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Superintendent, Ed. Company Partner on 'Turnaround System'

Those who know Paul G. Vallas know he is, to put it mildly, a multitasker. Formerly the schools chief in Chicago, Philadelphia and the Recovery School District in Louisiana, he is the current interim superintendent in the 23,000-student Bridgeport, Conn. district. And now, thanks to a partnership with the Dallas-based Cambium Group, by the start of this school year several more districts are expected to import some the turnaround techniques Vallas has gleaned during his time as a district leader.

Vernon Johnson, the president of Voyager Learning—a business unit under the Cambium umbrella that focuses on math and reading interventions—did not name the districts that have signed on to the Vallas Turnaround System, a turnaround package geared toward districts with struggling schools. But he said in an interview that there is a "small group of school districts that have reached out to us." The turnaround system is marketed towards school systems that want to implement sustainable change but want to do so without having to make the heavy financial investment that comes with, for example, applying for a federal school improvement grant.

"Some schools may not need that heavy surgery," Johnson said.

In addition to his work in U.S. schools, Vallas also served as an education adviser to the governments of Haiti and Chile while in his last year as superintendent of the Recovery School District. While in his current position in Bridgeport, a team led by Vallas also won a contract with the state of Illinois to work with low-performing districts there.

Vallas said in an interview that there are a number of former school superintendents and central office administrators who are available and interested in taking on turnaround projects without joining a district full time, and he expects to draw on their expertise as part of this project. He also noted that districts are also looking for ways to make these changes on a budget.

"I want to do affordable school turnaround, and I want to do school turnaround that is sustained," Vallas said.

So what can districts expect if they sign on to the program? It promises expertise in finances, academics and operations. You'll also get Vallas—"they'll absolutely have some interaction with him," said Judy Zimny, the vice president for Voyager Education Services—and the services of a team of experts from the educational group.

Kathy Mickey,a senior analyst in the K-12 education market for Simba Information in Stamford, Conn., said the partnership between Cambium and Vallas follows a trend of education companies wanting to offer broad support services to accompany their other educational materials. Other education leaders have done this before, she said, offering examples such The Danielson Group, which advises districts on teacher evaluation systems, Kurzweil Educational Systems, a literacy support program that is also part of Cambium Group, and Global Partnership Schools, which provides support to struggling schools and was founded by Manuel G. Rivera, a former New York state education official and former superintendent in Rochester, N.Y., and Rudolph F. Crew, a former Miami and New York schools chief. Rivera is still with the company; Crew was recently appointed chief education officer in Oregon.

With such companies, "it's the name that is the attaction," Mickey said. "There are a lot of names in education that are draws. Districts have always looked at people like Paul Vallas and have wanted to pick their brains."

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