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States, Districts Moving Ahead on Turnarounds

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States and districts are moving quickly on plans to turnaround many of the nation's lowest-performing schools.

A smy colleague Lesli Maxwell noted recently, the U.S. Education Department is highlighting examples of what it considers successful school turnarounds.

And some new groups are getting in the mix. One such group is Global Partnership Schools, an organization founded by Rudy Crew, a former N.Y.C. schools chancellor and Miami superintendent, and Manny Rivera, who twice served as superintendent of Rochester, N.Y.'s schools and later as New York's deputy education secretary.

Their group is working to help turn around schools in Colorado, Baltimore and elsewhere. I got a chance to talk to Rivera recently about how to tackle turning around these persistently low-performing schools.

Turning around schools, Rivera told me, requires work far more deep and pervasive than simply getting a school to make adequate yearly progress.

"When you talk about turning around a school, you really are talking about fundamentally changing how schools operate, what's taught, [and] how its taught. And the bottom line is student outcomes," he said.

In many of these schools, Rivera said, you don't see a "student-centered environment"—one where teachers have built relationships with students and are able to incorporate the unique strengths and weaknesses of students into how schools are organized as well as how instruction and extra-curricular activities are offered.

The most successful turnaround efforts, he said, focus not only on the quality of instruction, but engaging both parents and the larger community in a meaningful way, like the Harlem Children's Zone does, so the school becomes a centerpiece of building a stronger community.

"It doesn't happen overnight. Clearly, initially, you want to create the right culture. But you have to have basics in place. You have to work on sound fundamental teaching initially and that a school has its protocols with safety and order. Those are basics that require time to get in place. You really should be able to feel change right away and know it's happening. Into the second and third year, those outcomes will come," the former superintendent said.

Rivera says while turnarounds are no easy task, don't lose focus of those whose lives are at stake.

"Turning around a school is hard work. But if you think about it, the children in our schools deserve so much better," he said. "It's not just about meeting AYP. If you go into this just for the goal of meeting AYP you are setting up another generation of kids for failure in a global community."

For more turnaround-related reading, you should check out this case study, published by Education Resource Strategies, on the Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C. school district's strategic-staffing initiative, which focuses on putting the best combination of teachers and leaders into struggling schools in a bid to improve their fortunes.

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