Building Capacity for School Turnaround: The 2011 School Improvement Grant Regional Conferences

This entry is cross-posted from the blog.

This morning, I’m excited to help kick off the 2011 School Improvement Grant Eastern Regional Conference in Washington, DC – an intensive, two-day event for school, district, and state leaders who are working to turn around their lowest-performing schools. The conference, hosted by ED’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) in partnership with our Comprehensive Centers, is the second of four regional capacity-building sessions that will take place over the next two months. The conferences are a key part of OESE’s efforts to provide our grantees with support and technical assistance as they implement the School Improvement Grant (SIG).

From the beginning of his administration, President Obama has made the commitment to turn around America’s lowest-performing schools a centerpiece of his cradle-to-career education agenda. Through our newly redesigned SIG program, we have provided an unprecedented amount of funds to help turnaround this country’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years.

In addition to providing unprecedented resources for school turnarounds, ED is working in partnership with schools to ensure student success. Having been a Superintendent, I know how much support is needed on the ground to implement reforms, and how difficult it is to actually turn around failing schools. But, I also know that school turnaround can be done, with the right supports.

This is why these conferences are especially important. In the next two days, grantees at the Eastern SIG Conference will have opportunities to learn from their colleagues and other education leaders on what’s working, and what looks promising, in school turnaround efforts across the country. The conference will address not only structural and organization reforms for turnaround, but also instructional best practices to meet the needs of students in schools. And perhaps more importantly, school, district, and state leaders will build new relationships, strengthen existing ones, and begin building communities of practice that will allow them to continue to share promising practices and successes they see with SIG in their schools and districts.

I’m confident that this conference – like the Western conference, held just last week, and the Central and Midwest Conferences coming up in May – will be just the beginning of continued conversations and learning among grantees and all stakeholders invested in the success of school turnarounds. And, it’s my hope that all participants will return to their states and districts re-energized and equipped with new information, resources and networks that will help transform our struggling schools into world-class centers of teaching and learning.

A SIG-Filled Week, and a New SIG Resource for Supporting Adolescent Literacy

I’m in Los Angeles to speak at the 2011 Western Regional Capacity-Building Conference for School Improvement Grant (SIG) recipients. This is the first of four conferences we are holding for grantees across the country, and I’m really excited to be here to kick off these learning sessions that will offer support to states, districts, and schools as they undertake the difficult but necessary work of school turnaround. Tomorrow, I’ll also be visiting two SIG schools to better see how turnaround work is progressing on the ground. I’ll provide a more detailed update on the conference and the visits when I return to DC, but in the meantime, I wanted to share with you new SIG resources that grantees may find helpful.

Last week, the Center on Instruction posted a series of 5 webinars, produced in conjunction with Doing What Works, on topics related to adolescent literacy.  These are recorded professional development webinars designed for SIG grantees, with content from the Center on Instruction and handouts and activities from the DWW adolescent literacy website. This is a valuable resource for SIG schools and districts who may be looking for more resources on improving literacy, and I encourage you to take a look.

Here are the available webinars in the “Using Doing What Works (DWW) Resources to Support SIG Grantees in Adolescent Literacy” series:

March Superintendent Monthly: Education Month

I’m pleased to announce that our March issue of Superintendent Monthly is now posted online. We have more information on the upcoming Superintendent Call in April, as well as updates on the President’s activities during March, which has been designated as “Education Month” by the White House. We also have some new grant opportunities open, so I encourage you to take some time to read over the newsletter.

If you’d like to receive the newsletter via email, please sign up at If you have any questions or feedback on the newsletter, please e-mail me at For back issues of the newsletter, you can visit

Promising Practices for Productivity, Flexibility

Last week, the Department released to governors a set of documents that share promising practices about how to spend education dollars productively and highlight flexibility available for spending federal funds. I know many state and district leaders are in the process of cutting budgets and making difficult decisions, and I hope that these documents are helpful in that process.

