In today’s globalized world, the importance of education cannot be understated. A good education is integral for every aspect of an individual’s life. For this reason, increasing vested public interest in quality education makes it an important matter for both policy makers and the government (Berlak, 2011). To keep up with the rest of the world, education institutions in the United States are also forced to carry out frequent change interventions based on internal and external pressures (i.e. technological, social, economic, and political). Improving student outcomes is considered to be one of the primary goals in an educational system (Hanushek, 1997). Likewise, leadership is held accountable to carry out these goals (Leithwood et al., 2004). Using information collected from a leadership interview with the Ms. Shahnaj Ahmed, a first year principal of R.E. Good Elementary of Carrollton, Texas, as well as considering her immediate concerns regarding the school’s sustainable academic improvement, this report will provide a comprehensive analysis of Good Elementary’s current performance from an academic perspective. While, it has been recognized that a school improvement initiative must address all aspects of school effectiveness, including its governance, curriculum, community-school partnership, staff development, technology, and parental involvement (Adelman, & Taylor, 2007), for the purpose of this analysis, the focus is placed mainly on the leadership practices and curricular choices of Good Elementary. However, in order to undertake the designated changes, the analysis may also draw on various other key aspects such as organizational structure, culture, professional development, educational policies, socioeconomic status, etc. The analysis will then make recommendations to overcome identified barriers, and offer strategies to implement the changes based on the findings. Furthermore, keeping Good Elementary’s mission in mind, strategic action(s) will also be recommended. It is anticipated that this recommendation will bring a sense of accountability across the board, create a high performing educational environment, and foster professional working relationships.
This study will focus on the following objectives:
1. To determine how the school’s leadership can thoroughly examine its performance and identify areas in which its practices can be improved to achieve better academic results for the school.
2. To identify ways to successfully connect International Baccalaureate (IB) themes to common core state standard curriculum (CCSS), thereby allowing students to gain knowledge beyond the limits of CCSS curriculum.
An evaluation of the aforementioned, two most important areas of the school will help Good Elementary more accurately plan to accomplish its primary mission of “continuous improvement.” To carry out the analysis, SWOT and PEST models will be utilized. Moreover, Kotter’s eight step plan will also be suggested to ensure a successful change implementation and management.
ORGANIZATIONAL LEADER INTERVIEW SUMMARY
Meeting with the principal of Good Elementary helped describe the daily challenges faced by the leaders and administrators of the school. Additionally, it was also determined that effective and visionary leadership is vital in educational institutions. A principal plays an important role in sustaining the process of learning in a school (Armstrong, 2008). In the context of strategic planning, a significant connection between principal leadership and student achievement has been established. A study conducted by Waters, Marzano, ; McNulty showed that, “a one standard deviation improvement in leadership practices is associated with an increase in average up to a 10-percentile improvement in student achievement” (Waters, Marzano, ; McNulty, 2003, p.5). A principal’s leadership can have a range of influence on school improvement and achievement depending on how the change is determined, and how the leadership practices are adopted to bring about the change (Waters, Marzano, & McNulty, 2003). In order to initiate new and better practices that benefit students, the leader has to have a clear vision and courage to challenge the status quo (Johnson, Rochkind, & Doble, 2008), as well as leadership that responds to the demand for accountability (Donaldson, 2006). Sometimes, as a leader, a principal has to integrate several leadership styles to form an effective leadership model suitable for his or her school culture.
