SWWC Service Cooperative is home to the Southwest Prairie Regional Center of Excellence, an initiative through the Minnesota Department of Education.
Minnesota’s Regional Centers of Excellence deliver a wealth of support and services straight to schools. And it’s working. Centers are staffed by specialists with a full range of expertise, from math and reading to special education, English language development and data analysis.
Every three years, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) releases a list of Priority and Focus schools. Priority schools are the five percent most persistently low-performing Title I schools. Focus schools are the ten percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps. The designations, part of Minnesota’s school accountability system, look at students’ scores on state tests, student academic growth from year to year, reduction in achievement gaps, and graduation rates.
Once designated, Priority and Focus schools must create a plan to increase student achievement, but they don’t have to go it alone. They can get help from Minnesota’s Regional Centers of Excellence. A collaboration between MDE and Minnesota’s Service Cooperatives, there are six Regional Centers, located in Thief River Falls, Mountain Iron, Fergus Falls, St. Cloud, Marshall, and Rochester. In addition to content expertise, center specialists offer an outside perspective on schools’ efforts to increase student achievement. They guide and support staff at Priority, Focus and Continuous Improvement schools through the process of needs assessment, building and strengthening leadership teams, and developing continuous improvement plans.
From 2014 to 2015, center specialists spent nearly 13,000 hours in direct service to 78 schools. As a result, 65 percent of Priority and 63 percent of Focus schools showed improved growth in just one year. In addition, 74 percent of the first cohort of Priority schools show improved student growth from 2011 to 2015, while 56 percent of the first cohort of Focus schools show improved student growth from 2011 to 2015. Nearly 20 percent of schools designated Priority or Focus in 2012 that worked with a Regional Center improved so much that they were recognized as Reward or Celebration-Eligible three years later.
In 2015, the Regional Centers of Excellence was named one of Harvard Ash Center’s Top 25 Innovations in Government.