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In what represents a major change, District 65 plans to move from a system of strong central control to a plan of “distributive leadership.”
“Distributive leadership is where you build teachers as leaders within the schools,” said Ellen Fogelberg, assistant superintendent. While recognizing that principals will continue to be ultimately responsible for the school, she said, “You can’t expect principals to be experts in all the curricular areas or always to be able to handle everything happening in the school.” Under the plan, “teachers do take on the role of leadership in the areas of school improvement planning, professional development planning, and planning how to implement Board goals and District initiatives,” she said.
“This is different from what was done under site-based management,” Ms. Fogelberg added. Under that model, “there wasn’t the systematic part of the District coming in and helping. Schools were just silos operating on their own.”
Under the plan, Ms. Fogelberg said, each school will establish a School Leadership Team consisting of between four and seven members. She said the members might include department chairs, reading specialists, coaches or school leaders. Schools would “capitalize on expertise that’s already in the buildings.”
The School Leadership Teams would decide what the school needs to do to deliver instruction to meet the common core standards that have the goal of preparing students for college and career readiness. They will determine what resources are needed, what areas need to be focused on, and what professional development is needed “to get us where we need go,” said Ms. Fogelberg.
One key area the leadership teams will have to focus on is how to create time for teachers to collaborate, for teachers to observe other teacher’s classrooms and offer feedback, and for professional development, said Ms. Fogelberg. Developing teacher learning communities will be an option.
The central office plans to have an institute this summer to provide training and guidance for the leadership teams. During the school year, the District will have three coaches district-wide who can work with the schools and continue to provide some professional development and other supports.
“What we’re saying is, ‘Be creative. However you need to move forward, we’ll help you do that as best you can,’” said Ms. Fogelberg.
Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “Over the years we’ve had a very centralized effort. … We see this in some ways as a decentralized effort, so that it’s no longer top-down. … What we are trying to say is you guys know how to make this happen in your schools. So you have a role here in the process.”
In explaining the reason for the shift, Dr. Murphy said, “We’ve seen our achievement profile here taper off somewhat.” He said by giving the schools an opportunity to be creative and define a pathway to improving student achievement and meeting the Board’s goals, “We can come up with a more energetic instructional initiative and implementation of strategies.”
“We know this can’t happen unless teachers have buy-in,” said Dr. Murphy. “It’s real important because we’ve got a set of goals to increase the number of students meeting college and career readiness. It’s going to require a very creative effort to meet this more challenging and rigorous set of achievement goals.”
Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said, “Principals are really looking forward to this. They’re very engaged. They’re beginning to look at how they’re going to do this.”
Board member Eileen Budde said it would enable “more professional satisfaction.”
Board member Tracy Quattrocki said she liked the idea, but was concerned about implementing the plan in practice. She said teachers have told her one of the most important parts of professional development was having coaches observe them teaching in the classroom and then providing constructive feedback. She asked how schools would be able to free up teachers for coaching and collaboration, noting that the proposed budget cut 7.5 instructional coaches at the District level and was proposing to reduce funds available for substitute teachers for the purpose of allowing teachers to engage in professional development.
Ms. Fogelberg said schools would need to be creative in freeing up time for coaching and collaborating, and mentioned the possibility of videotaping classroom instruction and then using the videos in the coaching process. Dr. Murphy said some of the funds allocated for substitute teachers would be restored.