2013 brings fundamental change to the way our schools are run

2013 will be a year of big changes for Metro Schools.

Sure, we’ve had more than a few big changes in the last few years, but if you’re feeling “reform fatigue” don’t fret. This plan for transformation is an evolution of what we’ve already done: expanding it, adjusting it and learning from what’s working.

We could feel the disappointment last month when word trickled in that we had not won the Race to the Top District competition. That extra $30-40 million dollars would have made a huge impact on the plans for transforming our schools.

But that disappointment didn’t last long. We knew the blueprint for success laid out in our application was solid and would still move forward. Without the extra boost that money would have provided we may have to change pace, but the transformation will go on.

It’s a plan based on the individual: individual students, teachers, principals, classrooms and schools. It’s a plan to decentralize power and decision-making in our district, moving from a top-down, Central Office power structure to alliances of schools that decide what works best and how to replicate it.

Every student in the schools first targeted by this plan – 27,000 of them – will have a personalized learning plan. These plans will be created by students, teachers and parents. They will be fluid, changing based on the very latest data from assessments done throughout the year, and will allow us act more quickly when intervention is needed. Students will learn at their own speeds without waiting for the rest of the class to catch up or struggling to keep pace with their classmates. No two plans will look the same.

Many of these changes in learning will be driven and designed by principals who have proven successful in their own schools. These Lead Principals will bring together networks of 4-5 schools and lead by example through mentoring and collaborating with other schools that are committed to personalized learning for students. Methods and strategies that work in one school will be replicated in another. Best practices from teachers and leaders will be shared across the district. And all of this will be done with a common accountability framework, as well as some non-negotiables and more autonomy from the central organization.

Individual principals will be empowered under this plan because who knows better what a school needs than the person who spends hours each week walking its halls and talking to its students, teachers and parents? School leaders will be given more decision-making power over hiring, budgeting, scheduling, curriculum offerings, and more. They will be responsible and held accountable for these decisions and the structures put in place to meet the needs of their learners.

There will be a shift toward greater school autonomy. With reductions in staff in the Central Office and greater power inside our schools, principals will be able to respond more quickly to the unique needs of every student.

In some cases this could lead to a radically different school culture. Students will benefit from closer relationships among students and teachers, students and students. There could be more shared learning among subjects, classrooms with more than one teacher and new leadership opportunities for teachers that won’t take them out of the classroom. Students will lead parent-teacher conferences and parents will get hands-on with their child’s data. We’ll also be changing the way we think about how students make progress, looking much more closely at mastery rather than time spent on a task.

We will make our schools more agile and responsive to the individual because that is what the 21st century requires. We must prepare students for careers that don’t yet exist. We need them to be motivated, engaged and in charge of their own learning. Lifelong learners, those who can quickly adapt to change and those with the cultural literacy our diverse schools provide will thrive in our globally connected society.

Our plan for radical school transformation will make that happen.

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