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A formula for planning effective school improvement

By May 22, 2013June 13th, 20166 Comments

It’s nearing the end of the school year across America, which means thousands of principals are preparing school improvement plans for the 2013-14 school year. There are two common scenarios that take place, illustrated here by Principal A and Principal B:

Principal A sits down and, with little input or involvement from others, dutifully writes an ambitious school improvement plan for the next school year. The plan is submitted to the central office and receives a stamp of approval. At the beginning of the new school year, the plan is shared for the first time with the school staff. Momentum and focus are quickly lost, and the plan sits on a shelf, practically untouched, until the end of the school year.

Principal B, on the other hand, meets with the school leadership team to collect, organize, and analyze data to form several key problem statements. Next, the principal meets with school faculty members to present the data analysis and the key problem statements. Collectively, the faculty members review the data, identify root causes of the problem statements, develop goals, and create an action plan based on research-based practices. This all takes place before the summer break. At the beginning of the new school year, the plan is reviewed and staff members sign-up for subcommittees to lead implementation and actively monitor progress. Monthly progress reports and achievement data are reviewed by the school leadership team.

Which school is more likely to meet its goals? It’s easy to predict that Principal B’s school will have greater odds for success, yet we still see too many principals using Principal A’s approach. How do we help principals move from A to B? From our research and experience working with schools and districts, we know that principals and leadership teams must develop deep knowledge and skills in these five areas:Success in Sight model

  • Use data to guide school improvement and assess progress. Successful schools use data to develop their school improvement plans and regularly monitor their progress toward the goals, adjusting as needed.
  • Use research-based practices to make improvements and increase student achievement. Schools that develop and implement action plans founded on research-based practices are more likely to meet their goals.
  • Foster and engage in shared leadership for improvement. Principals who share leadership in the development, implementation, and monitoring of their school improvement plans have more school-wide staff commitment to the plans.
  • Create and maintain a purposeful community. Schools that function as purposeful communities—with collective efficacy and the capability to produce outcomes that matter to all community members through agreed-upon processes—will be more likely to meet their school improvement plan goals.
  • Apply a comprehensive and systematic continuous improvement process. An example of this process is our Success in Sight model:  1) Take stock; 2) Focus on the right solution; 3) Take collective action; 4) Monitor and adjust; and 5) Maintain momentum.

2011_Frunzi_WEBDr. Kay L. Frunzi is a principal consultant at McREL, providing services, strategies, and materials to schools and districts across the country. Before joining McREL, she served as a school principal in four districts and taught graduate-level courses at various universities.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Zachary Navarro says:

    Interesting, considering my future goal is to become a principal. As a teacher I have never really had a lot of insights on the perspective of the principal.
    I love how pincipal B’s scenario really unified the faculty and staff memebers around him. It really brought up a co-operative atmosphere that is needed in all school communities.
    Also, I think the idea of shared leadership will help improve communication between the principal and the teacehrs because this idea erases the idea of higher power or status. Instead everyone is being treated as equals.
    Improving schools effectively does start with the principal but it takes everyone (teachers and students) to plan and carry out this action.
    Great post.

  • Dorothy Chmbers says:

    Dr. Frunzi I totally agree with you. Your arguments and five steps model approach is the only way to establish a professional learning community in our school. The success in our school and the achievement of students being the best they can be, needs the collaboration and input of all teachers.
    The first two steps allows for focus on learning from all aspect of the teachers who know the students, so they would best have the knowledge of what is needed for their improvement and development. Therefore no improvement plan can be of value without their input.
    The third to fifth steps puts action in place for learning outcomes of the students being the most important factor of the school, with continuous reflection for effective evaluation and sustenance of high standards.
    The importance of collaborations for teachers professional and student’s development cannot be overelaborated. Collaborations of teachers leads directly to a much better school environment, where each person feels like a partner and thus will totally apply themselves for the success of the students and the school. It is a well-known fact that that when people are a part of the decision making process they are far more committed to its success, and will hold themselves accountable for the results, thus failure is not an option.
    This view is also the main thrust of Dufour (2004) who wrote, “To create a professional learning community, focus on learning, rather than teaching, working collaboratively and, hold yourself accountable for results”.
    Dr. Frunzi, thanks for your insight and I really hope a number of administrators will adopt your strategies when creating their school improvement plan this year as it will yield success.

  • Dionne Smith says:

    It is true that staff participation will be greater if they are a part of the planning process concerning school improvement. Gone are the days when only one person (principal) would run a school it requires an entire team to ensure the success of a school. A schools success is dependent on the full cooperation and collaboration of all the stakeholders involved, (ie. principal, teachers, parents and professional partners).
    Principal A will need to adopt the 5 step model to become an effective principal and garner the full support of his staff to create and maintain a success school.
    Interesting article.

  • Beth Bearden says:

    Dr. Funzi,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. I am one of the blessed educators to work in a school with Principal B. I teach in a K-3 Title 1 school with close to 1000 students. The school improvement plan could be very overwhelming if it were not for our Administration. They trust us enough to include us in the data analysis and goal setting for our School Improvement Plan. In my school, we are asked to serve on “Action Teams” for at least two consecutive years. Sometimes, based on training, we are asked to serve longer. Due to our large size, most teams have at least two members from each grade level. The action teams cover all content-area subjects, but also include teams for at-risk students, parental involvement, school public relations, safety, etc. Our school closely follows the “Success in Sight” model. The action teams are reviewing and analyzing data and constantly making adjustments throughout the entire school year. We don’t just review it at the beginning and the end. I believe that my school, by including us in the process, empowers us and allows us to feel more engaged and concerned with student achievement at all grade levels, not just in our own classroom or grade level. This article just reinforced my feelings that my school is on the right track to ensure full faculty/staff participation and student achievement.
    Thank you,

  • Terri Johnson says:

    I found this post to be very intriguing because some principals have yet to pick up on the effectiveness of involving their staff in their improvement plans. It is the sole responsibility of the principal to ensure that the school is progressing from the district’s perspective, but other individual(teachers, staff members, parents, and students) have key information about the challenges and possible ways to address them also.
    This past year my principal spoke with the faculty and staff through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) activity that really allowed us to open up about our school. However, after doing so leadership teams and subgroups where formed to work on our school story. Some initiatives were taken at the beginning, but not mentioned later in the school year. Such a great start became pointless with little follow up. The lack of follow up could attribute to many things.
    While I believe there is no perfect fix to every issue in the school, involving everyone is a sure way to help improve situations. Always great to hear things from individuals who take into consideration the WHOLE school.

  • Tracy P says:

    Dr. Frunzi I completely agree with you. Our school uses the model above in creating, monitoring, and implementing our school improvement plan. The teachers feel as if we have a voice to help improve our school and the students are showing growth each year. The only piece I think we are still missing is that parent as a stakeholder and the parent joining us in our school improvement plan meetings. We as a school have recognize this as well and will be having a parent representative this school year. It will be an exciting school year to see how much we continue to grow as we strengthen our ties with not just principal – teacher – student but all our stakeholders.

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