As a first-year principal of Good Elementary, Ms. Ahmad is extra careful in trying to fluctuate between multiple styles of leadership. Initially, she adopted an autocratic leadership style through which she provides clear expectations to her subordinates for what, when, and how things have to be done. Ms. Ahmad believes that a school environment demands discipline at all times, and that if she were to try to adopt any other style of leadership, she fears losing structure and control within her organization. She also believes that her autocratic style of leadership serves as a means of maintaining law and order in the school. Although an empowering and participative approach to leadership is considered to be the best strategy (House & Mitchell, 1975), in Ms. Ahmad’s case, an autocratic leadership style was perhaps the best alternate for her considering it was her first year as principal. She thinks that as a young and inexperienced principal, she could have been overshadowed by her seniors if she had showed hesitation in her abilities. In her own words she states, “Since I previously worked as a teacher in this school, some of my colleagues have a hard time seeing me as a principal…that undermines my authority in the school.” She further added that in order to prove herself as a strong leader to her contemporaries, she had to display a significant degree of autocratic behavior to achieve needed results. However, keeping in mind the current emphasis on school improvement, Ms. Ahmad may have to develop a deeper understanding of her leadership role as a principal. Understanding the role teamwork plays in implementing change is crucial (Marks ; Nance, 2007). Furthermore, a principal cannot shoulder the sole source of leadership in the school, she needs to adopt a shared leadership model, as a mutually respectful and motivational environment is best to increase efficiency in school (Armstrong, 2008). If Ms. Ahmad is open to collaboration and knowledge sharing, she will be best prepared to facilitate needed change at Good Elementary.
IMPORTANCE OF CURRICULAR CHOICES IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS
Curriculum plays a crucial role in student academic learning and success. The idea that schools should prepare students for participation in an increasingly globalized world has transformed the curriculum and pedagogy on a global scale (Ball, 2012). Since the early 1990s, there have been significant academic efforts put into promoting global education, and introducing it at the elementary grade levels (Tye, 1990). The International Baccalaureate’s Primary Year Program (PYP) is designed to provide students with opportunities to develop the values of global citizenship.
Besides it regular state mandated curriculum, Good Elementary is also authorized to teach the I.B. curriculum to its students. I.B. is a global, non-profit educational organization that offers a unique curriculum that encourages students to be active learners, well-rounded individuals, and engaged global citizens (IB, 2018). As an IB world school, Good Elementary is expected to integrate important IB themes such as pluralism, peace building, diversity, sustainability, and justice in its standard curriculum. However, it was reported by Ms. Ahmad during her interview that currently the school cannot integrate PYP themes in their core curriculum. The teachers find it hard to assimilate I.B. themes into the existing district-mandated curriculum due to limited district support, and lower level of academic and socio-economic attainment of students.
IDENTIFICATION OF ORGANIZATION
History of R.E. Good Elementary
R. E. Good Elementary was originally built in 1956, and was named after Rex Edwin Good, an Air force officer. Rex Good was a descendent of the Good family who established themselves in Carrollton in the early 1900s. The land on which the school was built was once owned by the Good family. The original school building was demolished and a new building of approximately 82,146 square feet was built and opened for the 2012-13 school year (HRIS, 2018). Good Elementary is one of the 25 elementary schools under the Carrollton Farmers Branch Independent School District (CFBISD), and is part of the Texas Education Agency’s Region 10. The school is also an International Baccalaureate school, one of two elementary schools in the district that offer this unique program.
SIZE AND DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE SCHOOL
Located on 1012 Study Lane, Carrollton, Texas, Good Elementary stands on 11 acres land with 82,146.11Sq of building capacity. The school currently has 559 students enrolled (263 girls and 296 boys). The school is incorporated under CFBISD’s 501(c) (3) non-profit status and is governed by a Board of Trustees. The school provides free of charge education to K-5 students. The student body is predominantly Hispanic (84%), the majority of whom come from a lower socioeconomic background (78% of children from low-income families). Good Elementary is a Title I school and receives additional federal funding from the Every Child Succeeds Act (“Title I, Part A Program”, 2018). Academically, students at Good Elementary show less growth compared to similar students at other schools across the state (Appendix I). Good Elementary’s students stand at a proficiency level of 37% in math and 38% in reading, compared to the state levels of 47% and 44% respectively (“Explore Good Elementary School in Carrollton, TX”, 2018). In the academic year 2016-17, the school had an annual budget appropriation of $2,826,350 (“Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD”, 2018). The school faces continuing state government budgetary issues, and it is anticipated that under the Trump administration’s student-based budgeting, along with all other public schools, especially Title I schools, Good Elementary may also experience some financial changes (Anon, 2018). The notion of student-based budgeting supports that money should follow each student, regardless of where they are enrolled. If parents decided to take their students to non-district charter schools, this will also reallocate funds away from district schools, a threat that may impact district organizations significantly.
