Beach High School in Georgia’s Savannah-Chatham School District is a historic but chronically underperforming school. The school board received a Department of Education’s School Improvement Grants (SIG) to help increase achievement and graduation rates.
Savannah-Chatham School Board member Lori Brady spoke at a national issues session at Monday’s FRN Conference about how her district is using the federal grant money to use the turnaround model of reform at Beach.
Brady called the decision to use the turnaround model at Beach High School a “no brainer.”
“You change and start over,” she said. “These folks want to be in the building. They know what the issues are and they want to be there.”
The Department of Education’s SIGs go to districts agreeing to use one of four reform models:
# Closure of the school, sending students to other schools in the district
# Restarting the school as a charter school
# Transformation, which uses a data-driven instructional model
# Turnaround, which requires replacing the principal and half of the staff; the staff must reapply for their jobs.
The Savannah board decided to use the turnaround model for several reasons, said Brady. It had reconstituted an elementary school earlier without any additional state or federal money.
Also, the model has several benefits, she said, including removing barriers that inhibit improvement and granting the principal operation flexibility to staffing professional developing, student code of conduct, and bell schedule.
The grant will be paid to the district in three years — $1.2 million the first year; $1.1 million the second year; and about $1 million the third year.
“I’ve been on the board long enough to know that I get fearful when I get grant money because there is always strings attached, ” said Brady, “but we thought it was in the best interest of the school and the community.”
The main concern about the grants and the reform is future sustainability. “Current economic conditions continue to put pressure on funding,” said Brady. The instructional reform model the school is using, American’s Choice, must be paid for every year, for example. Also, the school has an extended day program for students, which will have to be maintained.
Angela Palm, the director of policy for the Georgia School Boards Association, gave a national overview of the four SIG reforms. Over half of the 730 schools that received grant money are high schools. Of those schools, 71 percent chose transformation, 21 percent chose turnaround; 5 percent reopened as charters, and 3 percent did school closures.
Whatever the model the district chooses, Palm said, key issues include:
# Be prepared to do some work on your own, since there’s a scarcity of proven turnaround experts or organizations
# Address the lack of ongoing operational funds to sustain efforts and have enough time to plan before starting
# Make sure that principals and school leadership teams have the will and skill, and authority to drive change in demanding environments
#Understand what this means for individuals. “When staff sees the list of choices, these are scary things for adults. There are a lot of things for them to deal with,” said Palm.
# Monitor for compliance, meeting goals, and the need for support.
“Most important,’” said Palm, “is to articulate a powerful vision and be willing to make it so.”