Tuesday, July 19, 2011

District Leaders Roll Up Their Sleeves and Work Together on Portfolio Management Issues

Seattle, WA - A growing network of school districts and education leaders embracing a portfolio management strategy is poised to be one of the most important groups in education reform in the country.

Since 2009, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has been building the Portfolio School Districts Network, whose twice-yearly meetings connect districts that are adopting the portfolio strategy.

Today and tomorrow in Washington, DC, CRPE is convening network members for a series of panels and discussions that will include DC Chancellor Kaya Henderson and former Hartford Superintendent Steven Adamowski, on leadership transitions and sustaining reforms; former Louisiana State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, on what states can do to support portfolio districts; and Jason Kamras, on DC's much talked about IMPACT evaluation system.

Also on the agenda: a chance for district feedback on the upcoming ESEA Reauthorization, via discussions with Congressional staff members working on the bill; how districts can better position their turnaround efforts; and new developments on district/charter compacts.

As featured dinner speaker, Cerf will address his past experience as an early architect of NYC's portfolio strategy, and his current efforts to reshape New Jersey, and Newark in particular, with a similar approach.

Like Cerf, many of those leaders who pioneered the portfolio strategy in one district are now taking on leadership roles in other districts: NYC deputy chancellor John White is now leading New Orleans Recovery School District; Rochester's JC Brizzard is taking the helm of Chicago Public Schools; and Hartford's own Christina Kishimoto has taken over that district this summer.

The portfolio strategy involves developing a diverse mix of schools, granting them autonomy over budgeting and hiring, and holding them accountable to common performance standards. A growing number of the nation's leading school districts are adopting this continuous improvement strategy in efforts to radically raise student performance and narrow achievement gaps. New York City, New Orleans, Denver, and Los Angeles are among the more than 20 districts pursuing these strategic reforms.

Adopting a portfolio strategy is risky, and leaders can't do it on their own, says CRPE senior researcher Christine Campbell, who leads the network. They need political support from parents, from students, from the community, and from one another.

Network meetings allow members to share ideas on topics they identify as pressing (e.g., teacher and principal evaluation, turning schools around, sustaining the strategy in the face of leadership changes) and identify issues for more targeted and timely research. Members share areas of achievement and areas where progress is more problematic. The group's collective problem solving and mutual support generates new ideas, develops new leaders, and builds momentum for the continued press for improvement.

The fifth bi-annual meeting of the Portfolio School Districts Network is being held July 19-20 at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Attending districts leaders include Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, DC, Hartford, Jefferson Parrish, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, and Philadelphia.

Support for the Network and the Portfolio School Districts Project has come from the Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Joyce Foundation, among others.

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