The Washington Post recently posted an article describing the work of a small Missouri district (3,000 students) principal who was determined to change the school system to meet the needs of her kids. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but below I note some of the key decisions/actions the district implemented.

  • Superintendent Anderson regularly visits classrooms. While a small district makes this logistically feasible, larger districts could have district office staff visiting classrooms on a more frequent basis. It not only increases teacher accountability, but it connects central office staff to the kids they serve every day (but never see).
  • Inclusion of wraparound support services – including a home for homeless students, food banks for students and their families, access to doctors and dentists, and access to washers/dryers for clean clothes.
  • The district hired back recent graduates who weren’t able to get jobs after graduation.
  • Saturday academies and other programs to catch up off track students are offered.
  • Students can earn an associate’s degree while in high school.
  • The district restored access to music, dance, art and other non-core curricular programs.
  • The budget was balanced, deficit improved, and additional philanthropic funds granted.
  • Teachers use weekly assessments to check for progress.
  • New teaching staff have one semester to one year to team teach with a more experienced staff member.
  • Prospective hires must pass a 10-question quiz, with content two years higher than they’re applying to teach. The article notes that most applicants don’t pass the quiz.
  • The Superintendent believes in the district and its students. She’s willing to do a variety of jobs – including acting as a crossing guard.

One note, while the graduation rate has increased (which is great), the level of college and career readiness should be questioned. (This is an issue that expands far beyond this district.) Graduating high school is definitely an achievement and should be celebrated, but if a student has a diploma and is unprepared for work or college – what value is that diploma?

This is a superintendent willing to change the systems and structures to meet students where they are, who’s willing to push staff to work harder and positively impact students, and is willing to do the heavy lifting when needed. While this type of superintendent is hard to find, she’s created a great road map for others to adapt and bring to their own districts.

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