School Turnaround: It Is Being Done

November 10th, 2010

Category: News

While at the Education Trust’s National Conference in Washington, D.C. last week, I had the opportunity to listen to numerous speakers from around the country engaged in positive reform efforts.  One presentation that struck a chord with me highlighted the incredible work going on in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to turnaround their persistently low-performing campuses.

Ann Clark, CMS’s Chief Academic Officer, outlined their strategy to turnaround their persistently low-performing campuses through their Strategic Staffing Initiative. This initiative was developed based on the recognition that strong campus leadership and highly-effective teaching are the two primary levers for increasing student learning.  Once a campus is chosen (based on low student achievement) to participate in the SSI, CMS hires a principal and places them at the school in March preceding their initial year as principal.  Throughout the spring, the principal assesses the needs of the campus and is given the autonomy to design and implement a plan that addresses these shortcomings  In addition, the principal, based on effectiveness data, can hire five staff members of his/her choosing to help lead improved instructional efforts.  As expected, this coherent, systemic approach to school turnaround is producing tremendous results and garnering national attention.  Of the seven schools chosen in cohort 1:

  • All seven experienced 1-14 point increases in percent proficiency in reading (without retests, which actually increase the results) during their first year;
  • Six schools had 5-23 point increases in percent proficiency in math (without retests) during their first year; and
  • One school dropped in percent proficient in math from the previous year. 

While in the session, I kept coming back to our Partnership Zone schools, which have been given enormous funds to engage in similar efforts.  As Charlotte-Mecklenburg demonstrates, it’s not about adding another program here or a professional development opportunity there; it’s about putting human capital (teachers and leaders) at the center of reforms to increase student learning and building district and school-level systems around that concept.  That, in turn, means putting teacher effectiveness at the heart of district practices (teacher hiring, support, compensation, evaluation, promotion, etc.) and doing everything within the district’s capacity to ensure access to this invaluable resource is spread equally.      

Make no mistake, implementing this type of reform requires difficult changes to the policies and practices that have governed our schools for too long.  However, as Charlotte-Mecklenburg demonstrates, turning around our low-performing campuses is possible, but only if we commit the necessary energy and resources to the endeavor and hold ourselves accountable for results. 

This post is part one of a two part series reflecting on takeaways from this year’s Education Trust’s National Conference.

Brett Turner



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