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Thursday
Oct222015

Making Excellence Contagious: A Leader Think Tank

By Sarah Newman, AVID i3 Project Systems Coach

How does one transform a school to ensure college readiness for ALL students? How can one provide opportunities for students and teachers that will improve academic performance for ALL students? Many educational ideologues have pondered and attempted to find just the right ingredients to create a recipe for school success. Three rural districts in the heartland of Florida have come pretty close to perfecting this recipe. A school transforms when the instruction, systems, leadership, and culture of the school shift, ensuring college readiness for ALL. With the help of the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, Desoto, Hardee and Highlands County have made tremendous strides in raising the bar for students and creating a college readiness system. The middle schools, high schools, and state college in these districts have partnered with AVID Center (AVID is the acronym for Advancement Via Individual Determination) in an effort to build their recipe of success.

So, you are probably wondering, what did they do?

Leadership sets the tone for promoting high expectations for all. Far too often, our leaders work in isolation, when in fact, many of the issues that they are facing are similar. So, why not collaborate? These rural districts have unique challenges, and the hypothesis proposed for this grant was that collaboration amongst these schools will significantly improve student achievement, allow for integration of college readiness best practices, and provide student access to rigorous courses. To do this in an accelerated fashion, we had to leverage our ideas, which we did by creating a leader think tank.

The Vertical Articulation Collaborative was created to bring key stakeholders together in order to create a common vision, core values, and strategies that drive the mission of college readiness for all. Members of the collaborative include building principals and administrators, district superintendents, district or school instructional specialists, deans of local colleges, and AVID district directors. This group comes together four times a school year and even visits each other’s campuses to vertically align and calibrate their work from middle school all the way up to postsecondary.

So, how can leaders benefit from working in a Vertical Articulation Collaborative?

#1 – Opportunity for collaborative discussion amongst building and district leaders is highly coveted and rare. In most cases, leaders are pulled together for a sit-and-get and talked at, instead of allowing them to do the talking. This brainstorming discussion is truly a leader think tank and revolutionary in the way that leaders gather information.

#2 – By visiting other campuses and engaging in collaborative walkthroughs, leaders are able to see what is working and discuss why some things are not working. This provides them with a bigger menu to pick from when choosing what to implement back at their buildings.

#3 – Working in collaborative feeder patterns, leaders can help to build capacity in each other. They face similar challenges, have a common goal, and can learn from each other’s successes and help to build up each other’s weaknesses.

We don’t ask our teachers to work in isolation, so why do we expect something different from our building and district leaders? Leadership is the key to creating a culture that reflects beliefs and behaviors that promote college readiness. Leadership is necessary for instruction to align and students to learn the skills that they need to be successful in rigorous courses. Leadership is needed to create systems that improve academic achievement. Calibrating leadership will accelerate the transformation of a school to one that can ensure college readiness for all.

What opportunities do you have that could be turned into collaborative conversations for leaders? What opportunities do you need to create?

For more information, contact Sarah at [email protected].

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Sarah Newman is the i3 Project Systems Coach in the Eastern Division. She is a former District Director, Site Coordinator, and AVID Elective Teacher at an AVID National Demonstration High School in St. Petersburg, FL. She has also served as a staff developer at AVID Summer Institutes. Much of Sarah’s professional experiences include coaching and mentoring teachers as well as working with soon-to-be first generation college students.

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