Transforming Schools for a New Reality in the Year Ahead
“A positive lens is what’s needed in a time of crisis,” observes Nichole McCrae, New Leaders alum and principal of IDEA Public Charter School (Grades 9-12) in Washington, D.C. With the 2019-20 school year officially over, educators and leaders across the country are deep into planning. This summer, McCrae is bringing together her faculty, students, and families to create a new vision for schooling in 2020 and beyond.
In addition to weekly virtual town halls for parents and scholars, McCrae set up three voluntary task force teams for her teachers and administrators. Each team focuses on a key area of need: the master schedule, social-emotional learning; and staff professional learning and support. Using New Leaders evidence-based Transformational Leadership Framework (TLF), McCrae keeps everyone focused on the same driving questions: “How do we become more equitable? How are we focusing on the scholar at the center?”
The TLF identifies and prioritizes the highest-leverage leadership actions specific to the crises and the opportunity we face. The framework articulates leader actions at three key levels – the system, the school, and the team – as well as across five categories central to school improvement and student achievement. Designed to spark conversation and guide planning for the year ahead, the TLF supports leaders in addressing the widening educational inequities and systemic racism in our nation’s schools, while ensuring a safe return for students and staff.
Specific to the Learning and Teaching category, for example, McCrae and her team zero in on student engagement data. They are comparing data from this past spring to how scholars engaged pre-COVID so that they are prepared to meet student needs the moment students return, whether that be within in-person, remote, or hybrid classrooms. “We want to focus on what’s best for the scholar and then present that to the parent so that they can make a well-informed decision for their child’s educational needs.”
The TLF is also helping McCrae reflect on how best to lead all three teams. “How are we ensuring there is equity of voice?” she asks. “How are we hearing everyone, especially at a critical time, like today, when equity matters and so do all of our scholars that we serve.”
Listen as McCrae describes her approach to engaging all voices – scholars, parents, staff and community partners – in creating a new vision for excellence and equity within her school community.
As a leader, McCrae uses the TLF as a self-check – a way to refine her own personal leadership skills as she continues to lead her school community toward change and greater inclusiveness. “This full-circle approach is allowing me to truly allow the team to fly this plane… to show that I truly trust the team. The design that’s coming up is full circle. It’s not top-down driven. It is full circle.”
This summer and the school year ahead are unlike any other. There is no blueprint for managing the current public health crisis, nor is there one for how best to respond to this turning point for racial equity and the demand that Black lives matter. Working together, school communities, like IDEA Public Charter School, are rising to meet this moment.
McCrae’s advice to leaders is to be open-minded and positive. “Let go and join in the experience with your team… Allow your creativity to be on the forefront. And, remain positive. That positive lens is what's needed in a time of crisis. Your staff, they desire it. They want it.”