Strategic Designs: Lessons from Leading Edge Small High Schools

Regis Anne Shields and Karen Hawley Miles, 2008

This report illustrates how nine high-performing, small urban high schools across the U.S. are thinking about and organizing resources strategically to best meet their students’ most pressing needs. Through interviews and reviews of class schedules, staffing strategies, budgets, and more, the report provides a detailed look at how leaders in these “Leading Edge Schools” carefully and purposefully think about how they use every staff member, each moment of the school day, and every dollar to support student learning.

We found that Leading Edge Schools deliberately create high-performing organizational structures, or Strategic Designs, that deliberately organize people, time, and money to advance their specific instructional models—the set of decisions the schools make about how they organize and deliver instruction. They create these Strategic Designs through four interconnected practices:

  • Clearly defining an instructional model that reflects the schools’ vision, learning goals, and student population
  • Organizing people, time, and money to support this instructional model by (a) investing in teaching quality, (b) using student time strategically, and (c) creating individual attention for students
  • Making trade-offs to invest in the most important priorities when faced with limits on the amount, type, and use of people, time, and money
  • Adapting their strategies in response to lessons learned and changing student needs and conditions

Strategic Designs Executive Summary (PDF)

Strategic Designs Full Report (PDF)


Also make sure to check out the case studies for each school.