Archive for March, 2011

Dance of the principal lemons

Removing the principal of a persistently low-performing school is one of the steps required in most federally funded school improvement efforts. The “new” principal should have the skills and personality to lead a drastic improvement and to create a sustainable environment for continued improvement, after the federal funds are removed. As discussed in a recent EdWeek article, Ousted Principals Quickly Find New Education Jobs, many schools and districts have been able to shift people around to meet the federal requirements, while not making some of the tough decisions that are needed for the best interest of students, i.e. removing an underperforming principal from school administration.

Some principals (like some teachers) may need to leave the profession altogether, but others simply need to work in a different environment. They might be great principals in a new school, but they cannot meet the extreme needs and changes required in a persistently low-performing school. In such cases, these principals could be placed within another school in the district and thrive.

Too often, these principals, who were not effective in a low-performing school, receive positions in another low-performing or struggling school, and sometimes they’re even hired as a district’s “turnaround officer.” He or she has shown that he/she does not have the skills, knowledge, and/or temperament to lead a turnaround, and simply moving that person to a position with more authority is not effective. This dance of the lemons hurts the children in these schools, harms the teachers who need strong instructional and administrative leaders, and adversely impacts the profession as a whole.

Schools and districts struggle to find appropriate turnaround principals to replace the removed staff, and this is especially apparent in rural areas. Leading a school turnaround (or the federal transformation model) is not easy work and it takes a special person, or team, to do it well. There are a number of principal training programs that are being used to build stronger capacity within schools and districts (UVA’s School Turnaround Specialist Program is one such program) and some districts and states are building their own “Grow your Own” turnaround principal training programs. Other states and districts are using external consultants or Lead Turnaround Partners to supplement the local staff and to guide the school and district through the many requirements of the various federal improvement models. Only consultants & lead partners that have experience in transforming schools and knowledge of a persistently low-performing school should be hired.

There are not any easy answers for how to implement successful school improvement efforts, but it is clear that simply moving around staff who don’t have the skills or personalities to do this challenging work will not help the situation. Superintendents and school boards need to make the tough decisions and that may require removing staff from both a school building, and more challenging, the district.

State Education Agencies also play a role here, and they must ensure that the School Improvement Grants are used effectively. This oversight role includes paying attention to who is leading the improvement efforts both at the school and within the district, and possibly not granting 2011-12 SIG funds to schools or divisions who have found and taken advantage of such loopholes.

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New Report: SIG Promising Practices from Oklahoma

Today, the Center on Innovation & Accountability released a promising practice case study, prepared by Corbett Education Consulting, that highlights how a strong statewide system of support can provide focus and sustainability to a state’s School Improvement Grant program.

Situating School Improvement Grants within a Coherent System of Support

Oklahoma developed a strong foundation for school improvement efforts over the last several years. The influx of 2010-11 federal School Improvement Grant dollars allowed the state’s Turnaround Office to increase the intensity and enhance the services and supports provided to the schools and districts with the greatest needs.

Oklahoma’s statewide system of support has evolved over the years and now includes the following key components:

Classification of schools into three tiers based on state assessments; „

Differentiation of supports based on classification and diagnosis of practices relative to the Oklahoma Nine Essential Elements and their 90 indicators;

„• External expertise from School Support Teams that guide schools in improvement status to bring their operations into alignment with the standards of practice;

• School improvement planning process based on the Oklahoma Nine Essential Elements, including 90 indicators, and facilitated by the web-based WISE Tool; and

What Works in Oklahoma institutes and publications derived from ongoing research on the Oklahoma Nine Essential Elements and their indicators by Marzano and Associates.

As additional promising practices, related to the School Improvement Grant program, emerge over the upcoming months, those strategies can be gathered, codified, and shared with other states and districts.

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When the arts really do matter

Students thrive with a well-rounded curriculum, yet art-related teachers and classes are often the first to go in a school with a tight budget or for students who require extra time in the core content areas. Talented teachers figure out how to include music, drama and art into the daily reading, science, or math curriculum, and it can make lessons much more engaging and meaningful.

As a recent report (via EdWeek) highlighted, many schools struggle to keep their art teachers on staff (and sometimes understandably so, as it is difficult to justify removing an English teacher), but I was recently reminded of how important the arts are to education, especially for students in a high poverty school. I caught the tail-end of the Oscar’s this weekend, and after watching PS22 from Staten Island, NY perform Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I had to learn more about the school and the kids.

More than 70% of PS22’s students qualify for full or partial lunch assistance and the school is middle-of-the-pack performance-wise for NYC elementary schools. (Read more about the recent history of the chorus in a NY Magazine article. Also, on a side note: I’d be interested to see how their student performance changed since the launch of the chorus.)

PS22 is not an arts magnet school, it’s not a charter school, it’s a traditional New York City public school that happens to employ a committed and talented music teacher, Mr. B (Gregg Breinberg).

Mr. B started posting videos of the chorus on You Tube and thanks to a few high-profile fans, including Perez Hilton, the school flew into the public eye. Since being “discovered” famous recording artists and university acapella groups frequently visit the school to meet and sing with the chorus and the students have performed at concerts and events across the country.

All of their songs are amazing and some are downright moving. See their version of I’ll Stand by You by The Pretenders or John Lennon’s Imagine (in combination with Ithacappella).

Giving the students a reason to come to school; to want to do excel at school; to attend college (and keep singing during college); to expose the students to new people, places and experiences; to create an environment where being part of a chorus is a privilege and judgement free; to support the students unconditionally; to create a culture of pride for the rest of the school; and most importantly, to allow students the opportunity to find passion combine to create a compelling argument for why arts are necessary in the schools and why we need more teachers who recognize, commit to, and cultivate young talent.

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