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Michigan Educators Working to Turn Around Lowest Performing Schools

Featured post from Randi Feinberg, Communications Principal Associate

Last week ERS Managing Director Karen Baroody and I met with a group of educators in Michigan who are working hard to turn around that state’s lowest performing schools, known there as “Priority Schools.” Leaders in Michigan understand that turning around these schools is not something schools can do on their own—it requires supports and interventions at the district level. In this regard, Michigan is on the cutting edge in realizing the role of districts in this very important and difficult work.

The theme of asking how districts can help turn around low-performing schools was repeated throughout our two-day session. We reviewed interventions and supports as well as strategies to free resources that we’ve seen work in other districts struggling with the same issue. Participants dived deep into these issues by reading case studies and sharing their thoughts on the advantages of various approaches. We also introduced some of our tools—School Budget Hold’em and Resource Check—which this group can take back to their districts to start the conversation about making tough tradeoffs so they can truly prioritize their Priority Schools.

Tom Buffet, an Intervention Specialist working with Priority Schools, summarized the feelings of many participants when he remarked, “This session has helped me understand the need for districts to invest in teacher and principal leadership.” Others found great value in ERS’ tools. Carol Swingle said, “These tools give us the perfect vehicle to have some difficult conversations.” And Audrey Burgher said, “(With these tools) ERS has provided a way for us to have deeper discussions with our schools and districts that are based on research, not personal opinion.” Steve Hecker, an Intervention Specialist, remarked, “I’m not usually a fan of games, but you better believe I’m going to bring Hold’em back to my district.”

Karen and I left feeling truly inspired by the enthusiasm, passion, and optimism demonstrated by these educators in Michigan. Our thanks to the Michigan Department of Education for using our tools throughout the state and reaching out to us. Thanks also goes to Michigan State University, especially Dr. Barbara Markle, Assistant Dean for K-12 Education, for her work in providing support at the systems level and to Linda Hecker for organizing this session and partnering with us.

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