UVA Darden, Curry Partnership Finds Successful Formula Turning Around Underperforming Schools

By Audrey Breen

Despite mountains of resources poured into the issue, a sustained solution for improving struggling schools remains elusive. One bright spot amid the efforts is the Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE), the program jointly led by UVA’s Curry School of Education and Human Development and Darden School of Business, which was recently deemed one of the only programs in the country with a statistically verified improvement model.

In an interview with UVA Today, Coby Meyers, an associate professor of education at the Curry School who serves as chief of research for PLE, discussed the difficulty of turning around schools and why the partnership’s approach appears to show success.

Q. What do you think the answer is for turning around low-performing schools?

A. The first thing to remember is that school turnaround is a systems issue. Too frequently, the school has been told, “You got yourself into this, you get yourself out.”

Much of the systems piece of school turnaround is about establishing the overarching change vision and supplying the resources, including external service providers, that advance mission and goals in pursuit of the vision. At the school level, principals must also identify school strengths and weaknesses and respond with clear planning that includes all relevant stakeholders in the process.

Although it is a complex process, a quick summary of critical steps as Mark Smiley and I discuss in an article in [the educational journal] Leadership and Policy in Schools follows:

  • Investigate and understand the causes of decline and failure.

  • Develop a vision for a new school organization that is true to “preferred states and practices” of a school that will be successful in the future.

  • Seek appropriateness and stability in personnel, funding and other requisite resources.

  • Address district weaknesses that contribute to school decline and failure, and strengthen district capabilities to support school change and success.

  • Take the long view to achieve and sustain school turnaround.

Read a case study of a turnaround success story and see the full story on UVA Today.

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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