Collaboration in New England Supports High School Improvement

When you are working in a high school, district or even a state education agency, sometimes it can be challenging to take a step back and look at the big picture. Busy schedules and the structure of education systems often means that educators, principals, and district and state administrators don’t always have ample opportunity to learn from, collaborate, and develop connections with each other.

In March I attended the New England Secondary School Consortium’s (NESSC) conference, High School Redesign in Action. The conference was focused around the consortium’s vision: “Every adolescent in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont graduating from a new generation of high-performing, internationally competitive high schools prepared for success in the colleges, careers and communities of our interconnected global society.” The conference engaged state, district and school level stakeholders in discussions on how education policy and practice can inform one another.

High school principals and teachers, as well as district administrators from across New England, attended the conference. Additionally, state administrators from the five participating consortium states (Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont) were present. During the conference, participants networked and collaborated. Staff from states and high schools presented their work on redesigning high schools in their respective states.  By crossing state lines and engaging with peers in other New England states, educators had the opportunity to strengthen their work. 

The focus on sharing and learning from one another was evident throughout the conference sessions. In one presentation, a teacher explained that after attending the prior year’s NESSC conference, he returned to his school and changed the school’s schedule to enhance some of the supports the school already had in place. The results of that school’s improvement were impressive, moving from being ranked as one of the lowest performing schools in the state to a ranking in the middle range of performance in just a few years.  In another presentation, a state official declared that being able to network with other stakeholders was, “one of the most valuable things I have ever done professionally.” She explained that the ability to connect with peers in other states, as well as district and school staff, has informed and shaped policy in the state. She also found that the NESSC’s focused approach with external support (from other states and from the consortium) helps mitigate some of the political distractions that can lead to a fragmented approach to policy.

All of the NESSC presentation materials, as well as links to tools, schedules, and other resources for implementing the improvement strategies presented at the conference are available online: http://www.newenglandssc.org/resources/2012_conference.

Guest Author: Dr. Susan Bowles Therriault is Technical Assistance Liaison and Collaborative Projects Coordinator for the National High School Center. 

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