“You are doing some of the toughest, most controversial work in education in this country today, and I thank you for your courage,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the group of principals, state and school district leaders who were gathered for a week-long event at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
The state, district and school leaders, representing 24 schools and seven school districts from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Colorado, are enrolled in the U.Va. Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE) “School Turnaround Specialist Program.” These states are participating in this program as a result of a partnership between the Southwest Comprehensive Center at WestEd and the Darden/Curry PLE. They have turned to U.Va. to help them face a daunting task: to improve their struggling schools in the U.S. Southwest despite scarce resources, language barriers and systems in need of rapid improvement.
Over the course of the two-year program, the Darden/Curry PLE applies the methods used in Darden Executive Education along with on-going support and resources to equip the state, district and school leaders with the skills, knowledge and tools necessary to address the systemic issues associated with initiating, supporting and sustaining transformational change in chronically underperforming schools.
Secretary Duncan believes education is “the most pressing issue facing America,” and he has taken note of the Darden/Curry PLE’s work. The U.S. Department of Education recently launched its own school turnaround office and, by speaking to the group, “Secretary Duncan signals that the school turnaround is important, and he’s paying attention to these efforts,” said LeAnn Buntrock (Ph.D. ‘08 Educ Pol Studies), executive director of Darden/Curry PLE.
Duncan, who connected with the group via teleconference, took questions from the audience regarding School Improvement Grants and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), an earlier version of No Child Left Behind.
Duncan was also asked for advice. He encouraged the group “not to shy away from challenges. Don’t act softly and tinker on the margins,” he said. “Instead, listen to your gut and make the tough decisions. That’s how you earn your communities’ trust.” In closing, Secretary Duncan asked participants to keep him updated regarding their turnaround efforts.
The Southwest education leaders came to Darden Grounds 25 July and departed 31 July. The participants strengthened their leadership skills and learned innovative ways to tackle their most pressing issues.
“In October, we plan to engage dozens more principals in our region who will participate in this unique program,” said Paul Koehler, director of the Policy Center and the Southwest Comprehensive Center at WestEd.
Encouraged by the recognition, Buntrock plans to capitalize on the Darden/Curry PLE’s momentum and continue spreading the efforts of the Darden/Curry PLE to other regions around the country.
“On average, for the schools completing the program, we’re seeing a 30 to 40 percent rise in student achievement in reading and math,” says Buntrock. “Our mission is to make a difference for the nation’s children, one school district at a time.”
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