Turning around “underperforming” schools or districts is difficult work. And it becomes more urgent every day as the number of schools earning this designation grows—and the consequences get tougher.
For EDC’s Barbara Miller, “turnaround partner” for the Winchendon (Mass.) Public Schools, the answer begins with hard thinking about where an outside advisor like herself can have the biggest impact quickly.
“Where’s the biggest bang for the buck? Usually the answer lies in supporting work that is directly related to teaching and learning—work that is rooted in classrooms,” says Miller.
Miller and her colleagues at the Center for Leadership and Learning Communities focused on one opportunity for improvement: implementation of a K–6 mathematics curriculum. She knew that just getting good materials into a school is not enough; teachers also need support in implementing them.
Building on professional development provided by the curriculum’s publisher, Miller and EDC colleagues developed a cadre of in-house leaders to support colleagues.
EDC staff work with the teacher-leaders, who facilitate monthly meetings and work on pacing and managing student discussions, activities to evaluate how well students are learning the material, and tools for principals and others to monitor how well teachers are using the materials. So far, results are good: Teachers are using the materials effectively, and test scores are moving up.
This initiative to bolster mathematics instruction, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Education, is just one piece of Miller’s work with Winchendon. “I’ve seen from my own experience the power of improving instruction,” she says.
Originally published on April 30, 2007