Turnaround plans build bridges among state and schools

Turnaround plans build bridges among state and schools

(Mich.) As part of an ongoing effort to turnaround failing schools without resorting to a state takeover, 21 districts are partnering with the Michigan Department of Education in a novel collaborative approach.

Through the partnership agreements, districts will gain access to resources including assessment tools and research-based programs, as well as connections to outside partners that can provide support, such as local business and community organizations, and colleges or universities.

While each local district remains in control of its schools, the partnerships with the state will require districts to be evaluated on the progress toward school goals after 18 months and again at 36 months.

“Schools are identifying the needs of their teachers and students, developing strategies to address those needs, and showing progress,” Brian Whiston, state superintendent, said in a statement. “We want to provide as many local and state-level partners as possible to help students in these schools be successful.”

The partnerships are a key part of Michigan’s approach to turning around its bottom 5 percent of schools under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The 21 new partnership districts–which include the Flint School District, Grand Rapids Public Schools and a few charter schools in Detroit–were the first to be identified as Comprehensive Support and Improvement schools using Michigan’s new ESSA School Accountability system.

And although academic outcomes are the primary focus, state education officials have noted that other factors that can impede a child’s academic success, including behavioral, health, nutrition or social-emotional issues, will be addressed too.

The plans require districts to engage with families in the community, education organizations, business leaders, higher education agencies and foundations to improve student outcomes. Districts are also permitted to work with international corporations that can provide services to students or their families.

A liaison from the state education department is assigned to each district to support them in implementation of the agreement, help resolve problems, facilitate discussions and meetings, and ensure partnership districts receive the support they need from the Department of Education.

Although the 21 districts are the first group to be identified as in need to support under Michigan’s ESSA School Accountability system, they are the third group of districts to be offered partnership agreements since spring of last year.

According to Whiston, the work being done in the current partnership districts has already seen some success. Most districts set goals to improve student growth by about 2 to 3 percent each year, compared to the previous year, using local assessment results in reading and math.

In fact, test scores have improved so much at 33 schools that they are being removed from the list of lowest-performing schools from previous years.

“It’s been encouraging to watch districts making progress,” Whiston said. “What we’ve seen in the first Partnership Districts exhibits the positive opportunity to work together under the leadership of the local superintendent and the local board of education toward improving student achievement and outcomes.”