While a school’s mission is its core purpose or its reason for existence, its vision guides its actions. The purpose of the mission and vision statements is not only to provide clear direction, but also to function as a reference point against which the school can measure its performance. Both the vision and mission of Good Elementary school are intertwined with the other schools in the Carrollton Farmers Branch Independent School District (CFBISD). The district’s vision is “Learn more, achieve more”, and its mission is to provide:
A safe, healthy environment for students, teachers, and staff.
The highest quality instructional resources and tools.
The best prepared teachers, administrators and staff.
A challenging curriculum and learning opportunities.
A plan of continuous improvement.
Good Elementary is mostly successful in accomplishing its goals of providing a safe environment for its teachers, staff, and students. It also offers the highest quality of instructional resources, and all its teachers are 100% state certified with most teachers having at least three years of experience. However, as an I.B. world school, both Good Elementary’s vision and mission lack the “social consciousness” aspect of the program, which is the highlight of I.B. schools. Comparatively, the Harmony Charter School in Carrollton, Texas, another I.B. school, states in its vision statement that it desires to lead its “students from the classroom into the world as productive and responsible citizens” (“About Us – HSI Carrollton | Harmony Public Schools”, 2018). Leading students towards the idea of commitment to serve the society and its people will help Good Elementary to further strengthen its position in the community as an I.B. world school.
OFFICE BARRIERS OF THE ORGANIZATION
Since August 2017, Ms. Shahnaj Ahmad and Mr. Ricardo Arias have respectively been the principal and vice principal of Good Elementary School. Both the principal and the vice principal report to the assistant superintendent for elementary schools of the CFBISD. The school has one full-time counselor and 34 full-time teachers. The school also has one full time special education teacher, three education aids, a part-time behavioral specialist, a part time reading and math coach, and two secretaries. Besides, administrative staff, the school consists of six cafeteria workers, four janitors, and one maintenance employee.
There are eight schools in Good Elementary’s feeder pattern (the elementary, K-8, and middle schools which feed into each high school) two of which are Blue Ribbon schools, a title given to schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups (“Eligibility and Performance Award Criteria – Blue Ribbon Schools Program”, 2018). With the school choice movement gaining momentum, many parents have made decisions to leave the traditional public school system and take their children to charter schools or similar other school models. Although a full-scale transition from public schools to charter schools will not happen immediately, the district still has to be mindful of the threats posed by alternative educational providers.
EDUCTIONAL INDUSTRY OVERIEW AND ANALYSIS
According to the data retrieved from the National Center for Education Statistics, there were about 13,600 public school districts reported in the US in 2013-14 with approximately 98,200 public schools, including about 6,700 charter schools. In the same school year, more than 56,000 public schools used Title I funds to provide additional academic and learning support to help low-achieving children, and more than 21 million children were served under this program. In this statistical report, it was estimated that in the fall of 2017, about 50.7 million students would attend public elementary and secondary schools, and the expenditures were projected to be $623.5 billion for the 2017–18 school year (“National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education”, 2018). The current administration has allocated $14.9 billion in funding for the Title I Grants to support state and local efforts to ensure that more than 25 million students in lower socio-economic status schools have access to the highest possible quality of educational opportunities, enabling them to meet the state student performance standards (“Title I, Part A Program”, 2018).
In the United States, the National Department of Education is responsible for setting guidelines involving the general education policy for the entire nation. The federal government contributes almost 10% to the national education budget; the rest falls on the local and state government. Texas has its own department of education and jurisdiction called The Texas Education Agency (TEA), which regulates its curriculum, budget, human resource and other such standardized activities. The Texas public education structure is then further divided into school districts. Each school district is managed by a school board, representing the public’s voice in public education (National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education”, 2018).
Like any other business, the education industry also operates in an ever-changing market environment that affects its ability to effectively and satisfactorily serve its stakeholders. Similarly, in order to successfully market itself in the world of business, the education industry has to develop and implement effective marketing strategies to attract clientele. In order to do that, it must first fully analyze all the internal and external factors of its environment in which it operates to make better and informed business decisions. In the next few paragraphs, this report will attempt to identify some of the macro-environmental factors and forces that presents specific opportunities and threats to the educational industry.
