CGCS Helps Support School Leadership at DMPS

This article is one in a series of reports on how support from the Wallace Foundation is making a difference at Des Moines Public Schools. In June 2014, DMPS was awarded a substantial grant by the Wallace Foundation to improve teaching and learning by improving the work of principals and their supervisors. DMPS is one of six urban school districts from across the country selected to participate in the initiative.

Officials from the Council of Great City Schools

Officials from the Council of Great City Schools visited DMPS to review the school district’s work to improve school leadership thanks to support from the Wallace Foundation.

Hot on the heels of the visit earlier this week by officials from Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, one of the nation’s largest school districts, here came a team from the Council of Great City Schools. Both groups were here to review the heavy lifting going on as DMPS works to parlay its receipt of a prestigious Wallace Grant into overhauls of the district’s leadership and instructional models.

”You are part of the national conversation around leadership development…not everyone is and you are,” PGCPS Associate Superintendent Doug Anthony told DMPS leaders before his group left town on Tuesday after three intense days that included school site visits.

Similarly, CGCS Executive Director Michael Casserly had this to say in a Friday morning debriefing that concluded an administrative audit of the overall DMPS plan to turn the Wallace Grant into improved instruction and increased student achievement: “It’s clear that you’ve accomplished a great deal in a short period of time…we give you enormous kudos,” for progress to date.

Casserly’s team spent Thursday checking up on every fundamental department of this district. They huddled with Operations Chief Bill Good, Human Resources Chief Anne Sullivan and Chief Financial Officer Thomas Harper in addition to sessions with the instructional executive directors. Capping the day was a probative focus group with a panel of DMPS school principals. The position of school principal supervisor is the primary point of attack with the Wallace Grant resources. The new paradigm emphasizes more focused coaching of principals by their supervisors that in turn flows through to teachers and, through them, to students.

While Casserly’s team noticed lots of positives during their visit the focus group session yielded some identification of areas in need of increased attention. The trick of this macroscopic change in the ways and means of doing the district’s business is to strike the right balance between routines of school management and increased emphasis on instructional coaching.

The CGCS team applauded the achievement of increased time in the field for principal supervisors but noted that a commensurate restructuring of workflow needs to happen with principals.

“The principals are pleased with the progress so far,” Casserly said, “but they expressed the need for increased non-instructional supports,” in order to keep enough time free for more intense instructional coaching.

The CGCS noted the deliberate effort made to enlist the support of DMPS teachers for the transition that’s underway. “You’ve been very intentional about getting buy-in from your teaching staff,” Casserly said. “That’s not always seen in other districts we visit. Same thing with the walk-throughs you’ve been doing in your buildings. Those are infrequent in our experience.”

One general recommendation that CGCS made was to broaden the definition of instruction in such a way as to also coach principals in the areas of community engagement and student discipline. Those two areas were cited in the focus group as building management aspects with the potential to siphon significant chunks of principals’ time that could otherwise be devoted to instructional coaching of their teachers.

So the work continues with the reassurance from expert and objective outside observers that the work so far has been so good. Next up is the Schools of Rigor initiative that’s to be coordinated by Learning Sciences International, a Wallace Foundation collaborator. LSI will oversee implementation of a new instructional framework at every DMPS school over the next three years, beginning with a pilot cohort of six in 2016-17.

We’ll report on the major event next week that’s planned to launch the implementation of Schools of Rigor.

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