Restructuring for a culture of collaboration in K12
The organizational tendency of many large school districts is to divide elementary and secondary education into separate departments. Dearborn Public Schools’ central office followed this model for decades.
During tough financial times there was a history of competition for limited district resources between elementary and secondary central office staff and building administrators. This led to a culture of little collaboration between secondary and elementary faculty.
When district educational programs or models did not produce the desired results, it was common to blame staff at the other level (i.e., high school blames middle school, middle school blames elementary).
In 2015, the Dearborn Public Schools central office organization was restructured with the goal of promoting a culture of collaboration within a pre-K through 12 district feeder track model.
District feeder tracks
The district vision for the feeder track model was to ensure an effective pre-K through 12 focus on student growth, achievement, and career and college readiness. A feeder track was defined as the attendance area of elementary schools and middle schools that included the population of the high school.
The feeder track model merged instructional supervision and evaluation along the boundary lines that defined school attendance.
The three high schools in the district (Dearborn High, Edsel Ford and Fordson) formed three separate feeder tracks, and an executive director of student achievement position was created to organize instructional supervision in each. Executive directors supervised building principals and reported directly to the superintendent on the executive leadership team.
The goal was to eliminate competition for district resources that divided elementary and secondary administrators and departments. With pre-K through 12 school teams working collaboratively for the success of all students in their feeder track, teachers, administrators and central office supervisors share responsibility and resources.
Effective instructional leadership is evidenced by district leaders’ presence in schools focused on instruction. In addition to school and classroom visits, executive directors developed a schedule of school-based leadership meetings. Professional learning was the focus with instructional rounds as a part of every session.
Additionally, monthly leadership meetings focused on professional learning were completed for elementary, middle and high school administrators. The intent was for the three executive directors to participate at all levels to ensure communication and consistency. Even with three feeder tracks, the focus remains on one district.
Monthly district leadership meetings
The superintendent hosted monthly, collaborative, professional learning meetings with topics relevant to every participant and scheduled breakout sessions on a variety of topics. Administrators were surveyed on topics of interest and were invited to facilitate sessions. The sessions were led by principals, teachers, department directors, executive directors and the superintendent.
The chief requirement for content of the sessions was that it was relevant and interactive. Staff modeled the expectations for the multiple building principals to implement with their faculty for professional learning and job-embedded training.
“The feeder track model allows for vertical articulation for strategies, curriculum and student support” notes Shannon Peterson, one of the executive directors of Student Achievement for the district.
“The job-embedded professional learning has included learning walks with pre-K through 12 teachers, affording a rare glimpse into a different level of education. It is seldom when an elementary teacher and/or administrator has a chance to observe an instructional strategy in a high school classroom and vice versa.”
The focus on collaborative leadership in a culture of continuous improvement through the feeder track model has facilitated the work of administrators and teachers in improving student growth in Dearborn Public Schools.
Jill Chochol is executive director of Student Achievement for Dearborn Public Schools. Glenn Maleyko is superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools.