Next month the Cleveland Metropolitan School District plays host to the annual conference of the Council of Great City Schools, a consortium of 68 urban districts from all across the country.
This month Des Moines Public Schools played host to Cleveland as leaders from the two schools gathered to discuss challenges like high rates of poverty and shallow funding streams for public schools.
In addition to both being members of the CGCS, Des Moines and Cleveland share like-sized student populations and demographic profiles. And both are among a select group of urban school districts to receive grants from the Wallace Foundation. Grants focused on school principals as the catalysts for accelerating student achievement.
The Wallace organization recommended Cleveland mine the experience of their counterparts in Des Moines, to the point of extending their grant period for that express purpose.
“The DMPS site visit impressed me because of the laser like focus on instructional practice,” said Erin Frew, the CMSD Academic Superintendent. “I saw thoughtful discussion around how the principals could lead their schools. It was clear that all participants were committed to providing a rigorous education to students, and had thoughtful and challenging conversation about how to coach their teachers to provide that to all scholars.”
“Our trip to Des Moines was more impactful on our group than we ever imagined it would be,” said Megan Traum, another member of the Cleveland contingent. “The consistent focus on the importance of strong instruction was clearly evident from all members of the DMPS staff. The focus on how to use instruction effectively in moving student achievement as well as to increase the level of rigor for students was clear from the start.”
And as Suzette Dyer, the executive director of talent acquisition and management at Cleveland, noted: “My time with the DMPS team was invaluable. In particular, Anne Sullivan (Chief Human Resources Officer at DMPS) provided me with strong examples of organizational systems and protocols for human resources restructuring that we can apply to our work in the Talent Office in Cleveland. I found every member of the team to be insightful and passionate about their work as educators, and I was inspired.”
No sooner did the traveling party from Cleveland leave town than another arrived from Prince Georges County Public Schools in Maryland, one of the nation’s largest school districts and another Wallace grantee. PGCPS has been here before, and DMPS has been there too, as we reported earlier. Last year a delegation from Broward County Public Schools, the nation’s 6th largest school district, made a similar fact-finding trip to DMPS.
A primary topic for this latest round of discussion between two of the districts modeling the cutting edge of 21st century urban education was symbiotic partnerships between public schools and higher education. PGCPS is positioned to capitalize on many with institutions including nearby Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a leading research center in many fields.
Similarly, DMPS is forging an expanding relationship with Drake University, a private school with a prestigious regional pedigree. Accordingly, one of the stops on this week’s itinerary for the visitors from PGCPS was a meeting on Drake’s campus in the brand new Collier-Scripps Hall, home to Drake’s School of Education.
DMPS Chief of Schools Matt Smith and Dr. Janet McMahill, Dean of the School of Education, reviewed their alliance so far and considered ways to grow it.
Smith outlined a career arc that might begin as early as 7th grade with enrollment in the DMPS Dream 2 Teach program and run all the way through completion of a Drake Masters on the BLUE Contract en route to administrative leadership roles in the district. DMPS and Drake jointly designed the BLUE Contract to custom-train new teachers for jobs here.
“You can grow your own teachers,” McMahill said, ones uniquely tailored to work in the district that produced them.
“That’s exactly what we want to do,” said Smith.
The map of leading public school districts is an ever-shifting one. But Des Moines is clearly one of the constant points on it.