PEST analysis is used to assess the influences that major external forces will have on the organization and how organizations plan their business activities around these influences. These influences can be opportunities and/or threats to the organization. In the education sector, this analysis may be very helpful in determining changes that might shape the future planning, financing, and management decisions of the public school system. The following is a list of the political, economic, social, and technological factors and various ways they impact the educational market.
Political factors include pressure groups, government agencies and lobbyists that influence educational policies, legislation, and reforms (Kotler, et al., 2005). Currently, the major trending political factor is the governmental initiative of school choice, or the legislation that permits the opening of charter schools. Charter schools are best described as semi-independent public schools. They do not receive as much government backing as other public schools, but they have a certain degree of freedom and power in their use of instructional material and methods in their schools to promote academic advancement. Other major political factors are the immigration debates on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Dream Act, and other such issues (Martin, 2017). Combined, all these political factors affect the external environment of the education industry.
Economic factors, such as government funding decisions, may affect the annual educational budget. The Trump administration, under its new education choice plan, has allocated $167 million in funding to start new charter schools. The administration has also allocated up to $100 million towards charter school facilities (“Trump and DeVos Continue to Undermine Public Education with Their Proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Budget – Center for American Progress”, 2018). The administration is planning to cut a total of $10.6 billion from federal education funds to use towards promoting the “school choice” initiative (“Trump’s first full education budget: Deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice”, 2018). These governmental actions may put funding of public schools at risk. Moreover, the rise of more charter schools in various communities will result in increasing competition for public schools. However, in the government’s current fiscal budget, $14.9 billion in funding has been allocated for the Title I Grants to support state and local efforts towards students of lower socioeconomic status (“Title I, Part A Program”, 2018). Hence, factors such as government funding may greatly influence and change the education industry structures in all likelihood.
The increasingly growing rate of immigration in the U.S affects its education sector more than any other social factor does. The impact of these demographic changes is seen in a continuous increase in the number of students in public schools, thereby significantly affecting the funding and budgeting aspects of the education system. Furthermore, Mexican immigration has significantly increased the number of public school students who are in poverty, as well as those who speak a foreign language (“Mapping the Impact of Immigration on Public Schools”, 2018). Additionally, a family’s income level, parent’s educational level, gender, and race all social factors whose influence is impacting the education industry.
Technology has taken the world by storm, and the education sector has also been impacted by this growing movement. This trend is especially apparent in the growth of the eLearning market, which has made education accessible to the masses. Today, a vast amount of academic information is available online to students, including tutoring and test prep. Learning software, such as IStation and ThinkThroughMath, are replacing textbooks. Through these programs, students are able to learn specific topics with the help of custom-made computer programs that support their learning needs.
The above PEST factors expand on specific types of external issues and trends that frequently effect the education industry, and may provide important forecasting information for making some critical decisions or creating an action plan for Good Elementary. While there are some positive factors, such as additional governmental funding for Title I schools, that may help achieving the school’s objectives, others, such as the school choice movement, may hinder the school from achieving its goals. Further analysis of internal and external factors that are assisting or preventing Good Elementary in achieving its goal will be carried out using the SWOT analysis.
A school is a dynamic environment and it must regularly make changes to maintain its ultimate purpose. A SWOT analysis can provide a critical appraisal of the performance of the school based on the internal and external factors that are currently impacting its growth and may hinder its progress in the future. The analysis starts out by outlining the objective of the school, and finds the dynamics needed in reaching that objective. Once school’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are identified, the leadership team can work towards converting weaknesses into strengths, availing new opportunities and planning to overcome or eliminate threats.
SREGNTHS OF THE ORGANIZAITON
One of the main strengths of Good Elementary is the Primary Years Program (PYP), which is a part of the International Baccalaureate Program (IB). Good Elementary is one of 77 PYP schools out of the 177 I.B. schools in the state of Texas, and it is only one of two PYP schools in the entire CFBISD. The PYP program places an additional responsibility on the school, to ensure that students are not only educated through the district’s curriculum, but also through the I.B. framework (IB, 2018). The goal of the program is to shape students into well-rounded global citizens who are able to view the world and its challenges through multiple perspectives. (Hallinger, Walker, & Lee, 2010). Good Elementary teachers receive additional training to be able to draw on the IB’s framework and unique curriculum to prepare students to become global citizens.
