From Wichita to Washington, Schools Find HOPE

Bloomington, Indiana – Faced with the growing pressures of No Child Left Behind legislation and the performance gap between schools, an increasing number of school districts from Wichita, Kansas to Washington, D. C. are opting for a comprehensive approach to school improvement.

In June 2006, Wichita Public Schools, named one of the top 10 urban districts by the Council of Great City Schools, began their district-wide reform efforts by bringing the Failure Is Not an Option Courageous Leadership Academi to their 88 schools. “Past initiatives have helped only some of our schools improve”, explained Mary Ellen Isaac, Chief Academic Officer of Wichita Public Schools. “The (HOPE Foundation) provides a process to advance my entire system, closing the achievement gap both within and between schools”.

Academy meetings take place four times annually and participants leave the sessions with assignments culminating in “artifacts” that are shared in subsequent sessions. The curriculum focusses on implementation of the six principals highlighted in the award-winning Failure Is Not an Option book. “In the last Academy metting, teams brought student work, a portfolio of artifacts, charts, etc., so they had something to refer to during their sharing”, said Isaac. “It made a difference – they were personalizing their work. They don’t have other opportunities to do this kind of in-depth, team-to-team sharing. And teachers are now doing the talking, which shows they are building awnership and their leadership capacity!”

Whichita is just one of the many districts adopting this approach. Others include districts in Alton, Illinois; Newport News, Virginia; Youngstown, Ohio and most recently, Washington, D.C.- “One thing that has been highly effective for us in working with HOPE is the adaptability of the Courageous Leadership Academy”, explained Jennifer Smith, Executive Director of Washington’s Principal’s Leadership Institute. “Each school needs somehting different – no matter if it is high – or low-performing – and the practitioners running the Academy accommodate this”. According to Margaret Scoot, School Performance Officer in the Division III Office of Accountability, “I have never seen such active engagement from a group like this – not one yawn in two days! What is being modeled continuously is what the lead teams in turn are now demonstrating in their schools: a more collaborative approach to getting buy-in and building consensus”.

The results coming from districts using the school reform process developed by HOPE have been positive. In 2001, before the start of the CourageosLeadership Academy, 18 of 45 schools in the Newport News School District were considered “low-performing”. Currently, all five of their high schools have been named among Newsweek’s top 1,000 for the second consecutive year. Moreover, as of 2005, none of the schools were in the “low performing” category.

While the Courageous leadership Academy is designed for districts, not all school leaders wait for system-wide buy-in. In Wichita, one school leadership team implemented some of the Failure Is Not an Option processes on their own. According to Donna Welty, Principal of Clark Elementary School in the Wichita Public School District, “Reading scores were up last year by 20 porcentile points (from 51.2% to 72%) and math was up 16 percentile ponits (50% – 66.3%) on state assessments. And now that my whole staff and tne entire district are aligning behind this approach, these results are only going to get better.”

About the HOPE Foundation

Founded in 1989 the HOPE Foundation ( Hamessing Optimism and Potential through Education) is a non-profit, 501c3, whose Honorary Chair is Nobel Laureate, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu. The mission of the HOPE Foundation is the support educational leaders over time to create school cultures where failure is not an option for any student.