancy removal: $240,000.

The working group on internal audit services prepared and released an RFP for firms to provide internal audit services. The aim was to enhance best practices and increase cooperation between external and internal auditors as well as achieve savings.

Nine vendors responded. Districts that took advantage of the RFP saved an aggregate of $53,000, or estimated 30 percent savings over last year’s cost.

The purchasing subcommittee concentrated on leveraging the collective buying power of Nassau school districts, the Nassau BOCES, Nassau County and other municipalities. They put out an RFP for Building Condition Survey and Annual Visual Inspection Services (RESCUE). Twenty-five school districts and BOCES participated with an estimated collective savings of $400,000. Cooperative energy purchasing of natural gas resulted in $2.9 million in savings for the Nassau BOCES, Nassau County and six school districts. It is projected that others will join this purchasing opportunity in the future.

An RFP for GASB45 services was issued with savings under review.

In the future, the subcommittee may investigate other cooperative purchasing opportunities including other forms of energy, selected commodities, shared fuel facilities, equipment sharing and school supplies, text books and their distribution. In addition Nassau and Suffolk counties formed the Long Island Purchasing Consortium which is structured to allow school districts to participate.

The transportation subcommittee coordinated a countywide out-of-district transportation bid which created more efficient routing and lowered costs for twenty eight school districts. They worked directly with SED to remove barriers for additional cost savings. The first year savings is estimated to be $200,000.

As the grant draws to a close, the subcommittees have determined that they will continue their work. The benefits realized both financially and collegially are well worth the effort.

The next steps will be to fully implement current initiatives, expand participation and identify new shared service opportunities that will increase efficiency and conserve financial resources.

It is the aim of Nassau BOCES, and all BOCES across the state, to help their component districts access services that will increase student achievement and leverage resources. We need to share our experiences and successes to better serve our students. These initiatives are models, we hope, that can help others.

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