While we understand that a schools’ intellectual focus and instructional practice should drive design, how can that understanding be integrated into an effective school design and professional development program? The KnowledgeWorks Foundation has spearheaded a professional learning process that led to the opening of seventy-six small autonomous schools converted from twenty urban comprehensive high schools across Ohio.
KnowledgeWorks spends its first year with interested schools going through an self-analysis portfolio and creating a strategic plan to close the distance between its accomplished and struggling students. Schools that are best able to see the gaps in their own performance would be best able to move forward with the change process.
The portfolio that schools create must measure and address seven areas, adapted from Victoria Bernhardt’s The School Portfolio:
- Student Achievement
- Quality Planning
- Professional Development
- Information and Analysis
- Continuous Improvement and Evaluation
- Partnership and Community Engagement
The strategic plan that each design team then creates is based on two needs: (1) to close the gaps that each schools self-portfolio highlighted and (2) to become a campus of small schools.
KnowledgeWorks requires that the plan include fifteen non-negotiable elements:
- Autonomous governance, budgets, structures, and staffing; flexible use of resources
- Distributed leadership
- Open access and choice for students
- Identification of and release time for principal in first year of implementation
- Professional development that clearly links changes in teaching practice to improved student achievement
- A clearly defined system of central office support of small school design and implementation
- A curriculum clearly aligned with state standards and focused on helping students use their minds well
- Non-traditional scheduling that promotes deep student learning and meaningful relationships with teachers
- Clearly demonstrated use of technology and advanced communications resources
- Clearly stated benchmarks for improved student achievement
- Performance assessment for students
- Authentic community engagement as defined by substantive community conversations that engage a broad array of stakeholders and connect with and influence official decisions
- Clear community involvement in the daily life of the school
- Individual teacher advisors for each student
- Target maximum population of 400 students
These non-negotiables put issues of teaching and learning at the center of conversion efforts.
More about this professional development self-analysis can be found at KnowledgeWorks’ web site, www.kwfdn.org/ProgramAreas/School/ohsti.html.
Victoria Bernhardt’s The School Portfolio: A Comprehensive Framework for School Improvement, Second Edition (Eye on Education, 1998), is at www.eyeoneducation.com