Many years ago, while teaching a graduate class in educational leadership at a local university, one of my students informed me that her friends child was attending a K-8 charter school that was on the verge of failing. She also stated that the school would likely be shut down by North Carolinas Board of Education. She then asked if she could provide my name to her friend so that I might offer advice to the schools board of directors on how they could save the school from failing. Within a few weeks, I was offered a position as the schools executive director. The board members made it clear that my mandate was to save the school from being closed. In other words, they wanted me to transform the school. I also had to make a compelling argument to North Carolinas Board of Education that the school should be allowed to stay open and that my team and I would turn things around in less than three years. Fortunately, the board agreed.
The following data provides a summary of the school along with some background information. It is followed by my personal observations, gathered during my first few weeks on the job.
History: School had been in existence for six years when I arrived.
Demographics: 98% African American 2% other.
Socioeconomics: 80% of students received free/reduced lunch (this is essentially the number of students whose families lived below the states poverty level).
Academics: 25% of the students were at grade level the school had never had more than 50% of its students above grade level.
Structure: The school had 600 students with an elementary and middle school located in one large building. The elementary teachers were divided into grade level teams (K-2, and 3-5). The middle school teachers taught their specialties, i.e. language arts, math, social studies, etc. They were not divided into teams.
Teachers and staff:
(1) 60% highly qualified, i.e. met state teaching standards.
(2) Large number of teachers were retired from the public school system, i.e. earning a second pay check
(3) Numerous clicks among teachers most worked independently rather than as a team
(4) Former school principal had been on the job for two years. He was disengaged and demonstrated poor ethics (example: he took a two week vacation during the academic year and told his staff that he was having back surgery).
Students parents: Although they understood the value of an education and wanted the best for their children, less than 5% were college graduates and only 50% had a high school diploma. Many of the students lived in single family homes (raised by their mothers or grandmothers).
Personal Observations: I spent the first two three weeks visiting classrooms and listening to my teachers, staff, students, and their parents. Although the school was struggling financially I did not find this to be the root cause of the academic problems. About half the teachers, mostly those who had retired from public school teaching and decided to work again at a charter school, complained about the lack of student motivation, significant behavior problems, and the parents failure to support their teaching efforts. Some teachers, however, especially the younger ones, had a more positive attitude and they offered ideas and recommendations for improvement.
The students seemed bored and had little interest in school-work. They told me that some of the teachers did not care about them and that all they did was yell and tell them that they were failures. Many parents told me that they did not want to be constantly bothered by phone calls from the teachers about their childrens discipline issues, and that the school should do its job of educating the children. When I walked into the classrooms it seemed that many teachers were spending more time on discipline than academics. During the lunch hours, I would often hear teachers complain about other teachers or they would simply argue that the school was a mess. A few even asked me why I would waste my time working in such an environment.
It did not take me long to realize that the school needed to be thoroughly transformed otherwise, it would die a slow and painful death. Although the information in this case is limited, it offers enough of a picture to allow you to gain an appreciation for the basic situation. There are many schools and organizations of all kinds, nationwide, with similar stories. Given the material we have discussed in class during the past five weeks, consider the following in your discussion (three or four paragraphs):
Where would you begin in your efforts to transform the school?
Which of the four frames, discussed in our text, would you focus most of your time on?
Do you feel confident that you would be able to make this school successful? Why?