Serving more than 21,000 students, Iredell-Statesville Schools (I-SS) in North Carolina ranks among the 20 largest school districts in the Tar Heel State. The district serves 36 schools in Iredell County — a diverse blend of urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods — 40 miles north of Charlotte. Four years ago, the district faced a dilemma: While it ranked in the top 10 percent of North Carolina districts in academic performance, it needed to increase teacher effectiveness and boost the academic achievement of its high-needs students, English learners, and students with disabilities. And while district leaders had a plan to achieve this ambitious goal, the annual I-SS budget resided in the basement of the state’s 212 districts, in the bottom five percent.
The plan to achieve their North Star goal of equity in student achievement was aptly called COMPASS — Collaborative Organizational Model to Promote Aligned Support Structures — with the route to success predicated on targeted professional development that focuses on use of data, curricular improvements, and instructional approaches to identify where students are struggling and address their individual academic needs. I-SS teachers would be equipped with the tools to ensure that all of their students are on track to achieve their learning goals. Integral to this approach is the alignment of the school’s support structures for teachers and deepening existing professional learning communities where educators collaborate, analyze student performance data, and share best practices.
In 2010, I-SS entered their COMPASS plan in OII’s Investing in Innovation (i3) competition and received a $4.99 million Development grant, setting them on a multi-year journey that would begin with bolstered professional development, followed by piloting the new approach in several schools, and eventually result in district-wide implementation.