Monday, July 2, 2012

Strategic staffing: Changing school culture?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools'  "strategic staffing"  initiative is one of five national efforts highlighted in a recent Education Trust report on school districts that are trying to make high-poverty schools a better place for  teachers to work.

The report by Ed Trust staffers Sara Almy and Melissa Tooley contends that the widespread focus on improving teacher evaluations overlooks a crucial issue:  Many high-poverty schools are not places that attract and keep the best teachers, however you define that. Creating a good working climate for teachers is essential to making those schools work better for students, they say.

"Despite widespread assumptions that students are the primary cause of teacher dissatisfaction and attrition, research shows that the work environment in schools — particularly the quality of school leadership and staff cohesion —  actually matters more, especially among  teachers working in high-poverty schools,"  the report says.

I've talked to many principals who say the same thing.  If administrators and teachers are sniping at each other,  academic gains will remain elusive.

Former CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman got some of his ideas for strategic staffing from a group of National Board Certified teachers who brainstormed ways to make struggling schools more attractive.  Money alone wasn't enough, they said:  Even the best teachers will be worn down if they're surrounded by a dysfunctional faculty.

Gorman's plan includes financial rewards for effective teachers and principals who volunteer for duty in challenging schools.  But the key is that they can come in teams. Gorman selected people he viewed as some of his best principals, then let them hand-pick five teachers to help create a new culture.

The Ed Trust report cites encouraging signs of teacher satisfaction and student achievement, based on a CMS evaluation of strategic staffing schools  (read the full CMS evaluation here).

The report made me curious.  North Carolina just published results of the 2012 teacher working conditions survey.  How do strategic staffing schools look?

The results are mixed and complicated.  Some are outright discouraging.

I started by identifying 12 schools that have had strategic staffing in place for at least two full school years with the original principal:  Albemarle Road,  Allenbrook,  Ashley Park,  Briarwood,  Devonshire,  Nathaniel Alexander,  Paw Creek and Reid Park elementaries (Ashley Park and Reid Park added middle school grades last year);  Albemarle Road,  Eastway and King middle schools and Vance High.  Then I looked at two crucial measures of school climate:  Do teachers agree there's an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect?   And do they describe their schools as good places to work and learn?

For starters,  the picture was clouded by low response rates,  which was an issue at many CMS schools.  Fewer than half the teachers at Ashley Park,  Nathaniel Alexander,  King and Vance responded to the anonymous online survey,  making it hard to put much stock in the results.

That's particularly frustrating because Ashley Park had some of the best ratings.  Only two --  Ashley Park and Albemarle Road Elementary -- topped the CMS average on trust and respect.  Two-thirds of all CMS teachers who responded said they agreed that their school had that kind of atmosphere;  Ashley Park logged 72 percent and Albemarle 69.  Fewer than 50 percent agreed at five of the 12 schools:  King (36 percent),  Briarwood (37 percent),  Eastway (38 percent),  Allenbrook and Vance (42 percent each).

Devonshire,  which has consistently emerged as one of the most successful strategic staffing schools,  topped the list on the question about whether the school is a good place to work and learn,  with 84 percent agreeing. That roughly matches the state average and tops the CMS average of 80 percent.  With the other strategic staffing schools,  agreement ranged from 80 percent at Paw Creek to 45 percent at Briarwood.

I'm not sure what to make of all that.  As I've often said,  numbers are more likely to shape good questions than to provide full answers.  Many people,  locally and nationally,  see a lot of promise in the strategic staffing approach.  But clearly questions remain about how to make it work for all schools and all children.


Anonymous said...

The concept makes sense. Its execution that matters.

1. Were the best people selected? Not if you go only by their previous school's test scores

2. Was the number one area of contention and morale-drain ever addressed? Student discipline, especially in low performing schools, is the number one reason teachers hate their jobs. And it is the number one cause of 'snipping' between admin and teachers. Most of these strategic principals were not selected because they were solid at handling discipline.

3. The final question I would ask is how much total money has been spent on this initiative and what have the outcomes been? Are the outcomes worth the expenditure? I probably need to read that report you linked.

Anonymous said...

That report is a year and a half old.

Anonymous said...

Ann, may I suggest you categorize and compare based on gender, just for fun. I say this because I have personally witnessed women administrators are more likely to develop a buddy system (or bring their posse with them) than the male administrators I have observed. I do not think Dr. Gorman understood this when he allowed the Fantastic 5 to go with strategic staffing. The guys are more likely to stick with CMS procedures for things such as evals for teachers and discipline for students. They generally tend not to play favorites. It saddens me to say this because I have been a women's libber all my life. However there has been sufficient affirmative action time to have a good cross section of people, gender, race, diversity, etc. to get a good reading. Equal rights means just have the equal right to follow the rules male or female. You do not get to skip the ones you don't care for.

Anonymous said...

I guess the SS is being replaced by Project LIFT? Since its a buddy system in place to bring in your buddies to work. Since their is no accountability to be measured I am sure it will work regardless of the outcome. It further move CMS to a segregated system. Breka it up into 3-4 districts regionally for local reponsibility/accountability. Heath Good Luck on your new venture !

