- Sharon Griffin, the third superintendent to serve Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District (ASD), has been on the job for six months and has spent much of that time connecting with the Memphis community, streamlining the central office, and listening to school leaders and teachers about what is and isn't working in the district, Chalkbeat reports.
- Griffin, who is billed as a turnaround expert, faces a tough challenge as the state-run school district has seen only nine of the 30 schools in the district advance out of the bottom 5% in the state in a six-year period. In addition, none of the schools had more than 20% of students testing at grade level or above in English or math during the most recent round of state tests.
- Through collaborative efforts, Griffin is currently working to improve the district by building stronger community connections, making sure the district is complying with state and federal grants, strengthening the teaching workforce, improving district communication and making school facilities safer.
So far, state takeover efforts of schools have not proven to be hugely successful. Still, they continue to expand in some areas, such as North Carolina, while in other areas, such as Detroit and Georgia, the idea has lost momentum.
In Tennessee, the state has tried two approaches: the ASD mentioned in the article, and the Innovation Zone – or iZone. Schools in the iZones are governed by their local districts, but are allowed greater autonomy and financial support than traditional schools. According to report released earlier this year by Vanderbilt University, schools in the iZones are showing marked improvement in test scores while schools in the ASD are not.
The concept of a state-run district is the last, desperate approach some states take to improve low-performing schools. Turnaround efforts are not new to schools and some methods have shown more success than others. The main advantage of the state-run approach seems to be more in the threat than in the implementation, as noted in an article by the Center for Reinventing Public Education.
"State-run districts are most effective when they motivate local districts to do what they should have done but either wouldn’t or couldn’t," the article says. "Possible education department action can strengthen the hands of local reformers and weaken the position of district leaders who refuse to change."
The struggles many state-run districts have in making dramatic improvements illustrates the enormity of the challenge of turning around a school. While field guides exist, not every solution fits every school. The challenge is not only turning around a school, but in deciding on the measures of success in the first place. Once solutions are found, the challenge then becomes finding ways to make that success sustainable by giving local school districts the resources and authority they need to maintain improvement.