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Summer Camp for School Designers in Cleveland

What if no two schools in Cleveland looked alike? What if some offered college-level math courses, others assigned their students to year-long internships, and still others integrated literature and the arts through project-based learning? If this notion sounds like chaos, think again. If this sounds like the schools are guiding the district, that’s exactly the idea.

By this coming winter, each principal in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District will wield his or her own multi-million dollar budget to make strategic choices and tradeoffs for the following school year. This impending reality represents a new paragraph in the principals’ job description, and a fundamental  change to how schools make unique budgeting, staffing, and scheduling  decisions to meet their students’ needs. In Cleveland’s new portfolio structure, school leaders will sit in the driver’s seat, with the district a willing co-pilot, offering tips for navigation at every turn.

For nine principals who just couldn’t wait ‘til the winter, Christmas came early in June. These nine leaders were the winning applicants to Cleveland’s Transformation School Pilot, an opportunity to test and stretch the new school-level autonomies in their beta form. They were chosen for the boldness of their ideas and the success they had already demonstrated at propelling student learning. From mid-June to early August of this year, these principals and their school teams (composed of both teachers and administrative staff) have been compiling data, attending ERS workshops, drafting and re-drafting budgets and action plans to change the way their schools will operate on opening day.

The schools’ plans epitomize the core principles of strategic school design, including extending the school day, forming new teaching teams, adding an intervention block for struggling students, and reallocating non-instructional spending. But each plan serves a completely different goal. At one school it’s all about math remediation; while literacy is the focus across town. Who’s right? Both, if each plan suits the teachers’ strengths and students’ needs.   

Strategic school design is hard, and these school leaders have shouldered an immense challenge. While they figure out the nuts and bolts of budgeting, their counterparts in the central office take down equally novel lessons about how to empower principals for this new responsibility. Soon, when it’s 100 principals in the driver’s seat, the number of instructional models, customized teacher roles, and master schedules may be bounded only by imagination—and the district’s rules of the road. Equally abundant, then, will be the paths for students to succeed. That’s where Cleveland is headed; this summer’s pilot is only the first step.

CMSD's Transformation Schools Pilot is enabled by their transition to a Student-Based Budgeting model. For more information on this model (which is often called "Weighted Student Funding" in other districts), see our Weighted Student Funding slideshow.

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