A Force for Greatness: Building Accountable, Data Driven Leaders and a Practice-Sharing Culture in the Birmingham City Schools
Smith, Matthew Lawrence
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CitationSmith, Matthew Lawrence. 2020. A Force for Greatness: Building Accountable, Data Driven Leaders and a Practice-Sharing Culture in the Birmingham City Schools. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractThe city of Birmingham and its schools have experienced a tumultuous history – from a school system born out of deep-rooted segregation and racist policy, to one disrupted and transformed by the relentless and heroic efforts of Civil Rights leaders. Ensuing decades within the school system saw a period of white flight, declining enrollment, and the increase in a population of students socially and economically disenfranchised. The district entered the 21st century in crisis, experiencing seven different superintendents during the first two decades of the century. Yet, amidst this mountain of challenges, hope abounds.
In the past three years, under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring, 75% of schools in the district improved by at least one letter grade as identified by the Alabama Department of Education (Seale, 2019). In October 2019, the local electorate overwhelmingly approved an ad valorem tax that translates to $30 million dollars per year applied to the district’s bottom line. This vote represents an impressive feat in a fiscally conservative state and a time when other Alabama county electorate rejected similar tax proposals. According to internal polling data, the Superintendent’s approval rating is above 80%. This number is extraordinary in a time when only 36% of Americans express confidence in public schools (Calderon, Newport, & Dvorak, 2017). Birmingham City Schools is turning around. This capstone tells the district’s story.
In 2019, as a doctoral resident in the Harvard Ed.L.D. program, I was invited to join the Birmingham City Schools executive team to lead one arm of the district's turnaround efforts - designing and implementing a comprehensive accountability and support system for school leaders. The intention of the School Accountability Reviews (SARs), was three-fold. First, build the data analysis muscles of Principals. Second, create the intentional space for leaders to share best practices, be held accountable for individual school data, and receive district support. Third, begin to shift the culture of the district from one of complacency to one of practice-sharing and strategic action.
This capstone explores how I approached the challenge of developing and implementing a statistical or “stat” model of continuous improvement within Birmingham City Schools. I relied on historical examples of effective stat model implementation in school districts across the United States as well as current research on improvement science, relational trust, and adaptive leadership to guide the process. In conclusion, I provide recommendations for how Birmingham City Schools can leverage what was learned and continue to accelerate school turnaround.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37364847