School Boards Driving Turnaround

Many schools are not preparing students for success in the 21st century. Far too many students are dropping out, and many of those who do graduate lack the key skills to succeed in college or the advanced economy. Successfully initiating, implementing, and sustaining the transformation of the lowest-performing public schools is a pressing challenge for policy leaders and practitioners nationwide. Public schools governed by elected local school boards are one of the cornerstones of our nation’s democracy, and local school boards sit at the junction of policy and effective implementation of targeted turnaround efforts. Yet ongoing efforts to improve public education focus primarily on the role of teachers, principals, and superintendents and, to a lesser extent, on state and federal policymakers. Missing from the work is a substantive role for local school boards.

In line with the Center on School Turnaround’s charge to support states’ efforts, we sought to highlight districts engaged in focused turnaround efforts where their respective boards played a key role in catalyzing, shaping, and supporting targeted improvement efforts. Our goal in developing these case studies was to present information-rich cases that can inform state and district efforts to optimize the board’s role in school turnaround. These case studies may be used independently, but they are designed to be part of a year-long training program for local school boards.

School Board Training

Purpose of the Project

All Local Education Agencies (LEAs) continuously manage two central processes: (1) the process by which the LEA itself improves; and (2) the way the LEA directs and supports the improvement of each of its schools. Many LEAs tackle a third task: facilitating turnaround in their lowest performing schools. Local school boards carry a huge responsibility in setting the policies that underlie LEA and school improvement processes and the LEA’s management of school turnaround. The Center on School Turnaround (CST) created this training to help a local school board build its own capacity to set effective policy on improvement and turnaround processes.

Objectives for the Project

The objectives for school boards using the CST School Board Training are to:

Phase I

  1. Assess the school board’s areas of strength, inconsistency, and opportunity relative to its oversight of district improvement, school improvement, and turnaround.
  2. Learn from the experience of other school boards by reading and discussing a report about school boards and two case studies.
  3. Understand the CST’s Four Domains for Rapid Improvement and how this frameworks might provide a conceptual structure for district and school improvement processes.
  4. Itemize possible “next steps” the board may take in response to the information and understandings acquired through the training.

Phase II

  • Option: Develop an action plan for strengthening the school board’s effectiveness in: (a) setting policies related to continuous district improvement, school improvement, and turnaround; (b) overseeing the implementation of these policies. Implement the action plan and monitor the progress for several months.

Getting Started

The first step is to confirm a State Partner’s (RCC, SEA, and/or school board association) relationship with the Center on School Turnaround. Then CST will provide a webinar and instructions for the State Partner to equip the Partner with necessary information and access to the online system to conduct the project with the school boards the Partner recruits for the project. The project may start at any time for a school board and begins simply with the naming of the Facilitator and the Facilitator’s enrollment with CST.

For a State Partner to get started, email one of the following:

Learn More About the Training Program

Facilitator’s Portal

Facilitators of participating school boards may access the online web system by clicking HERE.

Required Reading

Moving Beyond the Killer-B’s: The Role of School Boards in School Accountability and Transformation

Successfully initiating and sustaining meaningful improvements in the lowest-performing public schools is a pressing challenge for policy leaders and practitioners nationwide. Local school boards sit at the intersection of policy and implementation of reform initiatives. Yet, ongoing efforts to improve public education focus primarily on the role of teachers, principals, and superintendents, as well as state and federal policymakers. Missing from this debate is a robust discussion or examination of the role of local school boards.

Four Domains for School Boards

To support educators in creating such systems, the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd (CST) has developed a framework to assist states, districts, and schools in leading and managing rapid improvement efforts. The framework shares, in practical language, the critical practices of successful school turnaround in four domains, or areas of focus, that research and experience suggest are central to rapid and significant improvement: turnaround leadership, talent development, instructional transformation, and culture shift.


Case Studies: New Haven Public Schools & Wichita Public Schools

NewHaven          Wichita


“We were very eager in Colorado to engage local boards of education in order to support their local efforts in improving schools. We are thrilled that three Colorado districts and boards are able to partner with the Center on School Turnaround for this reflective and productive training. We look forward to learning along with our districts in this process.”

  • Peter Sherman, Executive Director, District and School Performance, Colorado Department of Education

“The Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 school board is leading a district engaged in whole system improvement efforts as well as targeted turnaround with several elementary schools. The board has requested deeper training on successful turnaround strategies, including the board role in supporting turnaround, as well as a deeper dive into local accountability systems and local turnaround efforts. The board is excited to be participating in the Center on School Turnaround Board Training and to have access to case studies and exemplars from other successful turnaround districts and boards.”

  • Lori Haukeness, Superintendent, Montezuma-Cortez School District, Colorado