Bill Stevens said...

There were numerous schools that were not in the SS program that had better academic gain.

Bottom line is the profession has done a poor job and even refused to do the difficult job of dealing with "coasting" teachers or difficult adminstrators. You can not laty al lof this on just the teachers. A lot of these issues are due to incompetent adminstrators, the previous superintendet laying al the ills of these kids at the feet of the teachers and the media and AA's constant slam of the talent and dedication of these teachers who haev been in these trenches for a long time in these schools.

Anonymous said...

Changing a school's culture involves something greater than a principal and five teachers. The major factor is changing how students perceive themselves, giving them hope that they can change, and teaching them that rewards are earned when one achieves beyond expectations. Whichever adults we send to these schools must sign up for the long term and be willing to get to know the families, children and community they serve. How many CMS teachers and administrators live in other NC counties and SC? How can they be invested in improving Mecklenburg County when it isn't their home?

The steady churn of principals and teachers does not promote stability in schools. Children suffer because they perceive that anyone who seems to care soon abandons them. Their teachers cannot continue to take the abuse heaped upon them and still have enough strength to give kids what they need. So, they leave, one way or another.

Changing school culture? We have given too much praise to all kids for mediocre performance, whether in the academic, artistic or sports realm. Too long we have focused on building self-esteem instead of self-belief.

Intrinsic motivation is something our society has robbed from most of our children. Make them work for what they get at home, at school and everywhere else. That is how you build a work ethic. Empathize with their problems but teach them how to overcome them, do not allow them to wallow in them. Teach them also to respect authority. It is alright to question authority but how it is done is the basis of keeping our society civilized.

Before the comments begin, I am an African-American teacher and I am speaking about the 90% of all children who are not reaching their potential, white, black, hispanic, asian, etc. We are all at fault for the state of education in our society.

Those who have discussed the teaching of math have hit on a major reason why we have a problem in this area in the United States. When the push for "new math" came about, it assumed all children were taught how to add, multiply, subtract and divide before they entered school. Of course, a lot of them did 50 years ago when playtime included older siblings simulating "school" and teaching their younger ones what they were learning at the time.

Without a strong foundation, it is difficult to take the critical leaps in thinking that problem solving requires. So I submit to you that if one doesn't memorize the multiplication tables and have continuous (rote) practice in basic math skills at the earliest age possible, that person will never do well in math. You must be able to determine if the answers on that calculator are logical if the leap to higher levels is to take place with a degree of confidence. Rote learning of the basics is why older US generations are better in math and reading than younger ones.

We must also get back to teaching phonics in order to help students gain enough confidence to attempt to read aloud. Reading skills will then improve as students hear themselves succeed.

Anonymous said...

You mean throwing doughnuts and iPads at the kids wont help? We better change the direction soon since this is plan we have for next few years ! I agree with you that TEACHERS are the best way to TEACH all children. I am white and not in education field. The minute CMS goes back to "valueing teachers" will be the minute we start to see grades increase.

Anonymous said...

Ashley Park also had MANY teachers leave mid-year who were not invited to join the survey.

BolynMcClung said...


GROWTH. What a questionable concept. It completely ignores quantity and quality.

In CMS’ underperforming schools, “Growth” is a way to gloss over poor academic achievement while trying to increase it.

In CMS’s other schools “Growth” doesn’t mean much. It’s like knocking .004 seconds off a world record. If you win the race but fall short of the world record, it doesn’t and shouldn’t mean much. However, failure to maintain growth in underperforming schools is a disaster.

I’m not alone in believing it is difficult in managing two different levels of quality in a business. It’s confusing. It’s particularly upsetting to customers. They’ll never believe that their Porsches won’t be affected negatively when they see an economy car rolling off the same assembly line. Such is CMS’ dilemma.

In the north and south parts of this county two groups, SMART and SPARK, are building cases to split CMS mostly based on the concept noted above. Project L.I.F.T and Strategic Staffing have the same approach. Less known to White Mecklenburgers is how the whole Title I program is consolidated into one zone so that managers can concentrate on one level of learning. When Dr. Morrison says CMS taxpayers have a perception problem, this is it.

If he wants to convince all of us that CMS will eventually produce nothing but Porsches, he first must say that he’s building Porsches and economy cars. Will that validate the perception problem? I don’t know.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

As a member of a SS team I will tell you that discipline is a very big issue. If students are allowed to disrupt learning for students in their class it not only hurts that class but the entire school. At the school I work in the teachers who were allowed or asked to stay at the school were great once the climate changed. We have to remember that the students will respond positively to positive behavioral interventions but the moment they sense a kink in the chain they will exploit it.

Growth is important in terms of tracking how a student gains from one year to the next,however it can be taken a step further when assigning teachers for particular students to ensure they continue that growth. Character education and work ethic are being addressed by serious teachers. Its hard when Administrations do not support teachers. That looks different in different schools and for different teachers.

