Case Study: Comprehensive School Improvement
Finn Academy is a tuition-free public charter school in Elmira, New York, serving approximately 360 students in grades K-6. In 2021, the stakeholders of Finn Academy engaged SchoolWorks to facilitate a school quality review and provide consulting support to the school leadership team in preparation for the school’s charter renewal process. These services led to an intensive 18-month, outcome-driven improvement partnership.
1. Obtain a charter renewal from the State University of New York (SUNY) Charter Schools Institute.
2. Demonstrate measurable improvement in student outcomes.
Step 1: Needs Assessment
SchoolWorks’ partnership with Finn Academy began in October of 2021 with a school quality review. Framed by the SUNY renewal benchmarks, the needs assessment focused on the school’s overall organizational and academic effectiveness.
Step 2: Planning
In November of 2021, SchoolWorks facilitated a series of planning sessions with the Finn Academy school team to create an annual improvement plan aligned to the strengths and areas of need surfaced by review findings. The plan detailed a set of collectively identified goals complete with strategies, timelines, and action items against three primary objectives:
1. Strengthen and support the Instructional Leadership Team.
2. Improve the overall quality of classroom instruction.
3. Cultivate and retain high-quality staff.
Step 3: Interventions
Leadership Coaching: To provide accountability and support for the implementation of the improvement plan, a dedicated SchoolWorks coach led monthly coaching sessions with the Instructional Leadership Team and independent bi-weekly coaching calls with the School Leader and Chief Operations Officer. Through these sessions, the SchoolWorks coach collaborated with the school’s leaders to establish and implement a new leadership model and a variety of instructional support systems.
Instructional Supports: To help the Finn team establish a unified instructional vision, SchoolWorks introduced an evidence-based instructional framework and trained Finn administrators on its successful implementation. Following training, five Finn Academy ILT members were certified to conduct regular classroom observations using a standardized observation tool.
Renewal Support: While these efforts were underway, a separate team of SchoolWorks specialists worked with the Finn leadership team to develop and finalize the school’s application for charter renewal, due at the end of the 2021-22 school year. The school’s improvement work was highlighted in the application narrative.
In March of 2023, Finn Academy was granted a full, five-year renewal from the SUNY Charter Schools Institute. As a result of the progress made through coaching and instructional supports, Finn also achieved significant gains in student outcomes.
For the first time in the school’s history, Finn Academy students outperformed the Elmira City School District in both ELA and math on the New York State assessment at every grade level tested in 2021–22.
End of year performance on NWEA MAP assessments in both ELA and math demonstrated significant gains in year-over-year student proficiency percentages in grades 3-6 collectively, and individually across almost all grade levels.
In a post-engagement survey, 100% of Finn Academy respondents strongly agreed, “As a result of the engagement with SchoolWorks, Finn Academy is better positioned to achieve measurable improvement.”
Through this partnership, the Finn Academy school team established fundamental systems and processes to ensure an ongoing trajectory of improved instructional outcomes.
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