Hazel Park Schools uses the Blueprint for Systemic Reconfiguration for dramatic improvement and sustainability of student, teacher and leader performance.
By Dr. Grant Chandler, Executive Director, MI Excel Statewide Field Team, Calhoun Intermediate School District
In the summer of 2015, Dr. Amy Kruppe returned to her home state of Michigan charged with leading the Hazel Park Schools. Soon, she discovered the district was in a worse condition than she had imagined.
Like many other Michigan school districts, Hazel Park Schools had lost significant enrollment. This urban district had struggled to provide mandated services and high-quality education for students. With reduced funding available, positions had been eliminated. As many of these staff members were also members of the community, a feeling of desperation had emerged throughout the Hazel Park community. Their staple, their school district, was spiraling downward, making reductions to survive and not be subject to state takeover. The district had scrambled to keep solvent; they had closed and blended buildings creating larger class sizes, had gone without needed resources, and had diminished the instructional program. Some parents felt their children and grandchildren did not receive the same level of education they had experienced when they were students in the Hazel Park Schools.
Happily, this is not the end of the story, but merely the backdrop for the powerful work being done by hard-working, dedicated, and visionary educators in this district.
In December 2015, Oakland Schools invited Kruppe and other district leaders to a workshop to hear about the Blueprint. What did Kruppe hear over those three days that led her to join with what is now over sixty other Michigan school districts to change the manner in which they were operating their school districts?
What is the Blueprint?
The Blueprint for Systemic Reconfiguration (Chandler & Frank, 2015) is designed to help districts better meet the needs of each and every student within their charge. The Blueprint is a powerful, systemic approach that challenges the status quo, bases the organization’s decisions on the needs of all students, and leverages systemic support for the dramatic improvement and sustainability of student, teacher and leader performance.
Installation of the Blueprint, or this system of systems, purposefully disrupts current practice to create a new structure of coherent, aligned district and building systems to ensure success for all students (Chandler & Mohney, 2017). The Blueprint provides an opportunity for the district to create urgency, develop a stronger systemic focus on and support of high-quality teaching and intentionally concentrate on improving academic, social-emotional and health outcomes for students.
Leading this Work: Courage, Commitment, and Coherence
Systemic reconfiguration is work that must be done at the district level. One key factor that distinguishes Blueprint installation from other pathways is the idea of who leads the work.
It takes tremendous courage to systemically disrupt and redesign the organization in order to meet the needs of all students, to think about changing past practices and moving away from processes that don’t work, but still exist just because it’s always been that way. That courage must rest with the leader.
Dr. Kruppe, as superintendent, is leading this work, but she cannot do it alone. She has assembled a district network of leaders that include central office administrators, a board member, building principals and union leadership.
This dedicated team has accepted the challenge and has a deep commitment to rebuilding the district to better serve the district’s children. They depend upon the courage and commitment of teachers to join them in this journey. With students in mind, they are all in, all of the time.
The result? They are building a coherent set of systems to organize the entire district in a collaborative and collegial way around teaching and learning. Their courageous commitment rejects blame for failure and embraces the challenge of saving the lives of each and every child.
“The work of Mi-Excel has put in place a system within the district to reconfigure learning and processes within the district,” said Dr. Kruppe. “What is powerful about this work is when we understand the power of the system it just become a way of doing business.”
The district has come a long way. What has been accomplished has helped to restore faith in the Hazel Park School District. Leaders and teachers know their work is far from done but acknowledge the progress made and its impact on the lives of its children, which includes:
- A newly defined role for the district and building leaders, and a strong connection between central office and buildings;
- Visions of high-quality instruction with aligned curriculum to support teachers;
- A new way of looking at data to make decisions and solve problems; and
- Increased communication so that everyone can understand the journey and engage in the work.
Hazel Park Schools is emerging like a phoenix. They are building collective responsibility and an urgency to meet the needs of every student in their district. Upon that collective responsibility and urgency, the district is installing the Blueprint systems needed to support teaching and learning from every vantage point possible.
“The importance of the system is making sure we are all focusing on what is important which is the student learning,” said Dr. Kruppe. “The Blueprint supports collaboration between the central office and the principal’s office so that the principal focuses their support on supporting the teacher in the classroom. The central office staff is actively in the buildings supporting and discussing instruction in the classrooms with the principals. The work is exciting and change is happening. We are not perfect and change is hard and not without bumps in the road. The end result is the dramatic change in student learning.”
While there will be mistakes made, barriers to overcome, and people who doubt that this district can do it, they are focused on one thing: being all in all the time with students in mind. It can all be summed up by the comments of one teacher, who recently left the district and quickly [within several weeks] returned and explained her decision to work in Hazel Park Schools: “I belong here. There is so much good happening in the district. I want and need to be a part of this.”