Pulling a nonexistent rabbit out of a nonexistent hat

One thing has become remarkably clear over the last few years, school turnaround is not easy. It requires skill, knowledge, gut reactions, supporting policies and conditions, and lots of planning. This last piece is one of the most important, yet is the one that’s missing in most school, district, and state improvement plans right now. It’s the beginning of August, schools open at the end of the month, and in many places the crucial School Improvement Grant dollars have not made their way to schools.

It’s great that states are taking time to develop competitive processes to decide who gets the funding, and that USED is taking the time to review each state’s application, but the idea of a planning year seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

In the school improvement world (either turnaround, restart or new start) it’s widely recognized that a planning year, or at a minimum six months, is integral to a successful year 1. Principals need to be hired, staff evaluated and placed (or replaced as needed), the curriculum and pedagogy needs to be examined, facilities need updates, and a leadership team needs to develop goals, metrics, and the infrastructure to track progress.

Today, EdWeek ran an update of the Shawnee High School transformation. The principal has been working with a team of state mentors for months to develop the turnaround plan, hired new teachers last spring, and is trying to build a new staff culture this summer. Yet, he still feels that there’s too much to get done before the school year starts.

If a school principal that’s been working to develop the turnaround plan since last spring feels that he’s scrambling, how should the principals that haven’t seen any funding or support yet feel? Are the principals even aware of what’s being asked of them? Did they help create the School Improvement Grant application for the school? If year 1 becomes the unofficial planning year, what progress can be expected? What happens to those students who attend these still struggling schools for another year?

Yes, the federal funding is needed and students deserve better (and immediately). But, we also know how difficult this work is and it seems that we’re expecting a principal to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but we’re not providing the principal a rabbit or a hat.

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