Category Archives: School Leadership

Four Lessons for School Leaders from STEM School Principals

 

By Johannes Rössel [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Career and technical education (CTE) is having something of a moment. An October Brookings report found that media mentions of the term, which commonly refers to programs teaching specific career-oriented and technical skills, have quadrupled in the past four years, and in 2015, 39 states instituted new CTE-related policies, many of which increased program funding.

While researching high-performing CTE programs, I was able to connect with two school leaders: Earl Moore, principal of Highlands, New Jersey’s Marine Academy of Science and Technology (M.A.S.T), and Jeff Brown, principal of Strathmore, California’s Harmony Magnet Academy. Both schools have a STEM focus, and while the institutions have their differences, four shared lessons emerged:

1. Career and technical education isn’t what it used to be — we’ve come a long way

When I think about vocational programs, I immediately visualize my own eighth grade shop class. It was a six week crash course — a literal crash, we hung drywall and then smashed it to patch it — and while I took away some foundational hammering and sanding skills, the background wasn’t connected to my eventual career aspirations.

But that’s not what many of today’s CTE programs look like, and it’s certainly not the case at M.A.S.T. or Harmony. In recent years, Harmony has added a student-run enterprise program, courses in biomedicine, and a summer coding camp targeting young women. Brown spoke to Harmony’s engineering program’s constant innovation cycle: “We’re always pushing the envelope to develop new opportunities for students; we’re constantly working to find a new way to make it more real.” Moore credited his school’s success to its ability to reinvent itself: “M.A.S.T. today is not what it was in 1981…the key to a successful CTE program is the ability to change with the times.”

2. Get you a program that does both — combining an academic core with STEM-centered courses prepares students for high-value jobs after college graduation

Both M.A.S.T. and Harmony pair traditional academic core classes with CTE-specific coursework. Both leaders found integrating a technical curriculum with a college prep foundation to be especially powerful. “Teaching academic subjects through a technical lens provides immediate opportunities for application, and students really learn at a higher level. We can’t be just a school,” says Brown. M.A.S.T. also combines CTE-specific experiences with traditional academies. All students take four years of Math, English, Social Studies, and Naval Science, but they also have the opportunity to learn on a 65-foot research vessel called the “Blue Sea.” In addition, all M.A.S.T. students participate in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

3. Teacher preparation and professional development matter more than ever

Just as CTE has changed over time, how we teach it has changed, too. It’s critical for teacher preparation and development to evolve with the field. Moore links his staff’s ability to prepare M.A.S.T. students appropriately to an increase in ongoing professional development offered at the school and an awareness of the constantly changing skills and knowledge industry leaders are prioritizing, which are reinforced through partnerships with local businesses. “It’s an investment in money and resources,” he says, “but you need to give educators the professional development they need to achieve the goals of the program.”

4. It takes a village — and also local businesses — to get it right

No school is an island — not even a marine sciences academy. Both Brown and Moore underscored the support of local industry and community partners, from college professors to government officials, in developing their curriculum to align with workforce needs. Says Moore, “Vocational schools really need to be in tune with their local businesses.”

Region-specific programs can foster mutually beneficial relationships. Student interns are both learning and contributing to their community.

Researchers found high school CTE participants are more likely to graduate on time and less likely to drop out than students who do not take CTE courses. At the same time, some policy makers voice concerns around equity and access, as well as wide variation in CTE program quality. There’s a lot to unpack, but programs like M.A.S.T. and Harmony show positive student outcomes using hybrid vocational and academic curriculum are possible.

How Can DC Public Schools Keep Its Best Teachers? Give Them Encouragement, Flexibility, and a Chance to Lead.

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week! Time to celebrate and thank teachers across the country. Weeks like this are important, but they are not enough to keep our best teachers in the profession. Retaining great teachers also requires targeted efforts by school districts to make teachers feel supported and engaged. In a new Bellwether analysis, we looked at teacher exit survey data from DC Public Schools (DCPS) to better understand why their best educators leave the district and how to retain them. cover of new Bellwether analysis, "Retaining High Performers: Insights from DC Public Schools’ Teacher Exit Survey"

It turns out, commonly promoted retention strategies such as better pay, more classroom resources, or reforming teacher evaluation aren’t the most promising ways to address the turnover of DCPS’ high-performing teachers. Here are three areas to focus on instead:

  • Work-life balance: For high-performers in DCPS, work-life balance was the top job-related factor in leaving DCPS. But directing all efforts towards decreasing teacher workload might not be the most effective solution. Instead, get creative with scheduling. High performers who left for better work-life balance said more schedule flexibility, especially part-time and extended leave options to spend time with family, would have made them stay.
  • Recognition from school leadership: Of the high-performing teachers who said DCPS could have retained them, 45 percent said more encouragement or support from school leadership would have made the difference. In fact, one in three high-performing teachers who left due to school leadership said they would have liked more recognition and encouragement.
  • Opportunities for teacher leadership: After work-life balance and school leadership, the most common reason highly effective teachers left DCPS was to pursue a leadership opportunity elsewhere. Notably, teachers of color reported more leadership and growth opportunities as the top effort that would have kept them in the district. While most teachers continued working in a traditional public school after leaving DCPS, high-performing teachers who left for a leadership opportunity were more likely to switch to a charter school.

