In our last post, we outlined the scope of work for the Achievement School District and our goals of transforming the bottom 5% of schools into schools that perform among the top 25% in the state. As both an operator and authorizer, the ASD is working urgently to ensure that we provide our students with transformational educational opportunities.
Because of years of decision making and leadership changes, the current “system” of schools is inflexible and lethargic. We don’t mean to downplay the amazing work that is being done across the state to ensure that our students have access to educations, but because of the rigidity in decision making, our local leaders and principals are often unable to make the kinds of changes that will immediately increase student achievement. We hope to dismantle that system in favor of one that builds in flexibility at every level.
The Achievement School District believes that when you hire outstanding principals and hold them to a high bar for student achievement, they deserve the ability to make decisions on their campus that will best serve their students’ needs. We call these areas of decision making the “Four Flexibilities.” These ideas aren’t original, nor are they revolutionary, but it is a deep philosophical change that will define how the Achievement Schools operate.
The Four Flexibilities
- TIME – We need to be honest with ourselves about our school calendars. They are antiquated and based on an agrarian farming tradition that set students for futures in rural farming or industrial age employment. Less than 2% of our population farms now and our jobs are becoming increasingly high skilled. Couple those demands with the fact that our students growing up in low-income neighborhoods are drastically behind their higher income peers, we simply need more time to meet our students where they are an prepare them to be successful in life. The Achievement Schools will increase the amount of time students are receiving great instruction and will give our school leaders the ability to create a school calendar that meets the needs of her students. The Achievement Schools daily schedule will run from 8a-4:30p each day. Students will have Saturday co-curricular classes each month and we will develop summer academic programming into our school calendars in the future.
- PROGRAM – In many districts across the country, instructional leadership teams sit in central offices creating curriculum that mandate what teachers should teach, when they should teach it and how they should do it. In fact, teachers in some places get reprimanded for going off script to meet the needs of their students. In our system, we want to treat teachers like the professionals that they are and allow them to use their professional discretion to make critical classroom teaching decisions. Principals and teachers will have agency over co-curricular activities including clubs, enrichment and special services to students. These types of things should not be cookie cutter, but instead should be unique to the needs and culture of that campus.
- RESOURCES – In a command and control system, schools have little, if any, ability to use resources and money in any meaningful way that meets the needs of students at the campus level. In the ASD, we are committed to keeping our overhead low by capitalizing on economies of scale, reducing costs, and keeping our support team in the central office lean so that we maximize the amount of resources that funnel down to our campuses.
- PEOPLE – The single greatest factor effecting the achievement of low-income students are teachers. Our Achievement principals will have the ability to make critical people decisions at the campus level. Ultimately, the success of our students will be a testament to the teachers that we attract, develop and retain and we believe that process starts at the campus level. Our Achievement principals will be talent magnets.
By building in flexibility at the campus level, we maximize our ability to be responsive and innovative. We can adjust immediately and we give the authority to make key decisions to those leaders working with students every day. Not only will these Four Flexibilities increase the achievement of our students, but, we believe, will position the Achievement Schools to become an employer of choice. Flexibility and decision making will attract teachers and school leaders who are looking to have a tremendous influence over the success of our students.