Another strength of the school is its pool of experienced and dedicated teachers. Teacher retention has been an ongoing concern, especially in Title I schools, where teachers were found to have less than three years of teaching experience (Wang, 2007). However, there are teachers at Good Elementary who have been teaching for almost 20 years. They have stuck with the school as it transformed from a small one-story building to a larger three-story building, from a non-Title I to a Title I school, and from a non-I.B. to an I.B. school. Although many pre-service teachers may want to teach at schools where they do not have to face difficult working conditions experienced at Title I schools (Wang, 2007), the teachers at Good Elementary, according to the principal Ahmad, choose to teach at a Title I school because they want to make an impact on the lives of underprivileged students, an exemplary display of their dedication as educators.
Besides teachers, the students at Good Elementary are a hard working group who do not let their day-to-day struggles interfere with their education. According to the principal, there are rarely any behavioral issues at Good Elementary, especially when compared to other schools in the district. One aspect that probably helps ensure discipline in all areas is the fact that students are required to wear uniforms. This is one of the main strengths of the school; since most students are from lower socioeconomic families, they cannot afford to wear a different outfit each day. The school uniforms help ensure that no child stands out because of his or her inability to pay for new clothes to wear to school every day. When everyone is wearing the same thing, there is no opportunity for judgement or discrimination.
As a Title I school, the extra funding Good Elementary receives is a plus factor that gives school its economic stability. The school operates a schoolwide Title I program and uses these funds towards activities, such as professional development of teachers, summer schooling, and technology purchases.
Another key strength of the school is its location. Although many Title I schools are located in underprivileged communities in which crime and violence are prevalent (Chapman, ; Northeast, 2010), Good Elementary is comparatively located in a safer area surrounded by churches, mosques, residential units, and a strip mall. The infrastructure of Good Elementary is different from that of other schools. The entire front of the school is made of glass, which brings lots of natural sunlight into the building. Compared to other elementary schools, Good Elementary is much larger, consisting of three stories. The facility is regularly cleaned by the designated janitors. Staff and administration are also often seen lending a helping hand to ensure the classrooms, bathrooms, hallways, and offices are kept clean at all times.
WEAKNESESS OF THE ORGANIZATION
While Good Elementary has quite a few strengths that set it apart from other schools in the district, it also has some weaknesses. One of the biggest weakness this school year is the new administration. Both the principal and vice-principal are brand new to the school, and therefore have faced many first-year challenges and obstacles. As new administrators, it has taken them time to adjust to their new positions, as well as figure out the best way to handle various concerns issues that arise. There are times when issues are not handled properly, creating further conflicts. However, by keeping a high learning expectation from everyone, the principal of Good Elementary is on the right track to closing the achievement gap between low socio-economic status students and the fortunate ones. She needs to now develop a shared vision around academic achievement for all students at Good Elementary.
Another critical area of concern is the struggle teachers are facing to find a balance between the rigid district curriculum and the I.B. framework. The district curriculum is laid out for teachers to follow word for word. Furthermore, the TERC Investigations for Math and Lucy Calkins for Language Arts, curriculum purchased by the district for use by the teachers, is highly structured to the point that it clashes with the ideals of the I.B. framework. The I.B. framework is built on the philosophies of open-mindedness, creativity, and flexibility; however, it is hard to be rigid and flexible at the same time. The principal realizes this is a big challenge that will take time to overcome, because it would take a large step from her end to stray from the district’s goals and views for the sake of her school.
In reviewing parents’ reason for choosing a school, it was noted that 31% chose schools because of their extracurricular programs (Bosetti, 2004), a factor that hinders Good Elementary in achieving its goals of providing constant improvement to its students. There are currently only four extracurricular programs at the school including, choir club, Chinese club, Good News club, and robotics club. The lack of extracurricular student programs is definitely a weakness of Good Elementary. This is especially the case because one of the principles of the I.B. program is service and action, which can come in the form of clubs and organizations at a school. This weakness can also be strengthened once a solution is found to balance the district’s and school’s goals of academic achievement, and by assimilating community and extracurricular activities into the daily learning.
