Mijares: OCDE will help schools across California address students’ academic and behavioral needs

A new state initiative has the potential to have a transformative impact on education in California — and the Orange County Department of Education has been tapped to lead the way.

OCDE was recently awarded $30 million to help schools and districts across the state implement a proven framework of supports to address students’ academic and behavioral needs. That framework is called MTSS, short for Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

desk-of-al-smallIf you haven’t heard of MTSS, you’re not alone. Yet it is becoming increasingly popular among schools and districts looking to identify students who need academic or social support, initiate a response plan, track progress and make improvements over time.

MTSS isn’t a single program or method. Think of it instead as a comprehensive toolkit that relies on staff collaboration and data-driven decision-making to help students both in and out of the classroom. As such, it is being used by schools to boost attendance, prevent dropouts, lower disciplinary rates and improve school climates.

While several states have explored broader MTSS initiatives, California took it a step further in December 2015 by announcing it would accept applications from county offices of education to lead a new project aimed at aligning numerous academic, behavioral and social supports.

That’s where OCDE comes in. Our department, which has placed a premium on college and career readiness and success, produced the winning proposal after teaming up with the Butte County Office of Education and the SWIFT Center at the University of Kansas. Then something even more remarkable happened: The state, which initially awarded OCDE $10 million, invested an additional $20 million to support the full scope of the work we proposed.

This extraordinary investment positions OCDE as the lead agency on what will be known as the California Scale-Up MTSS Statewide Initiative — or SUMS Initiative — which will establish tiers of trainers to help schools and districts scale up MTSS programs. Expect to hear more about our progress in the months ahead.

California has become a trailblazer in the arena of 21st-century learning and addressing the needs of the whole child, and our county has considerable experience leading successful intervention and support strategies.

With the help of our partners, we are well-positioned to build a scalable and sustainable MTSS framework that coordinates fragmented support systems, creates a culture of collaboration among stakeholders and establishes educational environments in which all students succeed.