School turnaround is not a myth. Chronically low-performing schools can be turned around, thereby creating opportunities for young people who otherwise might continue to struggle academically and be left with few options as they move into adulthood. In fact, two-thirds of schools undertaking turnaround are making progress as measured by student test scores.
The key to achieving these gains is a committed faculty delivering high-quality instruction. However, turnaround initiatives often involve new leadership, curricula, schedules, organizational structures, and cultural norms—in other words, lots of change that can be difficult to navigate while maintaining a focus on teaching and learning.
We believe a faculty engaging in the work of school turnaround can benefit greatly from the lessons of schools and teachers who have been through the process, which is why we are releasing a new edition of our book, Teachers’ Guide to School Turnarounds. Following is an excerpt:
After conducting more than 360 interviews, Principal Nancy Weisskopf believed she had identified educators with the mindset to turn around South Hills High School. In order to realize their potential, however, these individuals had to meld into a unified faculty with everyone pulling in the same direction. Weisskopf planned a three-day paid retreat at a local hotel conference center. Starting off the new school year on the right note was crucial. Instead of dwelling on details like a review of school policies and the teachers’ manual, Weisskopf insisted that people focus on the big picture—Student Success, No Excuses. Team building was the order of the day.
Forty-five minutes before the retreat began, Weisskopf gathered the 60 teachers she had rehired from the former South Hills faculty and had them circle a fire pit at the conference center. She told them that they were on a new journey and had to let go of the past. Each teacher took a piece of paper and wrote down what they were leaving behind. Together, they dropped their pieces of paper into the fire pit. Then they walked together to the room where the retreat would be held. Weisskopf said, “We’re going through these doors together. If there’s anything left to say, say it to me now because we’re moving on.”
Teachers’ Guide to School Turnarounds (2nd ed.) by Daniel L. Duke, Pamela D. Tucker, & Michael J. Salmonowicz is published by Rowman & Littlefield.