zavadskyBook Author: Heather Zavadsky (2012)

Efforts to improve school performance and student outcomes have traditionally focused on initiatives and strategies at the individual school level. Concerned about limitations of scalability and sustainability when focusing solely on one school, Heather Zavadsky’s School Turnarounds: The Essential Role of Districts explains the benefits of gaining a complex system vantage in addressing the priority functions of school turnaround. Zavadsky explores turnaround measures from a systems approach through examination of case studies of districts in Philadelphia, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Denver, Sacramento, and Long Beach. These case studies provide individual and collective support for the potential impact of involving central office in school turnaround efforts. In addition, the case studies provide analysis for diverse organizational structures and the manner in which they engage with state and federal policies. In School Turnarounds, readers will find how:

  1. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are implementing an innovative human capital strategy—compensation, tenure, time for collaboration, and instructional coaches.

    The School District of Philadelphia targets ninety-five schools for turnaround in the face of organizational leadership changes and discord with the teacher's union.

  2. Denver Public Schools implements large-scale change including co-sharing facilities with charter management companies.

  3. Sacramento City Unified School District employs a collaborative team approach to data inquiry for developing instructional practices.

  4. Long Beach Unified School District is emblematic of sustained turnaround of a system of formerly low-performing schools.

Contextually, School Turnarounds is set against the backdrop of growing federal influence on education through school improvement grants (SIG) and Race to the Top, but emphasizes that schools and districts need to move beyond the fleeting windfall of state or federal grant money and become more proactive in creating long-term strategies for turnaround. Readers, particularly district staff, would be mindful to incorporate Zavadsky's outline for districts' role in reform and turnaround. The author analyzed practices by Broad Prize for Urban Education winners and observed that exemplar districts "have well-aligned systems and strategic approaches to their reform work... [And] coherent systems that made these districts' reform approach a part of their culture rather than an add-on program or grant" (p.20).

School Turnarounds’ case studies shed light on the challenges and opportunities school systems face in employing: effective human capital strategies, rigorous and engaging instruction, continuous performance management, positive cultures of high expectations, and collective accountability. These traits collectively are what Zavadsky holds as essential elements of school turnaround, and the lessons for districts within focus on strategies for effective leaders and teachers, curriculum and instruction, performance management, relationships, and managing turnaround from the district perspective.

Zavadsky, H. (2012). School turnarounds: the essential role of districts. Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA.

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