Another area of concern that Good Elementary faces is its lack of parental involvement and community support. Parental involvement is idealized in the current perception of the best schools in North America and is seen as an important factor in students’ success (Bosetti, 2004). However, such is not the case at Good Elementary, perhaps because of the barriers some Hispanic parents face, such as language, low levels of education, and economic hardships that holds them back from getting involved in their children’s education (Cruz, 2016). Good Elementary has just now begun its mission to revamp the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), but it will take much more support from teachers to bring parents on board. The redesign of the school’s PTA would mean better parent-teacher relationships, a greater sense of community, and more involvement in children’s academic pursuits. This would also mean parents would become more aware of the I.B. program and how it is benefiting their children. Parent involvement would help take Good Elementary and its I.B. program to another level.
THREATS OR CHALLENGES FACED BY THE ORGANIZATION
In addition to the strengths and weaknesses of Good Elementary, the school also faces external threats and challenges within its feeder pattern. Amongst the eight schools in its feeder pattern, two are Blue Ribbon schools. To even be considered a Blue Ribbon school, Good Elementary would have to make major strides in closing the achievement gap, as well as having to raise their standardized test scores, something the principal is heavily focused on.
A growing number of charter schools pose a definitive threat to the district public schools. According to the National Alliance for public charter schools website, in 2016-17 school year, there were more than 6,900 charter schools that enrolled approximately 3.1 million students. Furthermore, when parents have options in public schools, they prefer charter schools over district schools. A study found that district leaders perceived charter schools as threat that negatively affect their budget. This will be even a bigger issue when the school choice program by Trump administration take its full force. District will see their revenue further reducing when more and more students transfer from district run schools to charter schools.
Along with the threat of growing charter schools, at-risk students or the students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically, also pose a threat to Good Elementary. These students are categorized as those who require temporary or ongoing intervention in order to succeed academically. The number of at-risk students at Good Elementary cannot be controlled because they are assigned to the school depending on their zoning. The way the school system works is that even if a student does not have a disability or impairment they may be classified under the special education program because of their low performance levels in various subject areas. Many students at Good Elementary end up in special education classes because they fall under this group of non-disabled or non-impaired, students who perform poorer academically than their peers. These students display low academic performance because their families have moved around frequently, they do not have sufficient support at home, or they have other responsibilities to fulfill at home, which causes mental and emotional stress and affects their study patterns.
OPPORTUNITIES OF THE ORGANIZATION
One of the assets that Good Elementary has is its accreditation as an I.B. World School and the PYP program it offers. If implemented properly, this program would not only attract more students, it would improve the schools’ reputation as well. IB’s PYP program is ideal for those looking to whole school reform (Cech, 2005). By bringing in the rigor of IB and combining it with the district curriculum, Good Elementary can also become a prospect in school choice market to attract diverse group of student to its campus.
Another opportunity that teachers can avail at the school would be to improve the curriculum materials and classroom instruction. For curriculum change, the importance of teacher development is critical. The Title I fund provides additional grant for professional development and teachers at Good Elementary can take advantage of this funding to learn the best research-based practices on teaching, especially the integration of technology into the curriculum
In the 21st century, implementation of educational technology for the establishment of effective learning environments is absolutely necessary. A major advantage Good Elementary, as a Title 1 school, is its supplementary funding. This additional funding can be spent on technology tools. According to the U.S department of education “a school incorporating digital learning in a Title I schoolwide program might use Title I, Part A funds to purchase devices and digital learning resources to support all students and staff” (” Office of Educational Technology”, 2018). By using various technology tools, the core curriculum can be incorporated into lesson plans in fun and engaging ways. Moreover, if teachers are trained on effective and efficient ways to integrate technology into their lessons, students would have yet another avenue through which they can learn and build their understanding of various subjects. The learning technology can also generate significant gains in at risk students as the technology can keep them engaged with interactive lessons.
