Approach

It has long been assumed that school redesign can’t happen in already existing comprehensive high schools.  The thought has been, if you want to make real change, start your own school.  While it seems expedient to follow this path, two decades of pursuing change by building new schools has left the majority of high school students trapped in traditional settings that have continued to provide less than adequate educational opportunities for the vast majority of adolescents.  We believe that the challenge facing America’s high schools is how best to support change in the schools that most of our young people actually attend.   Through the i3 New England Network we have learned that you can facilitate real change in already existing environments; it may take more time and entails accepting the fact that each school’s unique culture requires a unique journey to transformation. 

What we asked of the 13 schools (and more than 13,000) school-based stakeholders to do was nothing short of moving from their traditional ways to transformational ones.  This entailed questioning their daily habits, routines, practices, processes and systems—checking them against what a student-centered—and student-driven—environment truly demanded.  Rather than working to implement a set of short-term technical solutions, the i3 New England Network schools were engaged in generating adaptive solutions, that is, solutions that change the very nature of doing business.  Our Best Practices Continua, otherwise known as the “TTT Chart” is at the core of our change strategy.   CSSR’s Bill Bryan provides an introduction to the Chart in this video.

We felt confident in encouraging the Network schools to move in this direction because American schools are due for a major “remodeling” effort, stuck as many are in an industrial model in which there is a one-size-fits-all curriculum and a schedule that has students moving from one class and one grade to another in lockstep fashion.  A changing world requires a new kind of educational delivery system. (Members of the i3 New England Network talk here about the imperative of a new kind of public education.)

It is exciting to support a cohort of schools to achieve new levels of excellence—and very tempting to do it quickly.  But we learned early on that we had to  “go slow, to go fast” to be successful.  In other words, the importance of process, planning, and intentionality around goals cannot be overstated.  Just as an inquiry-based classroom puts a premium on the teacher as the facilitator of knowledge who creates framework and structures, CSSR, through its School Change Coaches provided the same kind of scaffolding for the i3 New England Network schools, keeping in mind the motto:  "heart before head, touch before task and relationship before rigor." What resulted was meaningful growth at each and every school, regardless of the inevitable changes in staff and administration.  Each school developed its own new way of doing business that aligned with the central value proposition of the federal grant:  that students be at the center of their own learning and the driver of their own educational experiences.  Some of the students and adults in the i3 New England Network tell their compelling stories of change in this video.