AASA’s Study on After-school’s Ups and Downs

by Nancy Miller

AASA began an inquiry in 2001 to understand how barriers to effective after-school programs could be overcome by school district leaders. The issue, well-known anecdotally, had not to date been researched. School leaders tend to agree that after-school programs are sound educationally but struggle to operate and sustain such programs.

With support from the C.S. Mott Foundation, AASA set out to discover the difference between leadership in school districts with successful after-school programs and in districts with less effective ones. Researcher Anne Turnbaugh Lockwood visited 10 school systems in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest and East to talk with superintendents, central-office administrators, principals and after-school directors and staffers.

The most daunting barrier she encountered in these districts was the entire issue of fiscal sustainability at a time when fiscal cutbacks in states and local districts were imperiling even the regular school day programs. Other barriers she found in districts with less effective after-school programs included the slowness of district bureaucracy through many offices and functions; interpersonal problems with no effective means of resolution; a leadership vacuum at several levels in the district; a lack of accountability for the after-school program as well as insufficient support for it; and poorly paid and trained after-school staff who were highly transient.

Shared Traits

Superintendents who successfully negotiated the barriers to after-school programs shared common behaviors. According to the research, these superintendents:

• Communicated clearly with their executive cabinet members or other key central-office staff about the importance of the after-school program in ways that extended beyond rhetoric and were performance-based;

• Expected and received consistent reports about the progress or problems of the program;

• Assigned one key person to oversee the program, both for accountability purposes and to offer support;

• Worked with building principals directly to engage them in the initiative.

• Reached out to the community but maintained control over collaborations.

Detailed findings and solutions, as well as examples of exemplary programs, practices and resources, will be reported in an upcoming issue of AASA’s School Governance and Leadership.

Nancy Miller is a project director with AASA. E-mail: nmiller@aasa.org