Among the agency's best kept secrets, Minnesota’s Regional Centers of Excellence (RCEs) were established in February of 2012. Located in Thief River Falls, St. Cloud, and Rochester, the centers provide statewide support to all Focus and Priority schools in Minnesota.
The three locations are led by a center director and staffed by specialists in the areas of reading, math, special education, English language development (ELD), implementation and data analysis. A specialist in assessment and specialist in working with charter schools are also part of the team.
Each of the content specialists fills a dual role. In addition to providing expertise in their respective subject areas, they serve as a school advocate for an assigned group of approximately four schools. Each provides support to school leadership teams in the areas of: continuous improvement, communication planning, professional learning communities (PLCs), equity, standards implementation and school culture.
The school advocates meet regularly with the school principal and implementation leadership team, helping them implement research-based practices designed to increase the quality of instruction and improve student success. Using a common set of rubrics, the school advocates engage in coaching conversations and help school staff examine data, identify goals, monitor implementation, and determine effective interventions. Using the rubrics consistently helps ensure a selected initiative is being implemented as planned and helps identify if adjustments to the plan are needed.
The RCE staff meets weekly with the center director to review the progress and challenges of assigned schools. The reviews are solution-focused, problem solving sessions. When a need for a specific content expertise is needed, such as reading or ELD, the RCE staff member with that expertise assists the assigned school advocate in providing professional development to support the school in need.
In addition, Minnesota Department of Education staff meet regularly with center directors to ensure the centers' have what they need to provide the necessary statewide support to each focus and priority school -- as well as to identify professional development needs.
Regional center employees also use a database known as CESTAR (Center of Excellence Staff Time, Activity, and Resources) to record details of their school visits. The tool enables RCE and MDE administrators to effectively monitor the work underway, including time spent in various schools, mileage, and types of support being offered. The data not only informs the daily operations of the centers, it also provides the program evaluator with the information needed to measure the impact of the program.
The centers' staff members are the true secret to the success of the RCEs however. Armed with subject area expertise, a can-do attitude, detailed protocols, systems-level practice and bolstered by quarterly professional development, the CESTAR tool and rubrics defining best practice, they are tirelessly and successfully assisting schools improve outcomes for students.
By fall of 2013, seventeen schools previously identified as Priority schools and 10 schools previously designated as Focus schools came off the list, due to their substantial progress in raising achievement for all students and reducing achievement gaps. Seventy-eight percent of Priority schools demonstrated improvement, many by more than 20 percentage points on the MMR. Similarly, 71 percent of Focus schools demonstrated growth on the Focus Rating from the previous year.
Based on the results, Governor Dayton and the Legislature invested $2 million to expand the state’s Regional Centers for Excellence from three to six. The three new locations are—Marshall, Fergus Falls and Mountain Iron—putting support in reasonable proximity to every school in the state!
Unlike the original centers, which are funded by federal dollars, the new Regional Centers of Excellence will assist all interested schools and districts (not just priority and focus schools) in implementing programs that close the achievement gap, increase graduation rates, and increase students’ progress and growth toward career and college readiness.
Visit the Regional Centers of Excellence web page on the MDE website to learn more.