By Margaret Horn
Earlier this spring, I had an opportunity to coach a group of entrepreneurs launching new schools here in D.C. I saw the process through several lenses—one, as a staff member of CenterPoint, another as a member of a charter board, and perhaps most important of all, as a resident of Washington D.C. who wants to see all our city’s children have opportunity and success.
From my CenterPoint lens, I encouraged these entrepreneurs to take a comprehensive approach to curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional learning. When launching schools, leaders have a unique opportunity to put in place the necessary ingredients for high-quality instruction from the start. At the core of any high-quality academic program are:
- the bedrocks of standards that set the vision for what students should know and be able to do (the “what”);
- curricula that lay out the path that educators will lead their students down to achieve the standards (the “how”);
- assessments that monitor progress along the way and provide feedback on whether content has been learned or needs to be retaught (the “how are we doing/are we there yet?”); and
- deep, consistent professional learning for a culture of trained professionals who are excellent at their craft (the “support for success”) and valued as professionals.
These elements – and, importantly, the alignment among and between them—are the fundamental ingredients for school success.
From my charter board member lens, I encouraged school leaders to strive for transparency and clarity as they create systems to monitor and communicate about student achievement and school culture. The data dashboard our board created in partnership with Center City Public Charter Schools' leadership keeps our board informed, engaged, and prepared for challenges. As a board, we regularly review the data dashboard with management and engage in rigorous discussions of what challenges the data highlight (e.g. an uptick in absences or unexpected staff turnover) and strategies for addressing those challenges. New school leaders have an opportunity to establish a strong foundation by using data dashboards at the outset to provide regular checks on performance and make informed decisions.
From my D.C. resident lens, I was excited to hear that this group of new school leaders were striving to create new opportunities for students to engage with rigorous course work and experience all that the district has to offer—visions to connect the classroom to students’ lived experiences and to the abundant local resources here in Washington, D.C. Since strong leadership is one of the most important elements of a successful school, it was heartening to see diverse leaders passionate about education stepping up the plate to take on this important work.
While each lens provides a different view, what remains the same is this: A new school needs a solid foundation with alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment and empowered educators to support their goal of success for all students. It’s what our young people deserve.
Margaret Horn is the Chief of Development and Partnerships at CenterPoint Education Solutions