Turnarounds Can’t Happen by Themselves

A recent EdWeek blog discusses school turnaround at a very high level, and while the author acknowledges the importance of a school principal (which I completely agree with), he misses the importance of strong and committed district leaders. Until we link school turnaround with district turnaround, we cannot expect schools to make sustainable gains.

High Performing High Poverty (HPHP) schools do exist across the country and most do share those 4 characteristics (amongst others). We’re starting to see the results of schools entering year 3 of the revised federal SIG program and we can only hope that those schools will continue to make gains as they exit SIG and/or Priority School status.

That said, the piece that’s missing here is need for political will at the district level. Schools will not maintain (and continue) their turnarounds without building school AND DISTRICT capacity. Districts must be part of the solution and must shelter turnaround schools until they are fully turned around and self-sufficient (this requires more than 3 years).

Time and time again, I have seen schools with strong principals and teachers succeed IN SPITE of the district. In order to make the systemic changes that are so needed, district administrators must lift constraints and empower the school staff to lead the turnaround process. Once a school turns around, the district must also build a succession plan for that school’s leadership: don’t simply pull a great turnaround principal out, without first transitioning a strong AP into the principalship; don’t pull all the newly trained teachers into other district schools; and don’t eliminate all supports at once.

There must be a strategic phase out process at both the school and district levels and this desire for sustainability must come from the district’s leadership (superintendent AND the school board).


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