Support for Schools in Need of Improvement  

May 28, 2018
On March 7, 2018 REL Central Facilitator Stephanie Wilderson with Magnolia Consulting, LLC reported to NDE & ESU stakeholders on the key focus areas for the three priority schools. December 11-13, 2017 REL consultants, Kathy Kennedy (kLk Consulting), Gale Hamilton (NDE) and ESU representatives visited each of the priority schools for one day and met with leadership teams as a group and individually. The purpose for the visit was to listen and learn about the current roles of the leadership teams in each building, gather information about their current continuous improvement activities and gather data for the nature and needs of further support. Following the visits, REL analyzed the data they collected to determine the commonalities in each of the three schools.

Students
•  High poverty
•  Trauma exposed
•  Behavioral needs
•  Low academic performance
•  School was viewed as a safe place & the primary source of care for students

Teachers
•  Hold a deep care for the students & are committed to their work in helping students succeed.
•  Don’t know what they don’t know.
•  Teach what they do know.
•  Express a lack of voice, opportunities for collaboration & connections

Principals
•  Wear many hats
•  Day-day managers
•  Reactive not proactive
•  Lack time and capacity to be instructional leaders

Stephanie then shared each district’s collective needs in moving forward through the process. highlighted what they identified in the three levers of clear, compelling direction, student/staff culture and instructional leadership.

Clear & Compelling Direction
•  Priority designation
•  Utilization of guiding documents & tools
•  Leadership capacity

Student/Staff Culture
•  Trust
•  Learning Communities
•  Whole child focus

Instructional Leadership
•  Continue instructional coaching
•  Provide professional learning (trainer-of-trainers support)
•  Standards alignment with exposure to exemplars from high performing schools

Following her sharing out, Stephanie led the group through a protocol to respond to questions that NDE will need to consider in moving forward with this work in an effort to provide a systematic approach which will consider products/tools, services offered, or additional funding sources. Below are the questions that were up for consideration:

•  How can NDE model effective communication and leadership for clear and compelling direction?
•  What guidance can NDE provide to priority school leaders about communicating priority status to school staff and community members?
•  How can NDE improve its communication and relationship to schools and ESUs regarding priority status? it a partnership? If so, how doe NDE cultivate that?
•  How will NDE support schools in sustaining growth when transitioned from priority school designation?
•  How can NDE provide clearer guidance on how AQuESTT tenets, accreditation frameworks, and three levers interrelate? is the role of CCSI and ESSA in informing guidance?
•  How might ESUs and external consultants establish complementary and synergistic support for leadership and direction setting in schools?
•  What type of tools might schools use to inform progress toward goals?
•  How can NDE clarify criteria for entering and exiting priority school status?
•  How can NDE build trust with schools?
•  How can NDE support professional learning communities?
•  What is NDE’s role in supporting wrap around services for schools in need of improvement?
•  What social emotional resources can NDE offer to priority schools?

The results of the group’s answers to these questions revealed several common responses such as: 
•  NDE needs to start internally by educating key players on the components of how priority schools enter/exit the process
•  NDE establishing a clear communication system which would include all stakeholders within and outside of priority school status.
•  Incorporate a statewide inventory of NDE, ESUs, & school districts
•  Create a statewide system to support ALL school districts in the state
•  Build stakeholder capacity around the AQuESTT tenets, accreditation, and the 3 levers of ESSA

At the conclusion of the meeting, Stephanie shared that the next steps to the process of developing a systematic plan for moving forward with this work will include a meeting in May where the group will reconvene to begin discussions around theory of change and action. Goals and processes will be established to provide the priority schools and needs improvement schools with a system to give districts clear, compelling direction, improved student/staff culture and sound instructional leadership.

ESUs across the state will continue to be at the table during these discussions and will assist with the development of this work. will be important to be the voice for the school districts keeping a focused and committed attitude to bringing positive change.