We’re planning a more comprehensive discussion around this topic during our next Superintendent call in April. More information will be shared soon, but in the meantime, I would love to hear from you if you have thoughts to share on how your district or state is using its education dollars more productively or creatively. Email me at

A Head Start Center of Excellence

Dr. Melendez reads to Head Start students.This past Monday, I had the pleasure of visiting a National Head Start Center of Excellence in Baltimore – the Campfield Head Start Center – with the Director of Head Start, Administration of Children and Families, Yvette Sanchez Fuentes. Not only did we take a wonderful tour of the center, but I also had the opportunity to read to a classroom of children! It was a real treat for me to spend time with the pre-schoolers. At one point, I even sang along with them to the old favorite, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,” and it was so inspiring to see the pure innocence and joy in the faces of the students.

It’s on behalf of our youngest learners that the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services are partnering and coordinating our work. It’s also why investments in early learning, such as the Early Learning Challenge Fund, proposed in the President’s FY2012 Budget, are so important. We in the Department are deeply committed to an early learning agenda that supports a continuum of learning beginning at birth and continuing through third grade, and we are honored to work with programs like the Campfield Head Start Center to provide the right start for our children’s education.

Bold Ideas for Secondary School Reform

That’s the title of an article I wrote for the latest issue of Principal Magazine, a publication of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In the piece, I highlight efforts of three extraordinary high school principals and the successes they’ve had in helping all of their students achieve at high levels. I’ve mentioned all of their work on this blog before, and I encourage you to learn more about them here.

Attachment Size
Bold Ideas for Secondary School Reform.pdf 893.63 KB

State Turnaround Teams Share SIG Experiences

In our new issue of the School Turnaround Newsletter, turnaround teams and directors from four states reflect on their first year implementing the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, and what they’ve learned from their experiences so far. We also share new resources for school turnaround in the newsletter, along with a reminder to register for our Spring 2011 Regional SIG Conferences, which are fast approaching!

You can read the new issue here. If you’ve missed previous issues, you can find them here.

Parent Academy Resources from Miami Dade County

After our superintendent call and webinar last week on SIG implementation, some of you asked for more information on The Parent Academy (TPA), a parent and family engagement strategy used by Miami Dade County as part of their turnaround efforts. Nikolai Vitti was kind enough to share with me some additional information on this initiative, and I wanted to pass along these resources to you. In the documents attached here, you’ll find more information on how Miami Dade runs their Parent Academy, as well as some supporting research from the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group. If you have questions, I encourage you to contact the district directly to find out more!

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TPA Overview.pdf 122.33 KB
TPA Curriculum Calendar.pdf 300.79 KB
TPA Request for Class.pdf 90.68 KB
WorkingGroupInnovations.pdf 119.01 KB

SIG Regional Conferences – Save the Date!

I hope many of you received a Save the Date notice a few weeks back for our regional capacity building conferences on successfully implementing School Improvement Grants. OESE is partnering with its Comprehensive Centers to connect educators, administrators, and practitioners together to learn from one another and begin creating peer networks and communities of practice. We have four conferences planned for April and May, each in a different location and catering to different audiences. Some basic information on the conferences are below, but watch more detailed information on registration coming soon!

Date/Location  Region Conference Theme
April 5-6, 2011
Los Angeles, CA 
Western (CA, UT, CO, NV, OR, WA, HI, AZ, NM)
California CC, West/Southwest CC, Northwest CC, Pacific CC
Contact: Meg Livingston Asensio,
The Role of State, District, and School Leadership in Turning Around Low Performing Schools 
April 13-14, 2011
Washington, DC 
Eastern (DC, DE, MD, PA, NJ, VA, WV, SC, TN, GA, LA, AL, MS, FL, PR, USVI, ME, NH, MA, RI, NY, KY, NC, VT, CT)
New England CC, New York CC, Mid-Atlantic CC, Appalachia CC, Florida and Islands CC, Southeast CC
Contacts: Robin Ahigian, and Jan Phlegar,
The Role of State, District, and School Leadership in Turning Around Low Performing Schools 
May 18-19, 2011
Chicago, IL 
Midwest (MI, IL, IN, IA, WI, OH, MN, plus interested others)
Great Lakes West CC, Great Lakes East CC, NHSC
Contact: Barbara Youngren, 
High School Turnaround

May 24-25, 2011
Denver, CO 
Central (NE, ND, SD, KS, MO, AR, OK, AK, TX, MT, ID, WY, plus BIE and interested others)
North Central CC, Mid-Continent CC, Texas CC, Alaska CC (plus BIE and interested others)
Contact: Anne Tweed, 
Rural School Turnaround and Serving Native American Students