As it enters its second decade, Public Prep and its leaders remain focused on what they call the “North Star” of college completion.
“When Girls Prep opened in 2005 as the first all-girls public charter school in New York City, it was founded with the simple idea that any parent—regardless of race, zip code, or income level—should have the right to choose a great public school that would put their daughter on a path to our North Star of college completion,” says Ian Rowe, CEO of the charter network, which now includes single-sex schools for both boys and girls. “As Girls Prep enters its 10th anniversary, that initial promise is being fulfilled. But we’re trying to achieve a level of excellence far superior to where we are now.”
As part of its ongoing mission of continuous improvement, Public Prep reached out to SchoolWorks to conduct School Quality Reviews during the 2013-14 school year. The result was targeted school improvement plans focused narrowly around improving instruction and student outcomes. As it opened three new campuses at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, Public Prep asked SchoolWorks to develop intensive coaching supports for all six of the network’s school leaders to support the school improvement plans and build the capacity of each building leader and their leadership teams. Eventually SchoolWorks created a plan for coaching four school leaders, as two of the six school leaders declined coaching for other supports.
“The School Quality Review became the basis for our strategic planning moving forward,” says Rowe. “To have the coaching from the very same people and organization who did the reviews really helps, because there’s a level of familiarity and awareness that really makes the coaching much more welcome and impactful because there’s already a level of credibility. The person isn’t just coaching. They’re coaching based on having spent multiple days in the schools, with teachers and school leaders, looking at the strengths and the weaknesses.”
SchoolWorks used its experience developing School Quality Reviews for Public Prep to align coaching with each school’s improvement plan, developing a hybrid model that provides consistent, ongoing feedback for each school leader. “We leveraged our existing relationship to support the implementation of that plan around ensuring high-quality instruction and outcomes for girls and boys,” says former Project Manger Janelle Bradshaw.
SchoolWorks developed an individualized coaching plan for each school leader, starting with an assessment of leadership styles. Bradshaw worked with each school leader to develop goals and action plans based on their school improvement plans, which ranged from building vision and mission and instructional alignment to more effective school leadership team meetings.
The hybrid model developed by SchoolWorks supplements in-person visits with frequent virtual coaching sessions conducted online. Coaches visit each campus monthly to shadow Public Prep school leaders and get a perspective of how their leadership styles mesh with day-to-day responsibilities. These in-person meetings are supplemented by weekly virtual coaching sessions, which serve as regular check-ins to ensure that school leaders are making progress towards their individual and schoolwide goals. “It pushes school leaders to execute rather than let the minutiae take over,” Bradshaw says. CEO Ian Rowe notes that “each coaching relationship is confidential, and this is crucial to building the trust for the coaching relationship to thrive.”
For the next phase of support, Public Prep school leaders are preparing to videotape themselves in leadership roles, such as leading school leadership team meetings, for review by coaches using SchoolWorks’ online platform. “What’s really exciting for us is the opportunity to see what the school leaders are seeing in real time,” Bradshaw says. “We can make comments on the video and get school leaders’ comments immediately to support their leadership work.”
Public Prep school leaders say the continuity between school reviews and coaching have helped SchoolWorks zero in on specific school leader and school needs. “Since Janelle led our School Quality Review last year, she came into the coaching with a strong understanding of the strengths and needs of our school and network,” says Versha Munshi-South, school leader of Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School. “One of the areas in which I am looking to grow is in supporting the leaders within my school. Janelle’s observations of my check-ins with these school-based leaders and the debrief of those meetings have really pushed my thinking about my communication style.”
SchoolWorks coaches have also held monthly meetings with Public Prep leaders to ensure that the network’s supports align with each school leader’s individual and schoolwide goals. Rowe says that coaching has resulted in noticeable changes at the school level. “It’s definitely helping build the capacity of our school leaders,” he says. “They’re definitely speaking more about accountability, and they’re recognizing the importance of their role.”
Rowe adds that the impact has extended beyond Public Prep’s individual schools and into the network’s strategic planning going forward. “They have helped us as a leadership team break through barriers that we had not been able to break through before,” he says. “As we work to educate empathetic, curious scholars who care about the world and know they have the power to change it, we’re more deeply realizing how big a lever instructional quality is, and our school leaders are now more focused to make sure all our scholars gain access to the opportunities they deserve.”