Colorado school case study highlights need collaboration in turnaround work

When Centennial Elementary in Greeley was facing state intervention in 2016, Superintendent Deirdre Pilch, who was new at the time, decided to try something different.

She surprised then-Principal Anthony Asmus by letting him decide how he wanted to turn things around at the school.

“She backed us up,” recalled Asmus. “We had the choice for this. That was big.”

Seven years later, Centennial is being cited as a success story in a new study commissioned by the state that highlights the importance of local leaders and classroom teachers taking ownership of school improvement efforts.

Officials with the Colorado Department of Education are using the findings to improve how they help schools in turnaround. The state on Wednesday approved the latest round of school improvement dollars.

The case study, presented to the State Board of Education in October, follows Centennial Elementary and Prairie Heights Middle School, two Greeley schools that joined the state’s Transformation Network and have maintained their improvements over time.

Researchers found that narrowing the focus to fewer improvement strategies, empowering teachers to lead change in their classrooms, and having good relationships between state, district, and school leaders, are key.

And, importantly, the study found, local educators such as teachers and school leaders have to feel ownership of the work that’s happening, rather than being told what to do.

“There was a need to go a little deeper on what happened to those schools that had left the program and sustained success,” said Elena Diaz-Bilello, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, and author of the report. The study was done by the Center for Assessment, Design, Research and Evaluation (CADRE) at the CU Boulder School of Education.

“There’s a big part of the picture that’s always missing,” Diaz-Bilello said. “You don’t capture the richness that turnaround schools undergo when they are going through this work.”

Read the full story from our partners at Chalkbeat Colorado.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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