Veteran superintendent brings turnaround model to schools nationwide

She said the Voyager/Vallas partnership works well because Voyager staff members have concrete academic solutions, while the Vallas team is experienced in maintaining a big-picture vision.

“It’s really exciting work, it keeps you feeling like you’re really making a difference,” said Maria DiMarco, who first worked with Vallas as regional director of curriculum and instruction in the Philadelphia Public Schools and has consulted on several of Vallas’ other turnaround teams.

Indianapolis Public Schools will implement the Vallas Turnaround System in John Marshall Community High School, which has performed poorly on state tests for six years, and 14 elementary schools in the surrounding area.

“We’re already enjoying four years of improvement and growth, but on the northeast and east side [of the district], we haven’t had the kind of growth we want to have,” said superintendent Eugene White.

To improve the high school and surrounding neighborhoods, changes will have to begin at the elementary school level, White said.

The Indianapolis project began three months ago, with Voyager consultants assisting district staff as they laid out proposals for change.

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After completion of the planning stage, the district began preparing small groups of teachers and administrators to be the leaders of their particular schools.

Once the small groups complete their training, the full staffs of each school will complete professional development to create a cohesive vision for change. By the time the fall semester begins, schools will have methodology in place for observing the effects of the changes on both instruction and leadership.

At major professional development events—such as a kick-off day to introduce the turnaround model to staff—Voyager sends around 20 consultants to meet the district.

“We get quality time from some very outstanding educators to observe and strategize for us to improve what we’re doing,” White said.

Throughout the school year, the Voyager team members spend more than 10 hours every week in schools on what White referred to as “an unprecedented visitation schedule.”

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