Our View: Academic improvement isn't 'one size fits all'




In his novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy observed: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family in unhappy in its own way." 


We believe the same is true of schools. Successful schools have many things in common, but struggling schools have unique challenges. 


That is why there is no blanket remedy for rescuing schools where performance has fallen and why even a school district with the best school board and best superintendent may find their efforts frustrated. 


Because each school has its own obstacles, the answers are most often found not at the district level, but within the confines of the school building. 


That certainly appears to be the case at two area schools where the principals have initiated changes that have turned F schools into C schools in just a year. 


Columbus' Franklin Academy principal Tawan Williams and Starkville Henderson Ward Stewart principal Julie Fancher charted their own courses in reviving their schools. What worked at Franklin Academy may not have worked at Henderson. Likewise, Henderson's recipe for success is not quite the same as Franklin Academy's. 


At Franklin, one of the keys was engaging the students in an open, honest way, helping students understand where they were academically and being sure to keep those conversations going throughout the year. Students at Franklin responded, as their rapid improvement clearly indicates. 


At Henderson, Fancher focused much of her energy on her teachers, who she sensed had felt neglected and unimportant. Much of Fancher's work involved simple morale-building acts -- daily conversations, small gestures, affirmation that the principal had the teachers' backs, that she understood the challenges. 


As it was at Franklin, the success of that strategy is clearly reflected in student achievement. 


It is not always realistic to expect that a school can go from F to C or from C to A overnight. Again, each school has its own dynamics. All fixes, perhaps even most, aren't quick fixes. 


Even so, every struggling school should be encouraged by the story of these two schools. 


With the right leadership, real progress is possible.



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