Have you seen a high-performing, high-poverty school in action?
I got my start in education in the Atlanta Public Schools as a 5th grade teacher in 2001. I worked at a school that struggled academically, although it had its share of excellent teachers. While I believe I improved my craft during my three years in Atlanta, those improvements were hard earned and slow. Had I stayed in my original school, it is likely that I would have continued to use trial-and-error to fail my way to becoming a better teacher.
Like most people working in high-poverty schools, I had never seen a high-performing school serving similar students in action. Think about that for a moment. In the vast majority of struggling schools, it is unlikely the people that work there have ever experienced organizational-level success.
Model of Success
In the spring of 2006, I stepped off the subway in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston, where I spent two days observing in classrooms and common areas, talking to teachers and school leaders, and furiously taking notes. Roxbury Prep – now Roxbury Prep Mission Hill, an Uncommon Schools campus – was a special place where students and staff worked together towards the common mission of preparing middle school students for the academic rigor of college prep high schools.
Up until my visit, I had never seen a high-performing school serving mostly low-income students of color. It had a profound impact on what I believed was possible in schools, especially in areas where the achievement gap is large and persistent.
This visit was especially timely for me as I had just accepted a new role as the Director of Curriculum & Instruction at West Denver Prep, the original school in the STRIVE Prep network, a start-up charter school slated to open in just a few short months. The experience gave me a visual model for what West Denver Prep should look and sound like as we opened our doors to students.
School Visits: 50 and Counting
Over the course of the last 16 years, I have been able to go on more than 50 school visits, most to high-performing, high-poverty schools in urban areas. I’ve learned a tremendous amount during these visits and have brought many of the lessons learned back to United Schools Network where I work in Columbus, Ohio. As the saying goes, seeing is believing, and this is certainly true when it comes to schools. Time and again, these visits have pushed me to rethink what is possible when mission-driven people work together towards a common goal.
School Visits Re-Imagined
In my current role as Director of the School Performance Institute (SPI) at United Schools Network, we are re-imagining the school visit as a powerful form of professional learning called Study the Network. At SPI, we work to share what works in high-poverty schools. We’ve spent more than a decade studying school and instructional design practices in our own schools as well as at dozens of schools across the country. We’ve traveled to New York, Boston, Nashville, Denver, and many other cities to learn these best practices. We’ve tested the best of these ideas in our schools in Columbus, and now we are excited to share what we’ve learned with other educators serving high-poverty student populations.
John A. Dues is the Director of the School Performance Institute and Chief Learning Officer for the United Schools Network in Columbus, Ohio. The School Performance Institute is a new social enterprise division of the United Schools Network. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.