As part of Oregon’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind mandates, more schools will receive additional support from the state this year to help increase student achievement and close persistent achievement gaps. Due to new, higher expectations, 95 schools have been identified for extra help, with far more elementary schools than middle or high schools slated for support.
One way the state is assisting these schools is through Oregon’s Continuous Improvement Network, or simply, The Network. The Network provides site-based coaches and regional coordinators—recruited, trained, and placed by Education Northwest—to help schools and districts identify evidence-based practices that can support their turnaround efforts. These highly skilled professionals—former school administrators—have a proven track record of raising academic performance in their schools. Ten of the 13 schools that exited school improvement in 2011 had Network coaches.
For this school year, Education Northwest is supervising a cadre of 65 leadership coaches in more than 90 of the Title I schools in need of improvement. Coaches receive ongoing professional development in areas such as building capacity for sustained improvement, promoting equitable practices, and overcoming obstacles to better results. These trainings prepare coaches to help staff challenge long-held beliefs that only certain students can learn at high levels and look at data in ways that can promote success.
According to Education Northwest’s Nanci Schneider, a Network trainer and former Oregon school administrator, “Our philosophy when placing coaches is that the principal needs to be a vital part of the decision and the ‘match’—particularly since the coaches do some principal mentoring,” Schneider explains. “Juggling this while trying to provide the help schools need as quickly as possible can be challenging.”
Even though Education Northwest has been working with Oregon school support coaches for several years, Schneider thinks the recent structural changes in Oregon’s education system are leading to renewed interest in the program, particularly among members of the state board of education. At the board’s retreat in late August, Schneider moderated a panel that included Ken Parshall, principal of Salem’s McKay High School; McKay High School leadership coach Kathleen Hanneman; Chris Rhines, who serves both as a district coach for Salem-Keizer, as well as leadership coach at Salem’s Scott School; and Mike Garling, regional network coordinator in the Eugene area.
Each panelist gave specific examples of how his or her work supports the school and the district. Parshall and Hanneman spoke about how they are “thought partners” and work together to provide professional development for the staff. They shared specifics on what they are doing to increase student achievement and showed the data to prove they have made incredible gains. “At the end, board members were all looking for times to schedule school visits to see The Network in action,” says Schneider. “When different stakeholders see firsthand the impact of The Network, it makes me hopeful that we will be able continue to support our schools in this way. I would love to see this model replicated in other states.”