Under the new program, consultants help district staff who often “know what they need to do, but don’t know how to do it,” said Judy Zimny, vice president of Voyager Education Services.

Can turnaround results in one troubled school district be replicated in another? A new partnership between an education intervention provider and veteran superintendent Paul Vallas aims to find out by bringing Vallas’ proven reform model to more schools.

Through the Vallas Turnaround System, teams of educational consultants provide staff training and planning support to chronically underperforming schools. The program launched this summer in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Voyager Education Services, a division of Cambium Learning Group that focuses on academic interventions, announced in June an exclusive partnership with The Vallas Group Inc.

Vallas made a name for himself as a school reformer during stints as superintendent at notoriously challenging districts such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and post-Katrina New Orleans.

His turnaround system focuses on three critical areas—academics, finance, and operations—and aims to strengthen five core factors in troubled districts: Financial Health and Stability; Student-Focused Administration and Operation; Superior Instructional Improvement Models; World-Class Human Resources; and Building Local Capacity.

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Often, school staff already are “doing their best,” and they “know what they need to do, but don’t know how to do it,” said Judy Zimny, vice president of Voyager Education Services.

Zimny said the Voyager consultants balance acting as collaborators and leaders as they facilitate proposal planning and oversee implementation—tasks that district staff most likely intended to do but had trouble completing.

The Vallas partnership builds on Voyager’s past work as an intervention provider.

Previously, Voyager focused on solutions for academic intervention. For example, a district suffering from chronically low math or reading scores might bring in Voyager consultants to provide professional development, identify pain points in school culture, or prescribe supplemental curricula.

For districts that are functioning well overall and merely need to boost a particular academic area, that sort of service is enough. But for some schools, the problems are more systemic and require turnaround solutions that extend beyond academic improvement, Zimny said.

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.”

The district has secured funding for the first year, but “if we feel good and it’s working,” the district might extend the project to as long as three years, White said.

He said the district will judge the project’s efficacy based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data—whether factors such as staff development efforts, changes to infrastructure, and efficiency of operation improve.

DiMarco acknowledged that after a major reformer like Vallas leaves, some changes might become undone and new problems might emerge.

Zimny noted that the Vallas system attempts to minimize these long-term problems by integrating its consultants and procedures into local school administrations already in place.

The abrasive “hiring and firing” that has brought notoriety to some other turnaround stories—such as the District of Columbia Public Schools—“is not a part of what we do,” Zimny said.

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When Vallas arrived in Philadelphia, he “brought together” a team of local education experts, many of whom were already working individually on pieces of the problem, DiMarco said. Vallas made their efforts more cohesive under his vision.

White said his staff have been “very receptive” to the Vallas/Voyager intervention.

“They understand they need added support,” he said of the teachers and administrators in his district. “They understand that the problems they deal with are comprehensive problems, and they need a comprehensive approach.”

He added: “We’ve demonstrated improvement, but we feel this project will elevate and escalate our efforts to help us move faster and get greater gains in a shorter period of time.”