UVA Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education Program Revolutionizes School Performance in Oklahoma and Louisiana

23 October 2014

The University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE)University of Virginia School Turnaround Program‘s partnership with Oklahoma public schools recently spurred new academic gains in an underperforming district. PLE has driven similar turnarounds in 16 states during the last 10 years and recently entered a new partnership with a Louisiana school district. PLE is housed in Executive Educationat the UVA Darden School of Business.

Poor student performance is often linked to poverty, lack of access to educational resources and ineffective teaching methods, but PLE Executive Director William Robinson underscores another factor that should be addressed: the need for stronger organizational leadership.

“We take the stand that education systems and leadership can overcome the impact of factors such as poverty,” said Robinson. “Leadership overcoming obstacles is what Darden and the PLE is about.”

PLE addresses the need for strong leadership by providing a multi-year learning experience developed by top educators in business and school turnaround to help state and school district leaders, school principals and teacher leaders identify key issues and develop bold improvement strategies specific to their districts’ unique needs.


Students and their teachers in Anadarko Public Schools, in Anadarko, Oklahoma — 50 miles outside of Oklahoma City — have plenty to celebrate as they advance through the fall academic term. After the school system’s first year in partnership with the PLE, education leaders in the district saw gains in student achievement.

“In just one year with the PLE, Anadarko has seen a strong 10-point, district-wide climb in reading proficiency across third through eighth grades and over a 30-point rise in algebra II,” said Robinson. “Together, we continue to strive for gains across the district in math. We’re confident in these early gains and believe that performance can be improved even more over the next year.”

In September, the Oklahoma State Department of Education released its annual report card for public schools. Each of the district’s schools jumped a full grade level; Anadarko’s middle school leapt two letter grades.


PLE has partnered with Caddo Parish Public Schools in Shreveport, Louisiana, to co-create a new approach to raise student grades.

This past spring, leaders of Caddo Parish’s school system worked with PLE to establish conditions for turning around their district’s failing schools, including innovative means to recruit talent and develop leadership teams within the schools. This summer, district and school leaders came to Darden’s Grounds for Executive Education sessions designed to empower educators to become leaders who solve root-cause problems and design better systems to improve the instruction of the nation’s least advantaged students.

“We are Caddo Parish’s lead partner in working with its district office and all its turnaround schools,” said Robinson. “We are very impressed with their commitment to student impact and what the field will learn from their bold efforts. Through our involvement, these administrators will develop deeper confidence in their ability to transform schools and support front-line educators in developing strategies to improve learning and measure the success of their efforts.”

This month, Robinson and his team visited Shreveport to monitor and support the district’s progress.


In 2003, Darden and the UVA Curry School of Education created PLE, which has become the nation’s most established school turnaround program. The program uses a four-lever model to help school districts improve school performance. It addresses improvement in the following areas: organizational leadership, talent management, support and accountability, and data-driven instruction.

PLE helps school systems identify needs and develop opportunities across these levers to build capacity at all levels of the school system, often working with state leaders to align their work with district needs. School leaders who spearhead the turnaround efforts gain the tools to galvanize their professional school communities for change. True transformation occurs when successful approaches are identified in turnaround schools and are both deepened over time and spread throughout the district. PLE brings its three-year process to a close once school districts establish plans to sustain their accomplishments.

“Most of our partner schools achieve double-digit gains in two years or less, in areas such as reading, math and science,” said Robinson.

Through these partnerships, students from two more school districts in the country have the support of the nation’s most systemic school turnaround program, and their teachers have a strengthened resolve to grow their academic promise.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia