As the new school year kicked off, a major focus was the school turnaround efforts at 13 Renaissance charters and Promise Academies that underwent radical interventions over the summer. Most of the staff were replaced at these schools. Seven schools were turned over to outside charter management organizations.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Ackerman, the mayor, and the governor brought in the year by celebrating the achievements of 158 District schools that met their adequate yearly progress targets. This was an impressive eighth straight year of citywide test score gains.
Across this school district, there is no shortage of remarkable stories of school turnarounds. At the District’s kickoff celebration, a few of these schools were highlighted. For instance, Roosevelt Middle School in Germantown now has three-fourths of its students scoring proficient in reading and math, where just two years ago proficiency rates were in the 20 percent range.
But stories of turnarounds at District- run schools have not been widely told. They may not have even been closely studied.
Understanding and sharing these stories is critical. They show that a diversity of strategies can bring significant change to struggling schools. Getting rid of most of the teaching staff is not the only viable reform approach and may not be the best one. And charter organizations are not the only place to find proactive, transformational leadership.
When the District launched its Renaissance Schools program last winter, there was talk of some schools using an “innovation model” – a reform approach where personnel from within the District could implement home-grown ideas on school transformation. But in evaluating the turnaround provider applications, the District shot down all the proposals to take that path.
There are precious few outside providers with track records of leading successful school overhauls. So this year, as the District plans to tackle a second batch of low-performing schools, it would be prudent to take advantage of the existing expertise of its staff. This will take careful planning. There’s no sense in simply pulling successful leaders out of one needy school to put in another.
We should not go another year without fleshing out the innovation model. There need to be opportunities for school-based teams to contribute their wisdom and energy as the District draws up plans to revitalize more failing schools.