Community -Driven Academic Transformation

As thousands of public district and charter schools across the country face chronic low academic performance, various turnaround efforts have been initiated to stem the tide. Some strategies work and some don’t. Part of the innovation of chartering is creating those turnaround efforts that have the greatest possibility of success.

That’s why the turnaround story of LoveWorks Academy for Visual and Performing Arts (LWA), a K-8 charter school serving students primarily from North Minneapolis, caught my attention. Founded in 2005 by a visionary founder and authorized by Pillsbury United Communities, Office of Public Charter Schools (PUC), the school struggled after the departure of its founding leader. As one of the state’s academically lowest performing public charter schools, the school leaders faced a choice: dramatically improve, or have their charter revoked.

As recounted in their case study, Community-Driven Change: An Idea whose Time has Come, this turnaround effort was clearly community driven. Leaders knew they needed dramatic change, so they developed a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process to identify an operator partner to help lead the turnaround. The result was a partnership with the Distinctive Schools network, now poised to carry out Minnesota’s first operator-led charter school turnaround in the 2016-17 school year.

How did this come about? In the fall and winter of 2015-16 school year, parents, board members and staff from LWA in partnership with their authorizer and with the support of The School Leadership Project (TSLP), came together with the goal of dramatically improving student learning outcomes at the school. In my view, their story had three key components:

  • The turnaround was initiated by an authorizer who understood that authorizing is more than just compliance–it is about support and trust. PUC provided resources and support to effectively pursue a turnaround pathway. They brought in a third party leadership team to lead the change and allow the authorizer to remain in the statutory oversight role.
  • The inspiring leadership of parents and other non-staff members (“Community Members”) at LWA effectively aligned community activism with the school-based theory of change.
  • Community Members selected an operations management company to lead the turnaround, in a state where few chartering management companies currently operate.

There’s much more to this promising, grassroots strategy for school improvement and educational change. More on Thursday.