Good Elementary’s mission is understandable and has attainable goals; at the core of their mission statement is the commitment to provide “continuous improvement” for students. The school’s strategies are, however, not aligned with its mission. For principal Ahmad of Good Elementary, standardized test scores measure students’ progress because they portray the school’s continuous efforts in narrowing the achievement gap between lower socioeconomic students and others students. In order to achieve desired scores, she has adopted a very strict style of leadership that demands accountability and results. Generally, school improvement requires accountability, and for that, the principal needs to set high expectations for both teachers and students. However, what is missing in this objective is a strategic plan for improving the scores. A gap analysis can help in identifying the missing link between point A and point B. This process is particularly valuable as a way to quantify continuing progress towards a goal (Bernhardt, 2013). For example, Ms. Ahmad can conduct a gap analysis to examine the current year’s scores (point A) and decide on a realistic score for the next year (Point B). Once a goal is identified, Ms. Ahmad, with the help of her teachers and staff, can find ways to get from point A to point B. Under the current strategy, she has indicated her desire for the school to get to point B, but her objective is focused toward the outcome and not the actions needed to be taken to achieve the outcome. This can be partially attributed to her inexperience as a principal, as she expects herself to increase or at least maintain the level of student achievement.
Student achievement is highly dependent on the curriculum design (Danielson, 2002). This is another area that, although fulfills the school’s mission, is not aligned with the I.B. framework that the school is accredited for. While the school is bound to teach the curriculum provided by the district, and is held accountable for its proper implementation, the I.B. organization is relatively lenient and does not follow up as frequently. Hence, it is easier for teachers to detract from the I.B. curriculum on a regular basis. Regardless, since Good Elementary has been approved as an I.B. school, it has a certain level of responsibility towards the I.B. organization. It is required to uphold the values, principles, standards, and the framework of the I.B. program, which currently it is not able to do.
Based on the findings of Good Elementary’s current strategies and performance, as well as utilizing PEST and SWOT analysis, a recommendation for the school has been provided. This recommendation has identified two priorities to improve academic competence of Good Elementary: enhance leadership practices and integrate IB themes into standard curriculum.
RECOMMENDATION FOR THE PRINCIPAL
The aspiration and the commitment to accomplish the mission of Good Elementary is apparent in Principal Ahmad’s behavior. However, in her efforts, greater emphasis is given to the standardized test scores and not to the continuous learning aspect of the education. This is atypical of a leader who is task-oriented rather than relationship orientated in his/her way of controlling others (Holdford, 2003). This style is focused on the tasks that need to be done to meet certain goals, rather than building teams and supporting and motivating them.
It is recommended for Ms. Ahmad to shift her leadership style, and to encourage and show support to her employees and their ideas on how to implement and attain organizational goals. It is understandable in Ms. Ahmad’s situation that as a new leader, it is difficult for her to evaluate the right time to switch styles. Instead of making many changes at a time, she needs to slowly start by facilitating dialogues and listening to the teachers’ perspectives. An effective school principal is the one who regularly provides personal and professional support to the teachers, and always holds them in high regard. It is because of this trust and confidence that teachers feel content and empowered (Syptak et al, 1999). In return, teachers will be supportive towards any changes that principal may want to introduce in the school.
For school improvement efforts, leadership needs to focus on academic program, assessment data, and professional development (Reubling et al., 2004). Ms. Ahmad is highly involved in the process of gathering assessment data, but she also needs to equally take part in developing, supporting, and sustaining an instructional curriculum that is beneficial to both, student learning and teachers’ professional growth.
RECOMMENDATION TO ENHANCE THE CURRICULUM
The academic core demands a strong foundation in the instructional curriculum. Hence, it is crucial to reexamine the curriculum to ensure that it is meeting the needs of Good Elementary’s students. In regards to the instructional curriculum, there can be improvements aimed at balancing the I.B. framework with the district curriculum. This is an important area of concern because one of the main strengths that separates Good Elementary from its competition in the district is the I.B. program, and if it is not implemented effectively then the school is limiting its capability to compete academically with other schools in the area.
There is both a long-term and a short-term solution to this challenge. The long term- would be for the principal and vice principal to continue to urge the district to create an I.B. coordinator position at the school. This position would allow classroom teachers to understand, through coaching, how to balance both the framework and the district curriculum. The reason this position is important is because currently the vice principal of the school is the I.B. coordinator. In addition to his duties as vice principal at two schools in the district, he also has to help maintain a program that he is not very familiar with. This becomes unfair to both the school and students. Instead, if the district could allocate funding towards an I.B. coordinator position, there would be one person solely focused on building the I.B. program at the school. The short-term plan would be for the principal to sit down with team leaders and instructional coaches to discuss effective ways to implement aspects of the I.B. program, and then carry over the plan to the teachers. Since the school has no choice but to follow the district’s curriculum, the principal can at least give teachers some flexibility, knowing that I.B. can function effectively with flexibility in the classrooms. The principal should hold meetings on how to integrate the I.B. framework with the district mandated curriculum, and should also clarify what her expectations are in terms of following through with the district curriculum.
