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Getting Buy-in Across a District Can Help Middle Schools

May 26, 2015 by Gina Rodriguez

Middle School Matters (MSM) focuses on improving student performance in grades six through eight by spotlighting important research in reading, writing, mathematics, drop-out prevention and student and family support.  During the past two years, MSM has focused on campus level support in sixteen schools in Texas, South Carolina, California and Pennsylvania.

We have seen success on these campuses. Yet, we have also learned how to move the student achievement needle even more efficiently and effectively.

District and campus leader buy-in, staying the course and broader dissemination across schools throughout the district are ways to improve student achievement in the work we are doing.  Teachers are more likely to embrace a school reform program when they receive adequate training and resources, support from program developers, and campus and district administrator buy-in.

The only way to ensure this happens is to work from a top-bottom approach. That way, all decision-makers hear the same thing and stick to a common goal.  The shared approach helps teachers stay the course and leads to a broader dissemination of strategies across schools.

At the beginning of the school year many teachers are informed about the newest and latest strategies for the next nine months.  Teachers and campus leaders dive into them during August professional development week.

They then spend the school year practicing and refining this practice in their classrooms, most with total buy-in.  Then, when they are finally feeling comfortable with these new practices and beginning to embed them into every day practice, all of a sudden another strategy is introduced as the newest and latest.

Keeping key decision-makers on the same page will keep all on the same course and eliminate bouncing from idea to idea.  That could particularly help in high-poverty school districts, which often have a high mobility rate.

Students move from school to school as housing opportunities change and become available. The strategies students learn in one campus might be totally different from those they learn at the campus less than a couple miles away.  Using the same strategies across the district ensures students don’t waste time learning new ones. As a result, they can focus on the content being presented.

In the 2015-2016 school year, Middle School Matters is focusing on district and campus leader buy-in, staying the course and broader dissemination across schools. The program is taking a district-wide approach in working with educators and focusing on more than one campus at a time.  We believe that coaching a district leadership team alongside a campus leadership team to implement research-based strategies will help increase student achievement.

Today, the George W. Bush Institute is announcing the selection of three school districts to receive intensive, district-wide support from nationally-recognized educational researchers during the 2015-2016 school year.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District and San Angelo Independent School District from Texas and Etiwanda School District from Southern California have been chosen to receive expert assistance in implementing high-quality, research-based strategies in advanced reasoning, data management, dropout prevention, and reading, writing, and math instruction.  We look forward to seeing these leadership teams work together in helping students succeed.

Gina Rodriguez is the program manager for Middle School Matters.  She joined the Bush Institute team in 2011, continuing her decade-long career with public education in the middle grades.

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