When the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education established the District and School Assistance Centers (DSAC), a network of regional support teams to work with underperforming districts and schools, SchoolWorks was charged with recruiting, hiring and supporting former school administrators to join the DSAC teams. These support facilitators work with schools to help them assess their strengths and weaknesses, and develop focused plans to improve student achivement.
SchoolWorks was initially asked to develop training for the support facilitators in each regional team, which is also comprised of a regional assistance director, a math and English language arts specialist, and data specialists. Along with conducting training, SchoolWorks partnered with ESE to identify and recruit facilitators for the project, including consultants from inside and outside the company.
To sustain consistent quality across facilitators in six regional DSACs, it was vital to have regular professional development and planning sessions. Support facilitators needed to be trained on the purpose and design of the tools that ESE created and be able to implement them in the manner intended. They also needed to know how to support schools throughout the improvement process by addressing typical implementation issues, leading appropriate follow-up activities to maintain focus, and monitoring the use of new skills and knowledge.
Working collaboratively with district leadership, DSAC support facilitators used a variety of the state department’s tools and protocols to assess conditions across a variety of areas, including leadership, instruction, use of data, professional development, and family engagement. Their work was supported by protocols and resources developed by SchoolWorks in collaboration with ESE.
Facilitators worked directly with schools, conducting “learning walkthroughs” to promote discussion of effective instructional practices, providing professional development, and supporting school leaders in instituting professional learning communities and data teams. SchoolWorks former Project Manager Susan Carlson and former Director of District and School Improvement Services Anne Lane also worked to lead monthly meetings during which DSAC facilitators from throughout the state shared best practices and problem-solve.
“Some of the most impactful experiences were helping schools look at data and move away from old assumptions,” Carlson says. “It was an eye-opener to present at a meeting where you could see that the old excuses weren’t supported by the data.”
A key to SchoolWorks’ approach to the DSAC work was a collaborative approach with district and school leadership, Carlson said. “We were not presenting ourselves as the experts coming in to tell them how to do something,” she said. “We were collaborative partners in examining practice and reflecting on the best district, school and instructional practices that the state of Massachusetts had a great job of outlining.”
In its third year, DSAC evolved into a “fully embraced partnership” with participating districts, Carlson says, and in third-party evaluations, school leaders reported that they felt listened to and supported. Some 94 percent of school and district leaders reported overall satisfaction with DSAC, including 70 percent who said they were “very satisfied.” More than nine in ten said that DSAC was “valuable to their improvement efforts.”