The recent turmoil surrounding DCPS makes retaining teachers as crucial as ever. But the district needs to be strategic in targeting its most effective teachers. And these lessons on teacher retention can also indicate strategies for other urban districts.

Check out the full analysis here.

Alexander Brand was an intern at Bellwether in the spring of 2018.

Two Graphs on Teacher Turnover Rates

I have a new piece up at The 74 this morning arguing that, contrary to popular perception within the education field, we do not have a generic teacher turnover crisis. Why do I say that? Two graphs help illustrate my point.

First, consider this graph from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It shows job openings rates by industry from 2002 to 2017. I’ve added a red arrow pointing to the line for state local government employees who work in education (this group is predominantly public school teachers). As the graph shows, public education has consistently lower job openings rates than all other industries in our economy.

As I write in my piece today, “public schools have much lower rates of job openings, hire rates, quit rates, and voluntary and involuntary separations than every industry except the federal government. Across all these measures, public schools have employee mobility rates that are roughly half the national averages.”

Instead of having some sort of generic turnover problem that applies to all teachers nationally, we actually have problems that are unique to certain schools, districts, and subject areas. To illustrate this point, take a look at the graph below from the annual “Facts and Figures” report from BEST NC. It maps teacher turnover rates by district in North Carolina. Overall, the state has a teacher turnover rate that’s lower than the national average. But some districts have turnover rates about half of the state average, while others are twice as high as the average.

For more, go read the full piece in The 74 for my thoughts on what this means for the education field.

Kids Are Counting On Us: A Q&A With Bellwether’s New Academic Strategy Senior Advisers

Many organizations in the education sector seek our advice to deepen and broaden their impact in service of kids. Since our foundation, Bellwether has worked with CMOs and districts to set strategic priorities and build out detailed plans to accomplish these priorities from an operations, talent, and finance perspective.

headshots for Bill Durbin and Tresha Francis WardWe often get inquiries about whether we can help improve the academic performance of a subset of schools, or all schools in a network or district. We’re happy to announce that we’ve filled this missing piece: In 2017, we brought on Bill Durbin and Tresha Francis Ward as academic strategy senior advisers. In the Q&A below, we talk about their backgrounds and how they help schools drive the kinds of outcomes that all kids deserve.

Tell us a bit about your backgrounds. How will your work and life experiences translate to offering academic strategy advice?

Bill Durbin: Over the past 18 years, I have been a teacher, school founder, and school leader manager at both YES Prep Public Schools in Houston and DSST Public Schools in Denver. Through these experiences, I have developed a deep appreciation for the coordinated effort it takes across a school and network team to run highly effective schools. A school’s success relies on adults aligning around a common vision and executing strategies that are clear and which reinforce that vision for student success.

Whether the school is a public charter school or a traditional public school, teachers and leaders want to work in a place where they know what is expected of them to reach the desired outcomes for kids. I have supported various types of schools in aligning their outcomes, strategies, and practices, and I look forward to doing that even more as we continue to work with schools across the country.      

Tresha Francis Ward: I’m a first-generation college student, born and raised in the Bronx, NY. My own experiences with schools and in college are the primary reason I got into education. I have spent the last 13 years working in, around, and with schools as a teacher, school founder, director, and manager of schools, all serving historically underserved black and brown students. It’s my personal desire to ensure more kids that look like me have access to great schools and educators.

I started my career on the Southeast side of Houston at De Zavala Elementary School as a Teach For America corps member. The neighborhood was 99.9% Latino, so in addition to learning how to teach, I also had to overcome language barriers and find ways to build trust with my students and their families.

After four years of teaching, I was accepted to KIPP’s Fisher Fellowship, where educators found and lead new high-performing KIPP schools. In the fall of 2010, I opened KIPP Legacy Preparatory School on the Northeast side of Houston, serving a different population of students. Being a founding school leader was the most challenging and yet most rewarding thing I have ever done. It took time and a lot of iteration, but I’m proud of the culture we built. It’s a culture that still thrives, where our kids feel loved, cared for, and still held to high expectations in a respectful way.

After several years as a school leader, I joined the KIPP Foundation, where I was responsible for the professional learning of 200+ school leaders and for helping to implement academic initiatives across their campuses. After a few years at the Foundation, I missed being in schools, so I returned to my home city of New York to manage a K-8 turnaround campus in Brooklyn. That experience reiterated the importance of building relationships as a key part of a school’s success.

When I coach school leaders or work with them, I never forget how hard the job is — and I never forget how rewarding it is either.

Can you share a defining “a-ha” moment from your past academic leadership? How does that experience inform you today? Continue reading