A school “restart” can bring dramatic improvements to a chronically low-performing district or charter school—if it’s done well. Like other school turnaround strategies, the success of restart depends not only on the capacity of the school operator but also the degree to which key decisions are made in collaborative dialogue with the community in the authorizing process.
To address the important role of the process itself, EdPlex and Public Impact have released the School Restart Authorization Process Guide and accompanying restart resource database that provides practical, step-by-step guidance about what authorizers, school operators, and support organizations should consider when designing or refining a restart process. Based on the restart experiences of authorizers, school operators, education support organizations, and community leaders nationwide, the guide provides nine steps to a smooth transition:
- Envision: Conduct broad community conversation about the vision for student success and commit to comprehensive intervention for low-performing schools, Communities are more likely to support dramatic school change when they are encouraged to redefine their expectations for what students and schools can achieve and when they have a hand in designing the restart process.
- Identify: Restarts require significant investments of financial resources, political capital, and opportunity costs—so the stakes are high for picking the “right” schools for a restart intervention. Done well, the identification step will move community conversations expediently through the stages of anger and frustration to the stages of inquiry and support for the new restart operator.
- Engage: Engage community around the vision for the restarted school and empower school communities to participate in the restart process. An engaged school community can help create conditions for a smooth restart transition process.
- Recruit: Recruit and cultivate talented leaders and high-performing school operators to lead restarts. Authorizers cannot take a “build it and they will come” approach, but must take steps to create supportive policy conditions and an authorization process that provides operators with adequate information, time, and resources.
- Approve: Establish an operator approval process that evaluates for the unique qualifications necessary for restart success. Clear, published criteria for school approval ensure that all parties (parents, students, staff, and applicants) understand what is expected so they can participate in the process.
- Match: Articulate specific site-based requirements, review match applications, and match restart operators to closing schools. The experience and competency of an operator should align with the specific demographics and needs of the students to be served.
- Accountability: Establish clear expectations in contracts and a differentiated approach to school accountability that provides school operators with sufficient time to demonstrate progress and a mechanism to intervene when the restart has failed to produce good results for students. A well-designed restart accountability systems will hold the incoming operator accountable for the academic growth of students, regardless of starting point.
- Transition: Support planning time for restart operator and oversee transition work. The transition period can make or break a school restart in terms of gaining the trust and support of students and families and assembling a high-caliber team to staff the school.
- Post-Opening: Monitor progress, celebrate success, and remove barriers for restart schools. Restarts are difficult and complex; an authorizer can provide additional support to charter restart operators in their first few years by removing barriers that impede their ability to deliver a high-quality program.
The guide includes a timeline that highlights the need for community engagement to occur throughout the process.
Find the guide at www.schoolrestarts.org, which includes a complementary restart authorizer resource database with tools and resources to support restart authorization. Collected from authorizers and support organizations across the country, the resources offer examples of the materials that support each process step.
EdPlex is excited to be a co-lead in this work and grateful for the support of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to make this a reality.