Turning around the nation’s lowest-performing schools is a top nationwide priority. Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, has stated that this is “part of our overall strategy for dramatically reducing the drop-out rate, improving high school graduation rates and increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace.”
To some, turning around a district just means implementing pedagogical coaches for teachers, extending the school day and school year for students, implementing intensive summer sessions, and extending English block periods. But implementing interventions that produce significant gains in achievement, and readies the schools and district for the long process of transformation into highly achieving units, takes more effort.
A few district success stories have started to surface in recent years.
For example the Kansas City, Missouri school district has received national recognition for the changes Superintendent Dr. Covington has spearheaded. While it was widely reported that Kansas City closed half of its schools and balanced its budget, the full story is much more nuanced. As columnist George Will described, Dr. Covington's vision is to "blur, even erase, the distinctions between grades K through 12, teaching individual children at whatever level they are learning." One result is that the percentage of graduates going on to college has increased from 37% to 61% in the two years since Dr. Covington's team took over.
The Greenfield, Massachusetts school system has also been transformed since 2008. In her own words, this is what the new Superintendent, Susan Hollins, faced when she started on July 1, 2008:
On July 1st, there was no K-12 principal (all had resigned). There was no business manager. There was no curriculum and grants coordinator (resigned) and the special education administrator was leaving in a few days. Sixty-one teachers had been pink-slipped (and there was no completely accurate list, not that it mattered right then). Two schools with award-winning programs had been closed (and the parents and faculty were, of course, grieving and outraged that this could have happened without notice). The entire configuration of the school district had changed with grades moving here and there, decisions made quickly with good intentions to try to accommodate the city’s limited financial allocation for the next year. These reconfiguration decisions made the system more chaotic. There was no approved budget or even plan, really, just a sum of money to run the schools that following year (voted by the city council) but no plan how this would work with 2-3 million less than what the out-going superintendent had requested ($17+ million vs. $14.6 million).
Today, Greenfield prides itself for excellent educational programs, highly qualified staff, 22 varsity sports, outstanding art and music programs, accelerated learning programs with virtual and college level courses, and a forward moving administrative team. Greenfield has been recognized as a leader of innovation in Massachusetts. This transformation occurred through vision, teamwork, and professional development.
In addition to strong leadership, vision, and professional development, another key to successful school turn-around efforts can be the inclusion of a robust early childhood program. The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) position statement on School Readiness includes this verbiage, “Early intervention efforts support children who may be at risk for later school failure.” Schools who want to be successful continue to put additional focus on their early learners.
Odessa Davis, Director of Professional Development Standards, of the not-for-profit Impact NJ points out:
With the increasing curriculum demands at the kindergarten level, it is imperative that preK children develop skills that will ensure that they are school ready. As schools add preK programs, their success depends upon administration and teachers understanding how effective early childhood education differs from the education of older children. The concepts of developmentally appropriate practices, the education of the whole child (parents/guardians included) and the importance of child development in their teaching approach are all critical to program success.
The School Improvement Innovation Summit , July 11-13, will offer vast insight, from leaders with first-hand experience in school transformation and successful early childhood programs, on how districts are moving from failure to success.
You will hear from the following school leaders and early childhood education experts:
Dr. Covington, Superintendent of Kansas City and Dr. Mary Esselman, Executive Director/Assessment at Kansas City will headline a general session titled, “Transforming an Entire District.” They will detail their successful reform plan that dramatically improved the Kansas City, Missouri School District, bringing them national recognition. Dr. Covington received the Public Administrator of the Year award from the greater Kansas City chapter of the American Society of Public Administration last May recognizing his outstanding results at KSMCD.
“We need a metamorphosis of education—from the cocoon a butterfly should emerge. Improvement does not give us a butterfly only a faster caterpillar,” said Dr. Covington in the groundbreaking work Systemic Change: Touchstones for the Future School (Banathy, B.H., 1996, ed. P. Jenlink).
Susan Hollins, Superintendent of Greenfield Massachusetts Schools, will present on how Greenfield was transformed from the most troubled system in the state to the most recognized district for innovation in just 24 months. She will speak on the impact that Personalized Learning, Teacher Leadership, Technology Initiatives, Data-based Learning, Whole School Innovation and Professional Development had on these results.
Odessa Davis, Director of Professional Development Standards, Impact NJ, will discuss the critical need for quality early learning initiatives in all districts. To perform in today’s K-12 schools, young children must be school ready. She will provide practical insight on integrating best-practice teaching strategies, personalized learning and curriculum objectives to meet each child’s individual developmental level.
School Improvement Innovation Summit
PD 360 User Conference
July 11-13, 2011
Hilton Salt Lake City Center in Salt Lake, Utah