As part of what it calls “The Cleveland Plan,” the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has set an ambitious goal of increasing the number of high-quality schools in Cleveland, in part by empowering principals and teachers while maintaining high expectations.
“This plan is driven by a fierce sense of urgency,” says an introduction to the plan on the district’s website. “The intensity of global competition demands that students in Cleveland build the knowledge, skills, and attributes that position them to be successful and competitive in the 21st century global economy.”
CMSD had already developed a set of performance measures to assess the quality of each school in the district, including measures of academic performance and surveys of school safety and satisfaction. Along with improving the process of releasing quantitative data, CMSD was motivated by a desire to go beyond test scores as a measure of school quality. The district believes that qualitative data helps leaders understand, at a much deeper level, how to better differentiate supports and understand where to focus their efforts.
“District and school leaders get a lot of student performance and assessment reports, but through the school reviews they are also provided a leading indicator of what’s happening in their schools around instruction, leadership, and school culture. They can adjust their own priorities in a more timely way,” says SchoolWorks Project Manager Robin Coyne Hull.
Using the SchoolWorks School Quality Criteria as its foundation, SchoolWorks collaborated with CMSD to design a protocol that is also aligned with the district’s performance framework and principal evaluation tools. The protocol was framed around four key domains (instruction, student opportunities to learn, educator opportunities to learn, and leadership).
During spring 2015, SchoolWorks site visitors and district team members conducted School Quality Reviews in 10 district schools. The three-day process was capped by a prioritization session on the last day of each visit. During this session, SchoolWorks supported school leadership teams in prioritizing the key findings so that the teams could develop an action plan to tackle one area of improvement. By the end of the session, each school had designed an action plan individualized to one of their most pressing needs.
Along with the principal and teacher leaders, select district officials also attended prioritization sessions at each school. Network Support Leaders assigned to the school were able to learn about the current strengths and areas for improvement and observe the school’s leadership team in action.
“By experiencing the action planning process firsthand, district staff also shared a common experience with which to talk about how this approach might work across schools and how it might impact school improvement planning,” says Coyne Hull. “It created a high level of buy-in for both schools and district folks.”
Participating principals gave the process high marks, either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the overall experience was positive, staff time was used efficiently, the SchoolWorks team established a positive relationship, and the process was thorough.
Principals singled out the prioritization session at the end of each visit as particularly helpful. “We had a debriefing that was very useful and not overwhelming,” one principal said in his written comments. “Solid and usable feedback,” another added.
At the end of the school year, participating principals and district personnel took part in a debriefing session led by SchoolWorks to determine what had and had not worked, and how the experience could be made more valuable. The district also followed up with each principal to gauge the action planning process and identify new supports for school improvement.
The responses from the principals indicated that action planning had a positive impact. “The school year and the plan had a successful beginning,” one principal wrote. “We shared the results at the end of the year… The teachers received PD the week before school started. We have coached our teachers who struggled at first. The number of referrals has decreased except in three rooms…. Our next steps will be to support those teachers and keep the drive going. Since the plan has been successful, now we can focus on the instructional piece.”
SchoolWorks debriefed district officials several times during the course of the visits, sharing their findings not only with instructional officials, but also with representatives of all of the district’s major departments so they could determine how they could support needed changes in each building. “We wanted everyone to be knowledgeable about the process and its initial impact,” says Coyne Hull. “We wanted them to understand the value of their investment.”
The district has expressed interest in expanding the program to 20 or more schools and eventually across the entire district. As the program continues, SchoolWorks will work with the district to build capacity to conduct its own ongoing reviews. “The whole idea is to transition this over to the client,” Coyne Hull says, adding that the review process will help provide a clearer picture of school performance in each building as it continues to evolve.
“They will be able to use the qualitative results of the school quality reviews as part of Cleveland’s new definition of high quality schools,” says Coyne Hull.