Case Study: How Charlotte Zone Planned Opportunity Culture® Schools

by | June 27, 2013

In late 2011, Denise Watts, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg zone superintendent, approached Public Impact® for help meeting the goals she had as executive director for the new Project L.I.F.T., a $55 million public-private partnership to improve academics at historically low-performing, high-need schools in western Charlotte, N.C.

“If we didn’t try something truly different to change education, many of my students were not going to graduate,” Watts says.

Public Impact®’s second Opportunity Culture® case study, Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.: New Teaching Roles Create Culture of Excellence in High-Need Schools, explains the “truly different” things that L.I.F.T. did to redesign four schools using Opportunity Culture® models and principles. The study details the steps these schools took and the challenges they faced as they prepared to kick off their Opportunity Culture® schools  at the beginning of the 2013–14 school year. An accompanying study, Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.: One Teacher’s View of Becoming a Paid Teacher-Leader, offers a Q&A with an excellent teacher on one design team, now set to take on one of the redesigned jobs as a multi-classroom leader.

In Public Impact®’s Opportunity Culture® initiative—which highlights the potential of using job redesign and technology to reach more students with excellent teachers, for more pay, within budget—Denise Watts saw a key way to reach her ambitious goals. Those goals include raising West Charlotte High School’s graduation rate from 54 percent in 2011 to 90 percent in 2016, and she saw that the Opportunity Culture® models could help by focusing on its eight feeder schools.

Four of those feeder schools collectively became the first Opportunity Culture® site, and for the past year, each school’s design team worked diligently to discern which of the more than 20 Opportunity Culture® school models would work best at their school. The teams were seeking not just greater reach and higher pay, but also more school-hour time for collaboration, planning, and development. In different combinations at each school, they chose Multi-Classroom Leadership, Elementary Specialization, and Time-Technology Swaps, as well as one school’s variation on the swap, a “Time-Time Swap.”

For example, Ranson IB Middle School will use a combination of Multi-Classroom Leadership and Time-Technology Swaps:

  • In English language arts, social studies, and science classes, multi-classroom leaders will instruct students directly and lead small teams of two novice or developing teachers and one paraprofessional.
  • In math classes, excellent blended-learning teachers will use the rotation version of Time-Technology Swaps to extend their reach to more students, and also work in a team of developing and novice teachers on their way to becoming blended-learning teachers. A multi-classroom leader will lead all math teachers.

Thomasboro Academy will integrate Multi-Classroom Leadership in all grades, along with a “Time-Time Swap” that the school design team invented within the Opportunity Culture® Principles, in third through eighth grades. The “expanded impact” teachers will specialize in one subject.

  • In grades K–2, multi-classroom leaders will lead and develop teams of teachers, with support from teacher assistants.
  • In third through eighth grade, Thomasboro’s “Time-Time Swap” has students rotate not between digital instruction and in-person teaching, but between paraprofessionals and excellent “expanded impact” teachers. Students will spend a limited part of each day working with paraprofessionals on projects and basic knowledge and skills, enabling excellent teachers who specialize in one subject to extend their reach to not just one grade, but two grades of students without increasing class size. Multi-classroom leaders will provide support to novice and developing teachers in these grades so that they can develop toward excellence and extend their reach as well.

“If there was one thing I knew, it was that I’d tried everything out there,” says Tonya Kales, principal at Ashley Park PreK–8 School. “I was definitely willing to take big risks with new ideas, because what we were doing just wasn’t enough.”

The efforts at these schools paid off, drawing a flood of 708 applicants from 24 states for 19 new positions. Candidates included current teachers—60 percent of whom had more than five years of teaching experience—as well as administrators, facilitators, coaches, and even staff in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s district office.

All the schools had to design models that adhered to the five Opportunity Culture® Principles, which call for reaching more students with excellent teaching, higher pay, sustainable funding, job-embedded development opportunity, and authority and accountability aligned with each teacher’s responsibilities.

The ability to reward excellent teaching with higher pay will strengthen education, says Daniel Swartz, L.I.F.T.’s human capital strategies specialist.

“The money starts making teaching become equal to other professions. This provides a way for them to provide for their families, not have to have a second job, and to see a career where your value is based off of your performance, not just how many years or how old you are,” he says. “And the pay is comparable to other leadership roles within education, like principalships. In a couple of cases, these roles kept people in the schools instead of pursuing positions outside of the classroom.”

Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.: Designing New Teaching Roles to Create Culture of Excellence in High-Need Schools  and Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.: One Teacher’s View of Becoming a Paid Teacher-Leader were co-authored by Jiye Grace Han and Sharon Kebschull Barrett, with contributions from Public Impact®’s Joe Ableidinger, Bryan C. Hassel, and Emily Ayscue Hassel.

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