principals school technology

To turn around schools, first turn around the principals

A superintendent outlines the PD plan he is using to model and support excellence for principals in failing schools.

I oversee a portfolio of nine turnaround schools, all of which had an overall rating of F when ACCEL Schools first took them over two years ago. This means that, on average, fewer than 30 percent of students were proficient. As a charter organization in Ohio, our schools receive 40 percent to 60 percent less funding than traditional schools, because charters in Ohio rarely, if ever, get local funding. This means we don’t have the budget to radically restaff our schools.

When we started with these schools, I faced a high level of skepticism among the principals. They had been bombarded with change for change’s sake, so their trust in leadership had eroded.

The mindset was, “If I keep my head low enough, everything will pass and I’ll be fine.” To show that the climate had changed, the first thing we did was a book study on Mindset to get them reflecting on their own willingness and openness to be pushed, grow, and improve. This quest to improve is expected from all of our teachers, so it was critical that our principals shared that sacred belief.

Then we started the multi-year process of showing these principals what good leadership looks like and how they can become the leaders who will turn their schools around.

Summer 1: School Redesign Project

In their first summer with us, the principals took part in a four-week Summer Institute, during which they completed a school redesign project. Our aim was for them to focus only on academics and school culture, so we took nonessential tasks off their plate. Our back office handled operational compliance and reporting work so principals could put their energy into distilling what was truly core to them and effectively planning to operationalize it.

This laser focus on the key elements of school turnaround continued throughout the school year.

We asked them to explain why and how they would work with their existing teachers to make their plans a reality for students, family, and teachers throughout the year. Each principal set the vision and mission for their own building-crafting, refining, and articulating what was core to them as it related to their school’s culture and academic framework.

(Next page: Redesigning the academic year for amazing principals)

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