Another recommendation is to increasingly relay the importance of the I.B. program to both teachers and the parents. If teachers understand the value of an I.B. education, they would be more likely become passionate about effectively integrating it into their teaching. Similarly, if parents have a proper understanding of I.B., they would be able to spread information about the school through word of mouth, which would then attract more people to the school. This would help bring students back from charter schools to public schools. Additionally, the reputation of the school would go up, as it would be known for its effective and popular I.B. program and activities.
The third recommendation is for teachers to continue their life-long learning to stay informed and knowledgeable on innovative educational practices. The principal can help in this matter by providing mandatory teacher trainings, as well as consistent progress monitoring on teacher growth through their individual goals. This would not only increase the accountability of teachers, but also help improve their pedagogy. It is crucial that teachers improve their pedagogy to best serve their students. One of the best ways they can do this is by guiding their instructions in class based on student data. By assessing and analyzing student test scores, teachers will be able to determine specific target areas for students. Following this route would mean teachers would not be teaching to the requirements of standardized tests, but rather teaching to ensure students are truly gaining an in-depth understanding of the material and building their critical thinking skills. Not only would this help raise test scores, but it would help Good Elementary build a name for itself through quality education.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE STRATEGIC PLAN
This strategic plan is recommended to keep Good Elementary’s mission of “continuous improvement” in mind. It focuses on those aspects of schools which are vital for sustainable excellence in the competitive environment of elementary education. In order to achieve the best results in this change process, it is highly suggested to use Kotter’s model of a logical sequence of actions, listed below:
Establish a sense of urgency: It is the principal’s responsibility to alert all the stakeholders about the change, and explain the importance of making immediate changes to the current situations, such as changes in the application of the curriculum.
Establish a Guiding Coalition: The principal cannot lead the change alone, she needs a team of leaders with their individual roles defined. Principal Ahmad will need this alliance to establish buy-in towards the change she is planning. For example, the instructional curriculum team can work as initiators of the program change process, and help develop strategies and plans to integrate I.B. themes into the existing standard curriculum.
Develop a vision and strategy: A unified schoolwide focus is the result of a shared vision and mission among school stakeholders (Kotter, 1990). Together, the principal, teachers, and the staff members need to develop a plan about the direction the school needs to go in order to be successful. The team then needs to connect their initiatives to the overall vision of the district and the I.B. organization. At some point, they all have to be on one page or the vision will slowly lose its credibility.
Communicate the change vision: Once again, as a leader, the principal needs to communicate the school’s additional vision efficiently to teachers and staff members to gain commitment from them to be part of this new vision. The vision needs to be communicated regularly in staff meetings to maintain its importance, to stay actively engaged with the process, and to receive ongoing feedback.
Empowering Employees for Broad-based Action: It is easy to communicate the vision, but difficult to convince people to believe in and stay engaged in that vision. In the case of Good Elementary, there will be teachers or staff members who will try to derail the change effort. By allowing broad based action, the principal can remove potential barriers, thus avoid possibilities of having her change effort fail.
Generating Short-Term Wins: Generating short-term wins prevent the loss of drive and keep the team engaged. It gives them pride of their achievements, which keeps them moving forward. For example, a short win can be celebrated when a curriculum instructional team is formed. This would be a step forward towards the curriculum integration process.
Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change: Although, short wins are important, they may work against the change because people may lose their momentum after the celebration of the previous win. For example, the process of curriculum integration cannot stop at forming a team of people at integrating the curriculum. For this reason, the principal has to combine the gains from earlier wins and implement additional changes to keep the momentum going. In other words, continue to look for more wins and more prospects for change.
Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture: This is referred to a change that lasts. Change is difficult and if it happens, but doesn’t last, it will makes employees less committed to the next change.