Site visits are a site-level structured dialogue that takes a snapshot of the program through reflections on progress and challenges, celebrations of what is working well, and a look forward at plans for continuous improvement in the coming academic years.
A site visit should take place annually; new and struggling programs have at least one additional visit per year. Schools that are in Program Improvement (PI) may need additional guidance and encouragement to leverage after school programs to increase academic achievement.
The visits are held throughout the school year so that data from the entire year can be reviewed, looking for strengths and weaknesses in the program.
The Region 8 Team has found that site visits become more productive when users start to see the site visit activities as a tool to be used in conjunction with other layers of continuous quality improvement, articulated in a well-crafted Program Plan.
The following people should be required to take part in the site visits: principals, program directors, academic liaisons, site coordinators, representatives from expanded learning program staff, and community-based organizations and contracted agencies, such as the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA. Site visits are scheduled through the Local Educational Agency (LEA) program director.
These decision-makers are in positions of authority, and must be present so that program changes can be made, if needed, to engage the program in the cycle of continuous quality improvement. It is also imperative that every principal participates in site visits; if the principal is not present, there is no dialogue. As a result, site visits are often dictated by the schedule of the principal.
A site visit includes three components: a strategic conversation, program observation, and a site visit follow-up.
A) Strategic conversation
This 45-minute meeting begins with a discussion around the completed Site Visit Form, led by a Region 8 Team member.
A critical role of the Region 8 Team is the translation of new terms and jargon so all can participate; it’s important to be sure that everyone in the room understands and follows the conversation.
Another important concept is that there is always room for growth via the cycle of continuous quality improvement, as established by the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning. It is important that every program continues to move forward, review what is and isn’t working, and try new ideas to meet the needs of students at each individual site.
The strategic conversation is a catalyst for an ongoing dialogue that provides a place to discuss future program ideas and review best practices from the site and at other programs around the region.
B) Program Observation
In addition to the Strategic Conversation meeting, a site visit includes seeing the program at in action; this 30-minute portion of the site visit is referred to as the Program Observation. Not all of the participants in the conversation will be able to participate in the walk-through. Often just the principal, site director, and academic liaison will accompany a member of the Region 8 Team during the observation.
This visit gives the team and the site staff a chance to see the program through new eyes. It’s important to refer back to the Site Visit Form and the comments made during the Strategic Conversation.
C) Site Visit Follow-Up – Region 8 Team
The site visit follow-up portion of the site visit form is to be completed by the Region 8 Team member following the strategic conversation and program observation, and should be sent to the program director, district administrator, and site coordinator within one week of the initial site visit.
The follow-up documentation includes discussion highlights, student activities, and program strengths and weaknesses, as discussed in the strategic conversation. The final technical assistance component allows for the Region 8 Team member to address immediate concerns, which are to be remedied as soon as possible and usually refer to safety or attendance issues. Recommendations for continuous quality improvement are also given to the program director to lead the program to long-term success.