President's Corner

Let’s Turn Around and See What We’re Doing

by EDGAR B. HATRICK

School turnarounds are the theme of this month’s School Administrator, and like you, I am looking forward to reading about strategies education leaders are using and can use to improve schools that are not meeting student needs.

I am sure these stories include continuous improvement strategies, the heart of every successful school. Continuous improvement strategies include collaboration, goal setting, empowerment and communication, but the most valuable aspect of continuous improvement, I believe, is self-evaluation.

Edgar HatrickEdgar B. Hatrick


School system leaders who have been through accreditation studies know that when the members of a school community, including administrators, faculty, students and parents, examine themselves and their practices in an honest, structured way, they often realize the need for change and improvement.

This realization can and should lead to courageous conversations that provide a forum for all stakeholders to talk honestly about issues that may be easier to avoid, such as race and poverty. These courageous conversations are vital to helping school communities determine how well their practices are meeting the academic and developmental needs of students.

Then, in the spirit of continuous improvement, education leaders can use those conversations to help affirm the strategies already in place and suggest changes to those that are not supporting students.

Students should always be the focus of our conversations, the center of our attention, as we use continuous improvement strategies to turn around those schools that are struggling and advance those that are making progress toward excellence.

You don’t need a standardized test to tell you whether the climate of a school is designed to promote success. Just ask the people who live in the school, day in and day out — they will tell you. That’s what the most effective school leaders do every day. As part of their plan for continuous improvement, they constantly monitor all aspects of their school climate — instructional practices, learning and teaching climate, academic achievement, even physical environment. They measure their school success by student success. If we don’t provide opportunities for students to succeed and gain the knowledge and skills they need for their world of the future, we fail, plain and simple.

Changing staff — the federal government’s tactic for turning around a school — doesn’t need to be the solution if school leaders promote the courageous conversations necessary to open communication and dig deep into the real issues affecting student success. Successful leaders talk to their students, staff and parents about needs and wants. They ensure their staff members have the support and incentives they need to do their jobs effectively.

But let’s stop and think for a moment. Maybe what we need to be asking ourselves is this: How do we keep schools from becoming places that need to be “turned around” in the first place? Everything we know about teaching and learning tells us that learning is always easier than unlearning.

So, we ensure teachers are qualified for the areas we ask them to teach, provide the proper social and environmental support for students and set standards that challenge students, faculty and family. We remember that family and community play a huge role in a student’s education. Contrary to some public sentiment, we can’t do it alone. And we get the topic of poverty back on the table. We don’t need another study to tell us that poverty affects student learning. We know that. It’s time to do something about it.

Let’s make our conversations about continuous improvement part of every school’s culture. If we honestly evaluate ourselves we can all be turnaround specialists every day. That’s called continuous improvement.

Edgar Hatrick is AASA president for 2010-11. E-mail: ehatrick@aol.com