Partnering to “Make A Difference”
The economic resources of education systems in Kansas have been stressed mightily in the last few years, while the demand for improving student performance has increased. Sound familiar? It’s a situation many state organizations are in across the nation, forcing us all to ask ourselves what services we can continue to afford to deliver in an era of resource scarcity.
Business gurus such as Keith McFarland and Peter Drucker coach that difficult economic times are actually prime times for businesses to strengthen themselves by refocusing on their core missions and customer needs, and re-evaluating their strategies for service delivery.
Putting this theory into practice, at the Kansas Association of School Boards we heard from our member districts and agencies that one of their largest areas of need was the lack of quality professional development for school and district leaders. And through a refocus on the part of our mission to “provide a culture of collaboration,” we sought a partner to help maximize resources and allow us to provide such PD opportunities on a large scale.
We chose to work with McREL, a leading non-profit education research and service organization based in Denver, together developing a partnership that gave our KASB staff leaders the training to deliver McREL’s leadership PD program, called Balanced Leadership. Through the partnership, KASB has helped hundreds of principals and administrators statewide gain skills and knowledge about research-proven leadership practices that are positively linked to student achievement. Additionally, the partnership agreement allowed KASB to retain a share of the training fees when we deliver the PD, providing our organization with a financial benefit.
That initial partnership worked well, so this past summer KASB again partnered with McREL to provide our school leaders with training on a classroom observation program called Power Walkthrough. This web-based program runs on tablets, iPads, and other mobile devices, and helps principals turn brief classroom observations into meaningful opportunities for coaching teachers to higher levels of performance. As of now, 26 districts across the state are using the program, and they’re seeing deeper discussions throughout their schools on the educational practices that make a difference for students. Data generated from the program also gives principals and administrators insight into how well PD initiatives are being implemented within their schools and districts. As a result, these districts are becoming more efficient and focused on using research-based instructional practices in their classrooms.
As the old saying goes, “timing is everything.” In July 2012 the state of Kansas received an ESEA waiver from the United States Department of Education, allowing the state to move in a direction that is more aligned with our local needs and values. As part of the waiver, all districts in Kansas must implement an evaluation system that is formative in nature by the fall of 2014. The established partnership between KASB and McREL has given our local school districts options to consider when adopting a formative evaluation system, as McREL’s teacher and principal evaluation systems is approved by the state as a viable option that meets the ESEA waiver requirements. School districts across Kansas have taken an interest in the evaluation systems because of their research base, ease of use, and focus on the right leadership and instructional practices to help students achieve at higher levels.
To further serve our member school districts, KASB partnered with our statewide network of educational service centers, expanding the capacity of our collaborative system by helping local ESC centers become trained to provide high-quality professional development in their regions. Although it is early in development, it appears to have enhanced interest and participation from educators around the state.
These partnerships have allowed KASB to strengthen our capacity to deliver great services to our member districts, meeting their needs even in a time of resource scarcity. By becoming facilitators, connectors, and quality assurance managers, we can maximize our own staff efforts within KASB and continue to provide these services.
Through the partnership approach, we retain local control, context, and relationships, while also giving our members access to the best national education research, products, and experts.
Our challenges are ever present, but our shared goal of improving student achievement has forged a strong relationship for everyone in the coalition. And in the end, the students, teachers, and educational leaders of Kansas have been the true beneficiaries of this partnership.