A report from UVA's Partnership for Leaders in Education (UVA-PLE) reveals that school innovation is sparking transformations nationwide.

4 focus areas to embrace innovation and avoid school system failure

The "New Frontiers" report from the University of Virginia's Partnership for Leaders in Education (UVA-PLE) reveals that a transformation of educational systems is underway

Key points:

Following years of challenges brought on by COVID-19 and the inequities in education highlighted by the pandemic, decades- and centuries-old educational systems are finally being challenged as the way for school innovation is paved. The school systems and dynamic leaders that embrace change will succeed and create an educational environment that is more equitable and prepares students for their futures.

A report from The Partnership for Leaders in Education at the University of Virginia (UVA-PLE), “Exploring New Frontiers for K-12 Systems Transformation,” determined that these challenges have sparked a transformation of education systems in the United States.

“Our New Frontiers report spotlights the most successful education leaders who are courageously rising to the moment and making once-in-a-generation investments and changes to their educational systems for the benefit of their students, their staff and their communities,” said William Robinson, executive director of UVA-PLE and co-author of the New Frontiers report. “Districts that innovate and embrace change will thrive, and the districts that choose to ignore or, worse, resist transformation put themselves and their students at risk.”

In New Frontiers, UVA-PLE identifies four key areas of focus needed for change and innovation in K-12 educational systems:

  • Innovative Secondary Models – a commitment to changing the secondary model to enhance student pathways and ensure access to opportunities for every student, along with a district and system recognition that investments in education are investments in the future economy;
  • Far-Reaching Academic Acceleration – a focus on accelerating student learning post-pandemic instead of on learning recovery;
  • Creative Staffing – new and innovative pathways to recruit, train and invest in teachers and matching education talent pipelines with student needs;
  • Equitable Resource Reallocation – rethinking organizational design and resource allocated to align with priority breakthroughs, student needs, and a deep commitment to eradicating gaps and inequality.

UVA-PLE, a leading organization focused on advancing leadership capacity and insights to create transformational school systems, developed the report with research and feedback from nearly 50 education leaders and superintendents across the nation. Those districts and systems have successfully implemented changes and innovations since the pandemic started. The report also includes vignettes, case examples, and recommendations for transforming our systems to better serve students and families.

A sampling of the replicable school innovation practices highlighted in the report include,

  • Baltimore Public Schools: Under Superintendent Dr. Sonja Santelises’s leadership, her team in Baltimore made investments in high dosage tutoring and expanded internal summer learning which helped more than 400 additional students graduate during 2022;
  • Ector County (Texas): Superintendent Dr. Scott Muri and his district team championed innovative efforts to confront a near 20 percent teacher vacancy rate which raised teacher pay by more than $13,000 and raised the bar on qualifications for principal and teacher leader roles;
  • Dallas Independent School District: Former Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa’s team’s focus on establishing career pathways, an effort which resulted in 1,100 students – nearly 12 percent of the graduating senior class – graduating in 2021-2022 from high school having already earned an associate degree; and
  • Laramie County School District One (Wyoming): Superintendent Margaret Crespo and her team’s efforts to make post-secondary readiness programs more flexible and more accessible to the district’s high schoolers which resulted in a 300% enrollment increase in college level and dual enrollment courses.

“There are no easy answers to complex challenges, but we can shift the paradigm and move beyond the status quo. Our areas of focus provide district leaders, policymakers, school boards and anyone else interested in education innovation with a model of promising and replicable practices,” said Leighann Lenti, Chief of Partnerships for UVA-PLE.

“Innovation should spark success. The courageous superintendents and education leaders who are driving change are providing a pathway for better student outcomes and a foundation for more equitable opportunity,” said Amy Dujon, M.Ed., Director, DA Leadership Institute. “The UVA-PLE report offers an array of replicable practices from systems and districts of all sizes. While the systems that are spotlighted vary greatly, each leader is united in their laser-like focus on student achievement.”

UVA-PLE has partnered with more than 400 schools across 100 districts in 25 states since 2003. Fifty percent of UVA-PLE’s recent partners have reported double-digit gains in math or language arts in only two years.

This press release originally appeared online.

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Laura Ascione
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