Moving schools off the bottom and up the performance slope takes energy, focus, and the right research-based approaches. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) took on this challenge in a new way in 2010 with a special initiative to Turn Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (TALAS). By 2012, NCDPI, working through its Federal Programs Division and TALAS, tapped into expertise and support from the Southeast Comprehensive Center (SECC) to continue and enhance its overall school improvement efforts.
Building on relationships and school improvement work over many years, staff from the U.S. Department of Education-funded SECC helped NCDPI leaders devise plans and implement assistance for targeted districts and schools. Federal Race to the Top funds contributed to the effort.
“The Center took the lead in making sure we had the very best advisers coming to the state and districts to provide assistance,” said George Hancock, former NCDPI Coordinator for School Improvement Grants.
As part of its overall assistance, the SECC:
- Aided implementation of the NC Indistar school progress monitoring system and helped customize the web-based tool’s indicators of effective practice;
- Provided the latest research on increasing learning time and on other state education agencies’ experience blending turnaround support for schools and districts in areas such as coaching, monitoring, and online training;
- Served on panels reviewing schools’ improvement plans and helped redesign the process to convene panels prior to funding decisions to prompt deeper interaction with school leaders about their strategies.
“We’re very focused on the practice side, and our school and district leaders were appreciative of seeing the research side offered by the Center. It added an additional layer of credibility to the work of our field coaches,” said Alessandro Montanari, former NCDPI Program Coordinator for District and School Transformation. “They also helped tremendously with a professional development on Reaching ALL Students for Success which featured breakout sessions on high-yield strategies and processes to achieve academic excellence with particular subgroups such as English Language Learners and African-American males.” NCDPI District and School Transformation Overview.
The SECC also conducted literacy professional development for 200 TALAS school leaders.
SECC experts continue to work with NCDPI leaders to help the agency better coordinate efforts in its recently integrated division of school improvement offices to more rigorously plan work and monitor results. The approach is helping to focus and streamline the assistance to provide maximum benefit for districts and schools.
By 2013–14, after 4 years of TALAS, research clearly indicated that the state’s lowest-achieving schools improved their performance, according to a study from the Consortium for Educational Research and Evaluation–North Carolina (Henry, Guthrie, & Townsend, 2015). The study noted that student growth improved in the first year and was sustained throughout the program, and that the results may indicate the value of the needs assessments and school improvement plans developed in the initiative’s first year. The initiative continues as a major goal of North Carolina’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) consolidated state plan. SECC and NCDPI are committed to continuing to identify, implement, and continuously improve evidence-based practices that have shown sustained success in raising student performance in schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement.
Currently, SECC is providing technical assistance to NCDPI to design and implement a regional support structure to better deliver academic services and consultation to all school districts, with a particular emphasis on low-performing districts.