How to Put Together a District-Level Reform Team
By Matthew Lynch
Successful school systems share a number of common traits. These include: effective administrative leadership, safe learning environments, strong family and community partnerships, opportunities for increased time on task, incorporation of instructional best practices, interventions for underperforming students, continuous assessment of student achievement, and lofty expectations for all students. These successful schools exist in a number of different school environments. Schools should keep these traits in mind as they begin the school reform process.
Steps to a district level reform team
When attempting school reform, the school must first assemble the district restructuring team. Groups no larger than seven usually work best. The team can be made up of a variety of district personnel and staff. Restructuring teams normally consist of a school board member, the superintendent and assistant superintendents, principals, teachers, and other pertinent individuals.
Once the team is created, efforts must be made to assess the district’s capacity for implementing and sustaining school reform. The team must ask itself whether the district has all of the resources needed to implement and sustain a successful school reform. In extreme cases, when the district feels it is unable to coordinate its own reform effort, the team might want to consider allowing the state department of education to oversee the reform process.
Another option for schools that feel they are lacking in the area of certified and experienced reform personnel is to hire an educational consulting firm. There are many well-qualified firms that will be able to either work in conjunction with a restructuring team or oversee the process themselves. Note, however, that this can turn into an enormous job with an enormous price tag. It will require resisting the urge to compromise on any phase of the restructuring process.
The consulting team or team leader must be committed to finding and implementing innovative strategies that have the potential to effectively produce educational change. Assembling a top-notch team is simply not enough however. All of the major administrators, including the superintendent and school board, must fully support the decisions of the district restructuring team.
Remember that parents, community leaders, and policymakers must be included in the school reform process. Many parents are involved in their students’ educational plans and simply want to be informed of any changes. The reform task force will need to decide if parents and community leaders should be included as formal members of the districts restructuring team, or to simply illicit their advice and expertise as needed. When making decisions concerning what individuals will populate the task force, remember to include members have the expertise to be taken seriously within the district.
Extra reform committee considerations
Prepared agendas are essential for smooth meetings and excellent communication among the team. Preparing agendas are the team leader’s responsibilities. The leader of the task force must remain patient, but a sense of urgency must be the catalyst of all meetings. Outside consultants could be considered, but are not necessary for the success of the reform. Since the team will be made up primarily of school district personnel and various other community members and parents, having an outsider on the team will give the team valuable expertise, in addition to an objective lens with which to gauge progress.
It will be helpful to determine what viable options of reform the team is able to utilize. If the reform is district-wide, each school will need to analyze its individual needs and the options available. A district-wide plan must be developed, while bearing in mind that each school will need to modify the plan based on the needs of the students. Once the system of reform is created and approved by all team members, the plan will need to be approved by the superintendent before it is presented to the school board. The same rules apply whether reform is needed by one school or by all the schools in the district.
A concern, alluded to in above comments, is the need to assess the district’s capacity for implementing and sustaining educational reform. To appropriately assess the abilities of the district or school, the leader will need to complete an inventory of the qualifications and areas of expertise the team members have. If the inventory concludes that the district or school does not have the capacity to implement or sustain the plan for reform, state takeover may be the only option.
It’s important for reform teams to work together to effect positive change – but it doesn’t happen overnight. Careful planning must be part of the plan and input from several sources for the best results to take place.