Like most principals facing a new school year, Carol Stack, at the Jefferson Middle School in Champaign, Illinois, had set a series of goals for herself in September of 1999. One of her top goals was to reduce the school’s suspension rate. She had a hunch that particular groups of students were being suspended in disproportionate numbers, but she didn’t have a firm handle on the scope of the problem. Stack knew that she needed the facts, and so she focused on what she calls “sleuthing the data,” spending a good deal of time in September immersing herself in suspension rates by race, gender, and academic performance. Her approach has been lauded by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle–Grades Reform, a project based at EDC.
In between supervising her staff, meeting with students, administrators, and parents, and poring over data, Stack also managed to find time to keep a detailed diary of her school year. Stack’s Principal’s Diary, written for MiddleWeb, an on–line resource for educators, is also featured on the National Forum’s Schools to Watch Web site. Dr. Stack’s diary gives readers a rare chance to see a top school leader in action, pushing herself and her colleagues toward better performance.
“Sleuthing the data” is a key to that improvement. The data the administration and staff collect and analyze serve as the basis for school decision making. Data give evidence of need, of improvement, and of success or failure. Using the data helps the school be accountable to itself and to its public about the school’s progress.
Collecting data also gives the school political clout. According to the Schools to Watch Web site, the central office staff says, “Carol always has her ducks in a row.” For instance, when Dr. Stack requested an additional reading position, she presented data to demonstrate the need and promised feedback. Says a district administrator, “She said, ‘Give me the position and I will show you results in terms of growth.’ She came in with data, a plan, a feedback schedule, and her expectations for year–end results, and she got the new position.”
According to Nancy Ames, EDC vice–president and director of the National Forum, Carol Stack’s experience shows the potential of a data-based approach to school improvement: “Like the other Schools to Watch principals, Carol had a strong sense of where she wanted to take her school. She used data to help focus the school’s attention on the highest priority needs and to mobilize her staff and community members in support of the change process.”
“Schools to Watch” is a national initiative launched by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle–Grades Reform in 1999. The National Forum is an alliance of more than 60 educators, researchers, and officers of national associations and foundations dedicated to improving schools for young adolescents across the country.
Originally published on May 31, 2002