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High-Performing School Districts

InnovateEd is often asked what separates high-performing school districts from the rest of the pack. Our response can be captured in a phrase made famous by Steve Jobs: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

We have found that explaining the key characteristics and practices required to become a high-performing district can appear to be too complex. However, when conveyed through concrete examples and stories, the path of progress becomes clear. So we follow the lead of Albert Bandura, Peter Drucker and Clayton Christensen, the founding fathers of organizational improvement, and commit to sharing the “why, what and how” from the perspective of districts who are leading the way.

The Story of Desert Sands USD

Desert Sands USD has been a client of InnovateEd for the past seven years, and we have come to recognize DSUSD as what Jim Collins calls in his book Great by Choice the 10Xers: organizations with behavioral traits that distinguish them as having long-term, consistent success. Three key characteristics can be attributed to the success of DSUSD: a process for communicating a clear, three-year instructional vision that maintains a consistent district-wide focus; an internal decision-making process that aligns all systems and practices based on research and evidence; and a site-based implementation process that provides directed autonomy for attaining the goals and outcomes most important for closing student achievement gaps.

A process-driven culture is always triumphant, whereas task-oriented practices can only create fragmentation and attain short-lived successes. DSUSD has laid the foundation for long-term success that can be seen in the following:

Vision: All students will demonstrate progress toward college and career readiness in literacy and mathematics.

Goal: All students will demonstrate progress on DOK 3 tasks as evidenced by results of formative and culminating tasks within units/modules, analysis of student work, and observation of student learning.

Outcomes: All students will demonstrate progress on the Smarter Balanced Claims for Literacy and Mathematics (a two-sided card clearly conveys specific student learning outcomes and corresponding visible evidence).

Actions: Each school team will receive the necessary resources and support to successfully design, implement and continuously improve a site-based action plan that is aligned with the DSUSD vision, goal and outcomes and measured by the impact on closing student skill and achievement gaps.

The secret, then, to the long-term success of DSUSD is a strategic focus that creates a clear, purposeful action orientation and develops a culture of shared accountability.

InnovateEd recognizes that developing high-performing school districts requires a strategic focus, alignment of supports, and effective engagement of leaders and staff across the organization. Our goal is to keep leaders up to date on successful practices and connect them with school districts that are leading the way.

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