What Is A Turnaround School? - School Turnaround

What Is A Turnaround School?

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To put it briefly, turnaround schools are those that are undergoing an institutional makeover of sorts. From staff and infrastructure to instructional style, turnaround schools are striving to meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks that they consistently fall short of.

In this article, we’ll dig into the specifics of what a turnaround school is, what is expected of this type of school, how they measure success, and what they need to have in place in order to succeed.

But, before we dive into what a turnaround school is, we must first understand the turnaround methodology and how these schools fit into the educational landscape in the United States today.

History of the turnaround model

In 2009, the Race to the Top grant initiative was funded by the Obama administration as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), a stimulus package created in response to the 2008 financial crisis. 

Through Race to the Top, State Education agencies (SEAs) and, subsequently, Local Education Agencies (LEAs), received funding to improve schools through School Improvement Grants (SIGs). 

In order to be eligible for funding through SIGs, schools must perform at the bottom 5% of schools across the nation. Funded schools are required to conform to one of four different strategies designed to improve performance. 

The four strategies, or models, are: 

  • Turnaround
  • Restart
  • Transformation
  • School Closure

Each of these models uses slightly different methods to improve schools which consistently fail to meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmark set by the nation’s schools. 

For the purposes of this article, we’ll discuss the strategies employed in turnaround schools, specifically. 

So, what is a turnaround school?

Turnaround schools are institutions which receive School Improvement Grants and abide by the turnaround school model. Because each school has different strengths and weaknesses, the turnaround model differs slightly between institutions. However, there are some common practices employed within this framework.

Common components of the turnaround school model include:

  • Replacing the school principal
  • Replacing a minimum of 50% of the school’s staff
  • Developing strategies to recruit and retain staff
  • Incorporating professional development programs for staff to ensure they are equipped to perform their roles successfully
  • Using student data to develop tailored instruction that meets the individual needs of current students 
  • Incentivizing staff with performance-based career advancement opportunities and monetary bonuses
  • Providing social-emotional and community-oriented support and services to students
  • Developing and implementing a new governance structure
  • Increase instructional time for students

These measures are meant to improve the quality of instruction, create an accountability system, and ultimately improve student success within the turnaround school.

How is turnaround school success measured?

When schools adopt the turnaround model they must strive to meet certain milestones and performance markers within pre-determined time-frames. Usually schools are given 2 to 4 years to meet these goals.  

If schools do not meet their targets they may be required to make significant changes, including staff overhauls, intervention by the state, and they may even face closure. 

The success markers are established by the state and school districts in collaboration with each individual school, based on the unique circumstances of the institution. Determining what to measure and how to measure it is a tricky process, especially given that traditional methods for measuring success aren’t adequate when gauging turnaround success. 

According to the Wallace Foundation, common measures of school improvement include:

  • Attendance rates
  • Rates of misconduct and violence
  • Infrastructure improvement
  • Parent engagement
  • Teacher attendance and retention rates
  • Teacher and school leader participation in decision making and planning
  • Use of data to improve quality of teaching
  • Rates of students earning credits and grade-level advancement
  • Student drop-out rates
  • Rates of students performing at grade level by subject
  • Proficiency rates on state assessments
  • Graduation and college-going rates

Schools typically rely on annual achievement data to measure school and student success, but in the case of a turnaround project, this data isn’t timely enough. As a result, turnaround schools are forced to develop their own data collection and measurement techniques.

As a result, success is usually measured using a mix of testing, classroom observation, electronic assessments, and surveys of students, staff, and parents.  

What is a turnaround principal?

Turnaround principals are tasked with leading the mission to turn an underperforming school into a successful one. Sometimes these individuals have graduated from School Turnaround Specialist programs and other times they simply have a track record of helping struggling institutions succeed. 

Turnaround principals need to be strong leaders prepared to provide support and motivation for the teachers of their schools. They must be prepared to spend time listening and observing the needs of the school staff and students in order to understand their needs.

Because turnaround schools vary so much in their needs, there is no cut and dry path to success. Turnaround principals need to be prepared to think outside the box in order to develop strategies that will help their school meet the success markers that have been established.

What is a turnaround teacher?

One of the most important qualities of a turnaround teacher is their ability to build connections with their students. Among other problems, turnaround schools are often plagued with low attendance and high drop-out rates. 

When teachers are able to build meaningful connections with their students, these numbers often start to shift. In turn, students tend to become more engaged and achieve higher test scores.

Turnaround teachers encourage class participation by creating a safe space for students and encouraging them to voice their perspectives. Research has shown that discussion-based teaching is a powerful way to foster student success, and turnaround teachers are experts at creating this type of learning environment.

Additionally, turnaround teachers need to be flexible. They must be prepared to adjust lesson plans and instructional styles to meet the needs of their students. They should be expert listeners so they can learn what their students need and how best to support them.

How can turnaround schools succeed?

There’s no question that turning a failing school around is a massive undertaking, but with a few key components in place, turnaround schools can succeed.

Turnaround schools need determined leaders who are willing to invest time and energy into motivating and supporting their staff and students. Working in a school that lacks infrastructure and resources is challenging, and the leadership needs to be prepared to find creative solutions to these problems while remaining focused on meeting success markers.

A dedicated staff is another key element to the success of turnaround schools. Often, these schools struggle to retain staff, which creates a culture of instability within the institution. To create a supportive, stable environment for students, turnaround schools need to employ dedicated teachers and staff who are willing to support students through thick and thin. In order to do this, turnaround programs often develop incentives to encourage staff to stay on long term.

Studies have shown that an instruction-first approach to the turnaround project is a powerful way forward. This means, effort must be made to create quality lesson plans and develop instructional methods that resonate with the students. This fosters student engagement which ultimate leads to higher student achievement. 

School Turnaround

If your turnaround school is striving to meet success markers, School Turnaround can help. Our leadership development model is designed to help improve student achievement in underperforming schools. 

Within our framework, you will partner with our experienced turnaround specialists to learn proven strategies for school turnaround. These strategies include learning how to use data effectively, identify potential roadblocks to success, and aligning your resources, among others.

This program is based on past success with turning around failing schools and there is a money-back guarantee if your school does not meet your established success markers within one year. To learn more, visit our website, www.schoolturnaround.org

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