Creating entirely new public schools is increasingly occurring after school closure, restart or transformation. It is also an effective way to provide more supportive and challenging environments for students who are at risk of not graduating from traditional high schools, and to offer special approaches for students who are not well served by regular schools.
Building a successful new school – either from scratch or when a large high school is broken into small schools with separate principals, or academies still organized under one principal — requires vision, stamina, care, and great commitment of community time and resources. Successful new schools incorporate many of the elements of comprehensive whole school improvement, and depend on strong leadership and management, and community involvement.
Features of successful new schools include:
Mission-oriented commitment: Principals and teachers who lead and join the school do so because they believe in (and shape) the mission of the school, which builds a community of educators who share a common vision, goals and strategies. Parents who choose to have their children apply to the school believe in the mission and have sometimes helped design it, in tandem with other community members and local business representatives.
Instructional vision and thematic focus: Successful schools have a clear vision for instruction. They often have a theme to link learning to the wider world, such as focusing on a particular industry. Businesses and community members need to play a major role in forging the thematic links and efforts.
Focus on preparation for life after high school: Most are designed as pathways to college, and/or career training, for all students. Businesses and community members have a major role to play in preparing students for their futures.
Greater autonomy: The schools sometimes are run by external operators, both national and local, in partnership with the school district. Generally, in return for meeting performance benchmarks, the schools are given latitude to design their own instructional programs, professional development, and organizational structures.
Gradual development: Many new schools start by adding one grade at a time. Slow, controlled growth provides time for developing the personal and professional relationships within the school, and between the school and its community. These relationships are the hallmark of successful schools.
Student and parent choice: Students and their parents typically choose for students to attend these schools rather than being assigned by zip code or neighborhood. Schools are non-selective, and based on interest rather than ability. If there are too many applicants, students are chosen by lottery to ensure equity of opportunity.
Smaller size: Most range from 300 to 500 students, compared to the 300 to 4,000 students in many traditional high schools.
New school creation has its successes, challenges, trade-offs, and pitfalls. Your community can learn from the communities that have experienced all of these, including Boston’s Pilot Schools, the New Century High School Effort in New York City, Renaissance 2010 in Chicago, Baltimore’s Innovation High School and Transformation 6-12 School efforts, and North Carolina’s New Schools Project. Visit
http://ncnewschools.org, to begin exploring the diversity of new schools.