St Cloud Area School District: tackling the issues of underperforming schools (through deep-dive reviews and comprehensive action planning)

When several of the schools in St Cloud Area School District found themselves amongst the lowest performing schools in the state, district leaders recognized the problem would not be solved by incremental improvement initiatives due to its systemic nature. They took the decision to get to the heart of those schools’ problems by engaging in a ‘deep-dive’ review of their priority and focus schools with the aspiration of implementing sustainable improvement plans for each school.

Class Measures were approached to assess every aspect of quality through the proven methodology of Instructional Quality School Reviews.  These were then used to inform the development of action plans and a sustainable approach to whole-district improvement

 

“The school review and action planning processes have led to measurable improvement in all schools where Class Measures have worked. The results of their work have provided our district with a comprehensive action plan for each school. I feel confident in recommending Class Measures; they are thorough, very easy to work with and simply use their outside expertise to help you do the hard work of figuring out what needs to be done to improve your schools.”

 Patricia King, Director of Title Programs, St Cloud Area School District

 

In 2014/2015, when three of St Cloud Area School District’s schools were identified as the lowest performing in the state, Patricia King, Director of Title Programs, acknowledged the value external expertise could bring to the situation and sought a school improvement partner capable of conducting a ‘deep-dive’ review of all aspects of the schools involved.

Speaking of her approach and philosophy when it comes to turning around under-performing schools, Patricia explains, “Looking at just one or two aspects just doesn’t make a difference; you need to do a deep-dive otherwise you miss something. You have to address every detail.  And then you’re more open to thinking about the broader perspective.”

 

A proven and comprehensive approach to review and action planning

The decision was made to contract with Class Measures to conduct school reviews and develop effective action planning with their Priority and Focus Schools. The team spent two full days completing Instructional Quality School Reviews (IQSRs) at each school; these quality reviews focused on learning, teaching, leadership and management, the culture for learning, the curriculum and the relationships the school has with families and community members.

Class Measures’ evidence-based methodology included a review of documents, interviews with school leaders, teachers, parents, and students, and classroom observations.  The subsequent IQSR report was used as a diagnosis tool to identify and prioritize any programming and instructional gaps that needed to be addressed to improve school performance. Class Measures then spent an additional day with each school to provide the district with a comprehensive action plan for each school.

 

Key deliverables of the Class Measures school improvement project

The Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent found it invaluable and agreed to roll out Class Measures IQSRs for all Title 1 schools in the district to further develop and share best practice. Three years later, all schools were reviewed again to provide a health-check. And, surprising as it may seem to some, teachers welcomed the visits, acknowledging the benefits to their practice, and saying how supported they were by their administrator – they felt empowered to come up with and try out new strategies for school improvement. Patricia notes how each of the Focus and Priority schools have clearly seen lots of positive change and improvement.

In Patricia’s view, a key reason to the success of the approach is that, “Class Measures doesn’t prescribe specific courses of action, but really gets to the bottom of what’s going on in each school and helps schools develop a blueprint for improvement.”

 

Building long-term school improvement capacity

And now? Because the Class Measures Instructional Quality School Reviews help schools really internalize initiatives, school improvement has become embedded in the culture of each school. Schools have increased their capability, through greater skill-sets and district-specific tools, to conduct self-assessment and record evidence to inform action planning processes. Patricia has fortnightly collaborative meetings with the principals, EL Directors and, where appropriate, other District staff to see what’s going well and what needs attention and to inform the ongoing planning. Testament to the way her team and the staff have embraced the process is the fact that Patricia is now seen not so much as a district employee, but very much part of the team in the schools with which she works.

 

“What we really appreciate about Class Measures is that their programs are very intensive, but don’t evaluate the people; looking at processes and student outcomes instead. I truly believe in the Class Measures’ reviews because they get to the heart and soul of the school and are well received by teachers and administrators. This is because they are never negative; conversations may be hard but never feel punitive. They simply use their outside expertise to help you do the hard work of figuring out what needs to be done to improve your schools.”

 

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