Working Together: Building Effective School Turnaround Partnerships

Kerstin Carlson Le Floch and Catherine Barbour

For struggling schools, partnerships with external experts can seem like a critical lifeline. Education specialists experienced in turnaround help schools identify and integrate the myriad complex elements of school improvement plans to give them a better chance to succeed.

The reality of school turnaround partnerships, however, does not always resemble the ideal. The authors explore two critical questions:

  1. What qualities of an external partnership indicate a greater likelihood for success?
  2. What actions by school administrators may make these relationships more effective?

In some cases, schools are matched with experts who have just the right skill set for the school’s needs, are adept at developing rapport, and have adequate time and resources to support the school. The school staff is ready for change and welcomes the expert’s involvement. In these cases, the partnership can help improve the school’s culture and climate, strengthen community connections, and restore school pride. In other cases, a partnership becomes just one more in a series of failed attempts to turn around a history of low performance. The way school  improvement partnerships are conceived, established, and tended is critical to their success.

The recommendations in this white paper reflect lessons about state support for struggling schools, informal feedback from staff of low-performing schools in six districts, and the hands-on experience of AIR’s education specialists working as school turnaround leaders and lead partners in schools in the School Improvement Grant program.