A glimpse at a successful school turnaround
Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Columbus Preparatory Academy, a K-8 Mosaica-run charter school on Columbus’s west side that is a poster child for the successful turnaround of a troubled school.
In 2008, the school was rated F by the state and student performance on state assessments was abysmal. Today the school is rated A+ (aka, Excellent with Distinction) and boasts achievement levels that best that of nearly all of the area’s top-performing schools (and are leaps and bounds above the state’s definition of “proficiency”). This transformation was achieved while the school continued serving a challenged student population – about 72 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch – and retained nearly all of the same teachers and staff members who were working in the school when it was failing (in a school that now employs 30 teachers, the principal said just seven or eight teachers have left during his four-year tenure).
So what are the keys to CPA’s success? Two things immediately stand out:
Leadership. Principal Chad Carr (who has led the turnaround since taking over the school four years ago) is committed to the success of his students, staff, and school like few others in his field. I don’t say that lightly as I know a lot of absolutely terrific school leaders, but spend five minutes with Carr and I think most people would be hard-pressed not to agree that he is in a leadership class with few others. Early in his tenure at the school he made a series of important changes that he and the teachers I talked with agree have made a tremendous difference: eliminating rampant violence in the building; reassigning teachers to roles better suited for them and providing them with improved professional development and other support; and taking discipline, parent complaints, and similar non-instructional work off his teachers’ plates so that they can focus their full time and effort on teaching.
Use of data and goal setting. Everyone – from the principal and teachers to kindergartners and classroom aides – is focused squarely on raising student achievement. Every child in the building knows the school’s goal for its Performance Index score this year (the PI Score is an Ohio calculation that reflects overall student achievement on the state’s exams and doesn’t include value-added measures or AYP), and there are visual reminders throughout the building of this goal and where individual students are on their path toward meeting it. Teachers use data daily to drive instructional decisions and measure progress toward long-term goals, and staff use testing and data to inspire, challenge, and boost the confidence of their students.
These certainly aren’t “secrets” to success. They are common themes in most all successful schools and especially among successful turnarounds (and were common among the high-performing urban schools we featured in 2010’s Needles in a Haystack report). But as rare as successful turnarounds are, they are worth repeating and sharing.
We’ll keep an eye on Columbus Prep’s performance and report back when this year’s results are released come summer. Everyone involved with the school expects them to be outstanding. The principal pointed out that CPA’s third graders are the first cohort to have come up since kindergarten under the turnaround. Those students haven’t yet taken a state assessment, and he sees only excellence to come when they finally get a crack at them.
blog comments powered by Disqus
May 8, 2013