A county of vastly diverse districts embraces the Matrix to solidify standards implementation efforts, especially in lagging English learners’ progress

Who: Kris Stanga, Senior Director of District Support and Leadership, Santa Cruz County Office of Education

Where: Santa Cruz County’s 10 school districts range from affluent Scotts Valley Unified just north of the city of Santa Cruz to its largest district Pajaro Valley Unified (which includes agricultural Watsonville), where nearly 60 percent of the 20,400 students are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Enrollment: 40,400

English learners: 27%

Socioeconomically Disadvantaged: 45%

Ethnic Breakdown: 56% Hispanic, 0.8% African-American, 1% Asian, 36% white.

Scale and Purpose: assess an existing plan, especially for ELD, with EL students

When it comes to implementing standards, there’s a big leap between toeing the line with compliance and fully adopting a continuous improvement mindset. For Kris Stanga, she saw many of the Santa Cruz County districts leaning toward basic compliance and her role would be as support to get them to that mindset.

She knew she needed to help push districts to be data- and evidence-driven in taking stock of where they are and where they need to go. Backed by research and support from the Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning at WestEd, she found a tool in the Implementation Matrix and used it as a framework to support conversations about standards implementation in the districts.

Specifically, she knew many schools within the district were grappling with implementing English language development (ELD) standards designed to ensure EL students’ needs are met in all California Standards content areas. There were multiple roadblocks to executing plans: some leaders haven’t had time to teach staff the ELD standards; some aren’t driving the process.

“Our Educational Services team wanted to find tools that would allow schools districts to evaluate what they are doing and be able to ask the critical questions when planning for improvement. We used the Matrix as a way for district administrators to evaluate the goals, actions and services in their district Local Control Accountability Plans using the lens of English Learner progress.

“The Matrix makes district leaders focus on the ‘where are we and why?” Stanga says. “We now have the means to conduct meaningful and guided discussions around these issues instead of ‘what do you think’ discussions. And I didn’t have to cobble something together from a dozen different places—it’s all here in one tool.”

Far from a once-only project, standards implementation is a complex, long-haul, continuous improvement process touching everyone in the education food chain and often requiring new systems and supports. The Matrix reflects this reality, focusing on key actions, systems and supports in instructional leadership, challenging standards, quality curriculum and effective assessment.

“It’s good to have the Matrix as a comprehensive tool to guide our work adjusting our systems as needed,” Stanga says. “We did introductory work with the Matrix last spring. As I have pursued my learning in continuous improvement, I am constantly making more connections with this tool. I definitely plan to continue using the Matrix to support the districts in our county.”

The Implementation Matrix is a research-based, customizable tool designed to help educators at all levels of the state’s education system implement the California State Standards with a focus on continuous improvement. Field-tested and informed by educators, the tool gives school and district leaders a straightforward framework to assess where they are in standards implementation and where they want to be, providing all involved a common language for ongoing planning and hands-on work to infuse the California Standards into every classroom to reach every student.