Four Turnaround Schools Report Initial Progress

Schools are working with The Rensselaerville Institute to make lasting changes.

Guilford County, North Carolina, Nov. 16, 2017 – Focusing on empowering principals and engaging community support is how The Rensselaerville Institute (TRI) has led school turnaround efforts at more than 240 schools nationwide since 2001. Now, the New York-based institute is working with four Guilford County (GCS) schools to bring about similar changes. The board heard a progress report at its meeting on Thursday.

TRI is a nonprofit agency that guarantees schools will meet or exceed their academic targets in two years or less. If schools don’t meet their targets, the organization won’t require payment. Currently, 100 percent of their partner schools have been successful. If GCS joins them, the institute will be paid using Title I funds.

Through TRI, GCS schools have been working with a turnaround specialist to support changes that are sustainable and build on the school leader’s strengths and shortfalls. The turnaround specialist focuses on building day-to-day habits, not theoretical ideas, using each school’s specific data, and encourages a team approach within the building.

“Change has to happen locally,” says Gillian Williams, president of TRI. “You’ve got to rely on the folks who are at hand. Our role is to be the catalyst, so we come in and we help, but we are not the people making the change happen.”

Recognizing that school performance issues often extend beyond the classroom, the TRI method reaches into the community to identify and engage community “sparkplugs” – individuals and organizations that support the school as partners.

The results have been powerful around the country, and local schools — Fairview Elementary, Welborn Middle, Northeast Middle and Gillespie Park Elementary — are seeing the benefits as well.

Angela Dawson, principal of Fairview Elementary, says, “The job of the principal can oftentimes feel lonely; however, my coach is an immediate phone call or email away. It has been helpful having someone who has done this work before available to bounce ideas off of. My ability to look specifically at individual student data and develop immediate plans to close gaps has increased this year. I feel supported in this work every day.”

Northeast Middle principal Jamie King agrees. “School turnaround has given me the opportunity to look at school leadership in a different light. Many times we “talk” about how to turnaround a school, but how we do it is something that is completely different. School turnaround has allowed me to look at our efforts and compartmentalize each effort to see if those changes are making a difference with our students.”

Previous turnaround efforts at other GCS schools have focused on making drastic changes, including replacing the principal and requiring staff to reapply for their jobs. In contrast, TRI aims to empower the existing staff and leadership and give them the tools to lead and sustain change.

Schools will evaluate their progress mid-year and, with the help of the turnaround specialist, make adjustments to their strategies. At the end of the year, participants evaluate their results and build off of them to design a plan for the coming year.

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