Tag Archives: school turnaround

Facing a School Turnaround Or Restart? We Have Expert Advice For You.

We say it every year: the summer flew by! That’s certainly how I feel about my summer at Bellwether Education Partners as a Strategic Advising fellow. As I get ready to go back to graduate school, I’m reflecting on my work with a group of school leaders taking on the critical task of school turnaround, who we supported with strategic planning.

This group was eager for guidance from the field, so we put together a panel of amazing leaders experienced in school turnaround: Rebecca Bloch at DSST Public Schools, Mike Kerr at Match Education, and our very own Tresha Ward. Across the three of them, they have more than 40 years of experience working in education.

Here are a few high-level lessons from the panelists for school turnaround leaders:

Build trust from the beginning and listen to the community

To build trust and learn from the community, go on a “listening tour.” This should be one of the first things you do when taking on a new school, with an emphasis on listening rather than asking a long list of questions. As you listen, a few big themes will likely emerge, which will help you develop your strategy and action items. A listening tour will also give you a sense for whether the school has a defined culture. If there’s no clear culture, you are closer to starting from a blank slate, which might be easier than working against the grain. And if there are community must-haves — like access to the school pool on the weekends — figure that out early on.

Figure out the community must-haves, whether that’s a community garden or pool, and maintain those. Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

Know your focus areas Continue reading

Speaking of School Turnaround Stratgies: Do They Work?

In a recent post on my personal blog, I mentioned school turnarounds as a possible parallel to reforms of criminal justice and law enforcement. I wondered if it is possible to overhaul entire systems or institutions or whether new ones need to built in their stead. (My colleague Andy Smarick has strong opinions on this subject.)

Just in time, a blog post from TNTP (a national teacher effectiveness nonprofit and former Bellwether client), highlighted the question of the effectiveness of turnaround strategies. Rasheed Meadows writes:

The fact is that school turnarounds have a rocky history and a mixed track record, but there’s little evidence that milder interventions result in more meaningful changes for schools and kids. And we know for sure that inaction is not an option.

Read the rest of his post here, which includes Meadows’ personal experience leading–and reforming–a low-performing school in Massachusetts.

The question remains: how can reformers of any system–whether educational or carceral–determine whether to scrap an existing model and start from scratch or work to improve what exists?