In our last post, we talked about how we are building a system of schools that values flexibility at every level of the organization. This gives our leaders the agency to make critical decisions that increase student achievement. It is our belief that when teachers and school leaders have the flexibility to make these decisions, we positively impact student outcomes and elevate professions in education, attracting more outstanding leaders to join our team. Despite having flexibility, we never want to underplay the amount of difficult work we have ahead of us. Creating a system of schools that were once in the bottom 5% and catapulting them into the top 25% of schools in the state will not be easy. That challenge may give some pause. We are embracing it and taking responsibility for the achievement of our students.
In transforming our Achievement Schools from persistently low-performing campuses into some of our state’s best, we provide our students with myriad life options and increase the future prosperity of our state. Right now, however, our students suffer from destinies of demographics: where they grow up determines the kinds of choices they are able to make for their futures. For instance, in the Memphis neighborhood of Frayser, 11 out of 14 schools in the feeder pattern perform in the bottom 5%. This statistic manifests itself in real ways that diminish our collective quality of life. Families remain in a perpetual cycle of poverty. Students have less access to rigorous college preparatory academics that set them up for college and a career. Teachers in these schools are often less experienced. Our students grow up in a system that limits their life options and they fail to meet their potential. Ultimately, we fail to fulfill our promise to our children and promises to children should be sacred.
As former teachers and school leaders, our team operates with a high degree of humility. We understand that the decisions we make have a lot of gravity. We are thoughtful and purposeful in our interactions. We know that we don’t have all of the answers and we are learning a lot about what it will take to accomplish our goals every day. Something we are sure of, however, is that there is no magic bullet in school turnaround work. We have tried curriculum. We have tried technology. We have tinkered with class sizes and union contracts. We have implemented program after program with no real gains in student achievement. We are sensitive to the experience of our communities, having been promised time and time again, that their children will have better opportunities.
We don’t have the magic bullet either and we know some great leaders have worked tirelessly to improve our schools. However, we do think we have some fresh ideas about how we get to our ambitious outcomes and we pride ourselves on our ability to develop deep relationships with our parents and students. We are also rethinking the relationship between the state, charter schools, local districts and the community. In the past, turnaround work has relied heavily on a regulatory framework that limited creativity. We will be comprehensive in our approach, as well, assessing every element of operations and achievement at our schools to ensure they are successful. The stakes are too high for failure.