Veteran superintendent brings turnaround model to schools nationwide

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.

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