Some women Principals have buddy systems, but so do some of the men. I dont think it hurts to bring in people who have the same work ethic as you or the same philosophy on education, but sometimes members of the buddy system will throw an innocent person under the bus so they can CYA. If a leader is not effectively motivating his/her group he/she should be replaced. The teachers are being emotionally abused in these schools and I hope Mr. Morrison can see the data on that.

P.S.- Teachers do not fill out the survey because it gives Principals fuel for their fire. I've worked at schools where none of the data was reviewed and I've worked at schools were the data was used against the staff. If they want real data they should look at the amount of teachers who are leaving schools. If you have 10 or more teachers leaving a school in one year someone needs to talk to that Principal.

Anonymous said...

If bringing in staff you want can be strategic in a positive way then what about getting individuals who are "placed" at your school with no input from administration or teachers? Wouldn't it stand to reason that that scenario could bring about a negative culture? That happens a lot!

Anonymous said...

I agree about the survey results. Many of my CMS colleagues do not fill them out. They either believe ( truthfully or not) that they are not truly anonymous, they don't want the results to be used against the school/staff.

Bill Stevens said...

Take a look at the ed trust website and see if you can determine if they do not have an agenda.

Anonymous said...

Of course The Education Trust has an agenda.

It's all about the bottom-feeders in society.

What's sad to me is their report on high school and military readiness:

"Shut Out of the Military: Today’s High School Education Doesn’t Mean You’re Ready for Today’s Army,"

It's just pathetic to see how many people just do not meet minimum qualifications to be in the military today.

Of course, it's the same groups performing the same as they do in everything else in life.

But still...

Not even qualified for the Army?

If not good enough for them, then who else would want them or could afford to train them for ANYTHING?


Anonymous said...

Well said Anon 10:43!

Anonymous said...

Your gender inquiry is intriguing. The vast majority of classroom teachers are female.

Anonymous said...

Gee, ya' really think teacher/principal stability and longevity could impact student achievement? Tell that to the 5 school board reps. who've effectively led District 6 in the last 8 years. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Really. Wow. You should write/blog more.

Anonymous said...

Thank you 7:22 and 12:49. None of us have all of the answers, but it is going to take all of us to combat the problem.

We can begin by acknowledging that not all students are succeeding in low poverty schools and some students, more than people realize, are succeeding in high poverty schools. That is the reality of education today. The question, therefore, is how do we make things better for all students?

I do believe technology has its place in improving student performance. It can provide the individualized practice needed for the basics and can be used to challenge those who have already mastered them. I do believe that we have to make sure that students are writing down solutions to math problems in logical steps because writing information is a major factor in retaining it.

Technology can help a teacher simulate what occurred in one room schoolhouses, students learning at their own pace and level. Making sure each child in each classroom has the preferred tool would require a herculean effort by this community. I would prefer laptops but that is because they would be easier to secure, monitor and troubleshoot for me. Others may feel the same way about IPads.

If we decide to put what is best for children at the forefront of our thinking and reach consensus about what is practical, then our shared goal of helping all children could be achievable.

Anonymous said...

I think that the bottom line is the fact that all schools whether they are Strategically Staffed or not, must select the leaders based on their ability and experience to LEAD!!! The problem with CMS is that so many of these principals/leaders have been selected on the fact of "who they know" and not "what they know." The only way that our school system is going to become as good or great as it can be is if we start selecting competent people! Many of us know that many of the principals that were strategically staff or those individuals that were promoted to various higher level positions did not have the ability to do these jobs. Gorman promoted individuals and strategically staffed principals based on their loyalty to him. Of course loyalty is important however, it will not provide the leadership needed to educate students in our schools if the principals selected do not know what they should be doing. For instance, there should not be a principal or assistant principal hired if they do not have a degree, the experience or certification in Instruction and Curriculum, this is the foundation of any instructional program! We have principals who do not have a clue about instruction, the assistanct principals or academic facilitators are the ones that create the vision for success within their schools, yet they are supposed to be the instructional leaders and are paid good money to do so. I am hoping that Dr. Morrison would take a good look at some of his Central Office people, Area Superintendents, Principals, Assistant Principals etc. and review their experiences and credentials to determine their abilities for leadership. Also, I am hoping he will investigate these pools; principal, assistant principal and now we have academic facilitator pools and literacy facilitator pools? Really? The whole process for promotion has become so murkey. What ever happened to obtaining a job because you were experienced and qualified? Everyone knows that those that have been placed or will be placed in these pools will have the "nod" of someone that will help them get in. If something is not done to assure equity, CMS will continue to lose great, experienced and deserving employees! Overall, CMS schools and its students will continue to fail!

Anonymous said...

Here is a nonprofit/profit idea for philanthropic minded entrepreneurs.

Most large cities have major dropout recovery programs. They find and reengage people who have already dropped out of school. They provide a pathway for those who made mistakes to get back on the road to providing a better future for themselves and their families.

What a powerful impact this could have on families if children witnessed adults admitting their mistakes and working to overcome them. Mecklenburg county needs a comprehensive plan similar to what Philadelphia has (see link below).

To change the culture of schools, we must change the culture of the communities that surround them.

Anonymous said...

3 districts now.