How the high school system design effort is different from previous PPS changes
Student achievement and equity come first
The first step of the design led to clear priorities: increasing graduation rates,
closing the achievement gap, engaging and inspiring all students, ensuring that
all schools were in high demand, and ensuring that students graduate ready to
succeed at the next level. Those goals have led to a deep conversation about
how to challenge and support all students, and how to offer an equitable
community program throughout the district. Equity and achievement are driving
the structural decisions.
In the past, PPS has let budget needs, facilities consolidations and other non-
educational demands drive decisions without adequate exploration of equity and
Long-term engagement on issues
Over the last 18 months, the high school system design work has engaged more
than 5,000 individuals, through teacher and principal work groups, meetings with
community organizations, large-scale public meetings, survey and student input.
Different voices have been heard, and have shaped every stage of decision-
making, with more to come.
In some past efforts, plans have been developed and recommendations made to
the School Board before significant community input.
Looking at systems, not piecemeal reforms
PPS is spending time up front to define the system model with a focus on equity
system-wide. We are defining the core program for community schools before
any change is made: defining the costs of that program, the level of variability
allowed among community schools, and offering principals guidance and
direction on how to schedule and make program choices. A broader look, central
support and stronger guidance should create a stronger system as a whole.
In the K-8 reconfiguration, for example, the school district failed to define the
middle years offering before the implementation, and left too much of the
burden of decision making on principals, with little central guidance. Other high
school reforms have been campus-based, adding to inequities.
Deeper analysis of all facets of decisions
Research, review of national best practices and thorough analysis of PPS data –
whether on student achievement, demographics or financial impact – has been
part of the effort for the last 18 months and continues. Educators are designing
the programs, taking the time to identify what all facilities need to have up front,
based on the educational model, and planning for it. The community high school
program is designed to be budget-neutral, based on current resources (after
initial transition costs). PPS is investing in deep demographic and GIS analysis to
support any boundary or configuration change.
While no amount of analysis can protect against all unintended consequences,
this stronger and longer analysis should allow the school district to avoid
On-going priority of the effort
PPS has dedicated staff to full-time project management, the entire executive
team has been deeply involved and clearly structured work teams with identified
leads have time assigned to plan and then implement the high school system
In past efforts, implementation and follow-through has too often fallen short of
promises made as decisions were made.
Transition planning for students and families
PPS knows that implementing the change means a significant transition for
families and for employees at our schools. With at least a year between the
decisions about schools and the implementation of the major changes (in the fall
of 2011), time is built in to help ensure thoughtful transition planning for
students. In addition, significant up front planning on both leadership and
teacher staffing level will identify how staff will move and what training
opportunities need to be built into this process.
In the past, many principals were not equipped – and didn’t have the central
support -- to lead changes, whether in supporting their students or their staff.
Schools were left alone to communicate with parents and students. Teachers
found themselves placed in assignments with no previous experience with
content or the age group, or in small schools when they had experience only
with larger comprehensive high schools.