Posts tagged ‘school turnaround’

Engaging the School Community in the Project Management Approach to School Improvement

When major change is needed that minimizes disruption to ongoing operations, project managers from the engineering world can help. Theirs is the world of overcoming obstacles while managing time, costs, and interdependencies to achieve desired outcomes. So, how do you achieve engineering efficiency while educating children? Warm fuzzies, please…

Seismic shifts in education are destabilizing the industry, dislodging the embedded power structures, and creating conditions ripe for change. What changes are to be achieved and how they happen seem to be subject to debate. Nevertheless, the path to the future needs to be crafted with vision, ruthless commitment to deliverables, and equal devotion to personal dignity in the process.

Project management is a formalized approach to problem-solving that begins with the usual steps of analyzing the situation, identifying the problems, considering the possible solutions, and choosing the best responses. However, it takes the added step of intending every stage in the implementation of the solution. Project managers analyze the ongoing operations and the changes to be made, understanding linear dependencies, parallel functions, and overlaps between the two. The process of change is mapped out based on achievement of deliverables along a timeline using available resources under necessary constraints. Time, money, and manpower are limited, but so is the organization’s tolerance for disruption. Benchmarks for success are designed into the process to ensure successful completion.

Specialized project management developed out of the need for precision in engineering; however, it also serves the function of preserving the “business as usual” path as much as possible to normalize the function of the entity that is undergoing change. Nowhere is that more important than in a human services organization such as a school. So, how do we manage the intersection of project managers, teachers, and children?

With support from the District, school leaders need to address each of the following with staff, parents, and community partners…

  • Vision: the future that is now – compelling reasons for the process
  • Beneficiaries: the outcomes for stakeholders
  • Change agents: the people who will manage the project
  • Project outline: the timeline and key benchmarks
  • Stakeholder contributions: what is needed from the staff and school community
  • Seamless transitions: how the staff and children will be shielded from unnecessary disruptions
  • Fall-out shelters: process for seeking remedy with inconvenience
  • Adoption: staff, community buy-in
  • Exit strategies: options for those choosing not to be part of the future vision

Throughout the process, the security needs of the participants must be addressed explicitly. Change is difficult and met with trepidation almost universally. Issues such as control over ones classroom and job security are crucial for teacher cooperation. Quality assurance for the children and their education remains a current imperative. Access to leadership and preservation of voice in the change process are essential for all stakeholders. And, btw, this is probably not a good time to fire half the staff.

August 1, 2012 at 8:14 AM 1 comment

The Lawrence, MA Situation

The Mayor of Lawrence, MA has invited the Commonwealth to take over the city’s school system. Chronic failure within schools was complicated by the indictment of the Superintendent almost two years ago. Despite local turnaround efforts, the system has only gotten worse. The good news? Renewal through external oversight offers an opportunity to get reform ideas out of the incubator and into practice.

State takeover of the Lawrence Public Schools sounds like a big-budget, centralized administrative challenge modeled, perhaps, after the takeover of the Chelsea schools by academics a couple of decades ago. On the other hand, why not go for a decentralized model with the big bucks going straight to the schools and a high-powered leadership team?

Suppose every school in Lawrence had…

  • Leadership by a team consisting of a general manager with private turnaround experience, an instructional leader from within education, and a community outreach liaison.
  • Weighted-average funding of students directly to decentralized school budgets with a small percentage paid back to the district to support overhead.
  • Aggressive goal setting for student achievement with whole-school incentive pay for turnaround results
  • Data support to measure student performance, longitudinal progress toward grade level proficiency, psychosocial benchmarks, and personalized learning objectives.
  • Extended school days to bring all students closer to grade level achievement
  • New teacher contract with annual goal-setting and performance review
  • Access to health centers, counseling, and career services
  • Community-based centers to support academic and extracurricular activities for out-of-school time

Students would attend either a PreK-8 school or a high school characterized by…

  • Neighborhood PreK-8 schools with adjoining PreK-3 and Grades 4-8 facilities, or
  • Larger regional high schools with a campus atmosphere of small learning communities and shared facilities for science and technology, the arts, sports and physical education, and culinary arts and other vocations. (See details of The New Urban Academic Campus here.)

Given the large number of English learners in the city and high truancy and drop-out rates, student re-engagement and ELL programs would be priorities across the district. Previously shared Thoughts on English Language Learning can be found here. Also, I have some ideas about re-engagement in Middle School here, and High School here. In addition, my approach to Special Education would include the children in the dialogue with school leaders and special educators by grade four as summarized here.

November 16, 2011 at 10:53 AM Leave a comment