The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is making significant investments to reduce the dropout rate and improve student achievement in high-poverty high schools, which include Smaller Learning Communities (SLC), High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI), and School Improvement Grants (SIG).
A number of high schools are currently receiving support under two or more of these three programs. Twenty percent of high schools that are receiving SLC assistance also are included in SIG grants; 12 percent of high schools that are receiving HSGI assistance also are included in SIG grants.
To make most effective use of these ED resources, the grantees needed technical assistance and support. In particular, grantees were in need of assistance in building the capacity of district and school leaders to support the continuous improvement of classroom instruction and supports for students in their high schools. Strengthening the ability of staff to lead and support school reform and improvement was identified as mission critical. In order for schools to maintain and increase gains after the grant period, the district must build capacity to manage and support these and other low-performing schools in the long run.
To assist in this effort, Maher & Maher produced a series of six webinars to disseminate tools, products, strategies, and best practices that supported effective implementation of the SLC, HSGI, and other Department of Education high school-related grants. Maher & Maher also provided development and redesign of the existing School Turnaround Learning Community. The purpose of this community is to disseminate information about effective or promising practices in high school reform and support the implementation of these practices by the members through collective inquiry, a process through which participants share and learn from peers facing similar challenges. The STLC also serves as a platform to publicize and register participants for the series of six webinars, and it hosts resources developed relating to high school reform and implementing the SIG grants in high schools.
For the development of the website, Maher & Maher used a proven web development strategy to complete a requirements gathering process to capture the needs of the Department of Education and the members of the Community of Practice. We also evaluated the existing content, use and usefulness of the existing website using both Google Analytics and by holding member focus groups (both virtual and during TA meetings) and encouraging feedback on discussion threads and open chats. Altogether, the new site improvement requirements were assessed against the available technology solutions, and together with our client we identified the most effective and cost-efficient solution to improve their website’s services to their grantees. We then worked directly with our client to develop and agree upon a prototype of the community using the Drupal Commons development platform, and built and launched the community in conjunction with our client’s major in-person learning event of the year.
As a result of these efforts, the grantees were provided with the technical assistance, capacity building tools, and support needed to effectively implement their projects – particularly, the implementation of strategies to increase students completion of high school.