By Christine Richardson, Former Associate Superintendent for Special Education and Student Services at Montgomery County Public Schools
Services at Montgomery County Public Schools The road to school improvement is littered with a plethora of models attempted and models abandoned or discarded; that is, until the next continuous improvement process comes along. After over 40 years in education focused on improving outcomes for all learners, I continue to ponder the data and consider what is it about the processes that result in our inability to achieve the progress we seek to achieve as we react in dismay to the news of post-pandemic declines in student achievement.
I ask, “What are we missing?”
I believe I have found an answer in a unique continuous improvement process developed by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education known as Dynamic Impact. What makes this process unique is that it’s driven by high-performance teaming and set of simple protocols that promote equitable engagement throughout all stages of the cycle. The data from programs, schools, or districts implementing Dynamic Impact back up my beliefs, keeping in mind that school improvement also is student improvement.
Consider what happens in most districts as school improvement processes are implemented. School administrators, and sometimes staff, may participate in a “how to” school improvement training and are asked to go forth and improve. The schools develop and submit a school improvement plan (SIP) to the central office, which is a cause for celebration for completing the task. What happens next varies, and can include feedback, a “sign-off,” possibly a mid-year or end-of-year review that may encompass “data dives,” or nothing at all. SIP complete: check! Next year: rinse, wash, repeat. Goals may or may not be achieved. Teachers wait for the changes to impact students’ individual outcomes.
Many years into my professional career — including serving as the director of Title I during the “No Child Left Behind” years — leading school improvement for a district, and as an associate superintendent for special education and student services, I have new insight into the “what are we missing” component of the SIP process that we failed to attend to over these many years. It is, simply put, the importance of the SIP team, and how that team functions.
Dynamic Impact incorporates effective strategies that explicitly establish the mission, vision, and goals of the team while building leadership skills of team members through a shared partnership aligned with accountability. Essential elements such as root cause analysis tools, goal setting, shared decision-making, and data reviews are incorporated into the work, as in other improvement processes.
I have seen firsthand how the ongoing review of mission, vision, and the rating of the team’s functioning using the Dynamic Impact protocols make the difference and are at the heart of the model. The accountability to each other to reach a high level of team performance and to their shared mission and vision bring a new level of commitment I have not seen in other SIP processes. There is a real sense of “we are in this together” that drives this challenging work. I believe it is what is making the difference for school improvement – and most importantly for students who are no longer waiting for their individual outcomes to improve.