Districts and schools should make sure they have a clear mutual understanding about the role the district will play in supporting the school's reform efforts, in conjunction with outside technical assistance providers such as model developers.
Many district offices are playing a large role in providing support for implementing comprehensive reform in the schools we visited. For example, two districts provide facilitators to work in the schools implementing comprehensive reform. These facilitators act both as resources and leaders at the school level, as well as liaisons to the district.
One district has created an Area Superintendent position to support all the schools in the district (CSRD funded or not) implementing one particular reform model. The Area Superintendent's role is to make sure that the schools have the resources and authority to improve, make necessary decisions, and have the time to show expected improvements. The Superintendent meets regularly with schools implementing the reform models as well as the city's larger central administration.
Another district provides a coordinator for each model being implemented in its schools. The coordinator assists schools in working with the model developers as well as ensuring frequent communication with district officials. Additionally, district personnel regularly visit the CSRD schools to maintain familiarity with the models and to see how implementation is progressing.
Because CSRD involves the participation of other, external technical assistance providers, it is important for roles to be clearly defined and efforts coordinated. In one example of this coordination, a community's mayor, city council, and chamber of commerce joined together with the traditional school support systems of the district, the model developer (a state university), and the school and held an education summit. The result of this meeting was an agreement among all parties on the goals that will shape the education policies in the district. This summit not only clarified how the district would support schools implementing this program, but also addressed support the district would receive for this initiative.
Resources on District Support for Comprehensive Reform
Lessons from New American Schools' Scale-Up Phase
Northwest Regional Education Laboratory
Implementing School Reform Models: The Clover Park Experience
States, districts, and technical assistance providers should consider whether districts and schools need further assistance in reaching shared understandings regarding the type and intensity of services to be provided by external technical assistance providers.
Yet some schools express concern that the agreed-upon level of support they are receiving from model developers will not be sufficient, either because not enough ongoing contact had been negotiated or because schools think they may need additional support beyond what the model developer provides.
A school developing its own model has had some difficulty in forming a strong partnership with its technical assistance provider, a local university. Many staff members expressed concerns that the university was focused on developing a generically applicable model instead of addressing the specific reform needs of the school. This perception of differing priorities had contributed to a great deal of frustration and slow progress in implementing reforms.
In a few instances, schools we visited expressed difficulty contacting staff representing some models, and schools with upcoming staff development activities hosted by developers did not know what was to take place in these sessions. Thus, states and districts have a role to play in helping schools become good "consumers" of reform models' services and can play an important role in helping schools and technical assistance providers learn to work together.
Resources on Arrangements with Model Developers
U.S. Department of Education
A Guide to Working with Model Developers
Education Commission of the States
Comprehensive School Reform: Criteria and Questions Selecting School Reform Models
North Central Regional Education Laboratory Comprehensive School Reform: Making Good Choices: A Guide for Schools and Districts (Appendix H)
American Institutes for Research
An Educators' Guide to Schoolwide Reform
Building partnerships with technical assistance providers presents special challenges for schools working with homegrown approaches. Because schools adopting locally developed models often encounter the development and implementation phases of the model simultaneously, it is especially important for mutual understandings to be reached. There should be clear agreement on the type and intensity of services that will be provided to the school. In many schools using locally developed reform models the vision is still developing, which may at first generate more confusion and anxiety than is usually associated with established models. Further, schools may not know what to expect in terms of an implementation timeline when the model is still being developed. This can create a ripple effect that extends to benchmarking and data collection. The external partner must recognize and be able to address the technical assistance needs of the school in both phases, and states and districts need to ensure that all of these needs are met.
Districts have an important role to play in helping build school support for change and helping teachers and staff "buy-in" to reform efforts--both in selecting models and in sustaining reform. For example, in one site visited, the district and a local foundation partnered to help teachers, particularly those most skeptical that change could happen, visit other schools implementing a similar comprehensive reform effort. When these teachers came back enthusiastic about what they had seen, other teachers became more committed to change. Another district we visited provided funds for a week-long summer institute sponsored by a model developer in order to give school faculty an opportunity to understand and support the reform effort.
We found such efforts on the state level as well. One state provides technical assistance to schools and districts on the evaluation, selection, and development of CSRD programs. A liaison from the state department of education is assigned to each school implementing CSRD and is specifically trained in the different models used by those schools. The liaisons ensure communication with the state, broker resources, provide support, and help keep the reform process on track at the school level.
In our visits we also observed promising school-level efforts to build ongoing support for reform. One school is making funds available so that all teachers in the school can visit another school implementing the same model. This has been a major investment. In addition, the CSRD school has arranged for teachers from its partner school to visit and provide professional development, including modeling lessons to demonstrate effective instructional strategies.
In another school, a veteran teacher is being trained as the model facilitator. The teacher has leadership skills, is respected by the other teachers, and has an interest in the reform effort. His job is to help teachers stay on task, provide professional development, meet with and develop leadership teams, and make certain that plans are implemented. The facilitator also helps teachers with instruction and scheduling problems.
Resources on School-Level Support for Reform
Lessons from New American Schools' Scale-Up Phase