School Turnarounds
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An Innovative Model for Parent-Teacher Partnerships

Maria Paredes, the Director of Community Education at Creighton School District in Arizona, has developed a new model for parent engagement that is attracting national attention and resulting in positive outcomes in her district.

The model, called the Academic Parent Teacher Team (APTT), replaces the traditional parent-teacher conference with three group meetings throughout the year, where teachers meet at once with all parents in their classroom. Each parent is provided with a folder of their child’s performance indicators. Teachers then provide an in-depth coaching session on how to interpret this data based on overall classroom performance, school benchmarks, and state standards. Parents are provided with strategies and tools to help support learning at home. And together, parents and teachers set goals for their students, individually and as a class.

Paredes began the model as a pilot with 12 participating teachers. Today, 79 classrooms in all nine schools in the Creighton district use the model. Parent attendance for APTT meetings averages 92 percent.

The Department interviewed Paredes to find out more about how APTT can be used as part of a school turnaround strategy.

Collaboration through Professional Learning Communities: Sanger Unified School District

From "Turning Around a High-Poverty School District: Learning from Sanger Unified’s Success," an external evaluation of the district done by Bay Area Research Group

Sanger Unified School District, located in the Central Valley in California, faces many of the challenges associated with educating a high poverty student population. Students come from families who don’t speak much English, or families who haven’t had much experience with education. Seventy six percent of the district is poor, and 82 percent are minority.  Almost a quarter of the students are English Learners.

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Grad Nation Report and School Turnarounds

In case you haven’t heard, America's Promise Alliance released their Building a Grad Nation Report last week. While the report gives us some good news, it also lets us know that we have a long way to go before the US can reclaim its position as number one in the world in terms of educational attainment. In short, too many of our students continue to drop out of high school, and we still have too many “dropout factories” across the country.

The Department of Education is already investing heavily in turning around our lowest performing schools through our School Improvement Grants – and a bulk of this money is going to our high schools. According to our latest data, 730 schools are currently undergoing school turnarounds, and 48 percent of those schools are high schools. This is great news for our high schools, which have historically been underserved by Title 1. The data also shows that our money is being spent where it’s needed most.

Of course, we need great schools at all levels – elementary, middle, and high schools. But we know that secondary schools face unique challenges, and therefore require more complex solutions and supports. Our investment in turning around lowest performing schools is one piece of the puzzle in helping our secondary schools become centers of excellence for all of our students.

School Improvement Grants at Work in Miami-Dade

This entry is cross-posted on the blog.

It’s not every day I get a first-hand look at the transformation that’s taking place in our schools as dedicated school and district leaders undertake the difficult work of turning around the lowest performing schools around the country. But last week, I had the pleasure of visiting three Miami-Dade County Public Schools high schools that have begun this effort. It was a wonderful opportunity to see our School Improvement Grants (SIG) at work on the ground, and I’m excited to share with others some of the great work that is being done by the teams in Miami-Dade County.

School Turnarounds: Sharing Successes

As we get deeper into the school year, OESE in particular is focusing on supporting schools and districts as they implement turnaround models, using our school improvement grants.
I wanted to share this video of a particularly inspiring example of a successful turnaround school: George C. Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama. OESE’s deputy assistant secretary, Dr. Carl Harris, tells me that he shared this very example at a turnaround event held just yesterday in North Carolina. I think it’s really helpful to share success stories with one another, and to create these communities of practice.

School Turnarounds: Learning from Practice and Research

I mentioned how busy it was last week for the Department – it was also a busy week for me personally, as I traveled to California to take part in several conferences and events!

In particular, I had the privilege of attending a conference on school turnarounds, which brought together school, district, and state leaders from Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. The conference focused on sharing research available on school turnarounds, and provided valuable information on how to apply these research-based practices on the ground. This sharing and learning from one another will be critical as states and districts move forward with the important work of turning around low-achieving schools to better serve our students.

Reflections on Successful Schools

As I mentioned in my first post, I recently visited schools and celebrated back to school time out west.

I had the pleasure of visiting a school in Tacoma, Washington – Lincoln High School – on its first day of school. Specifically, I toured the high school’s Lincoln Learning Center program – a small program in its 3rd year that offers its students extended learning time and a strong dose of college-prep support. Any Lincoln High student who wants to be a part of Lincoln Learning Center is accepted into the program, and both Lincoln High and Lincoln Learning Center serve populations that are high minority and high poverty.

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Sousa Middle School (Transformation Model)

Sousa Middle School in Washington, DC has long been considered one of the worst schools in the District – in 2008, only 23 percent of its students were proficient in reading, 17 percent in math. After implementing the Transformation Model in the fall of 2008, reading proficiency at Sousa rose to 39 percent, and math to 42 percent in 2009 -- the biggest achievement gains of any D.C.

AUSL and Chicago Public Schools (Restart Model)

AUS, originally a non-profit organization that focused on teacher training, began its work of turning around low-performing schools with an agreement with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to run Sherman Elementary in 2006.

The Benwood Initiative - Hamilton County Schools (Transformation Model)

In the late 1990s, 9 of Hamilton County’s elementary schools were ranked among the 20 lowest-performing schools in Tennessee. In 2001, the Benwood Foundation and the Public Education Foundation formed a partnership with Hamilton County schools to turn around these schools, and the Benwood Initiative was launched.

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