Turnaround Spotlight: Academy for Urban School Leadership

The Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) was founded in 2001 as a teacher training organization and, since 2006, has been managing turnaround schools in Chicago. The AUSL school management model keeps the same students, initiating new leadership, teachers, and staff, many of whom are trained through AUSL’s program to ensure a consistent quality and school culture. As of the 2013-14 school year, AUSL has managed 29 schools and trained 767 teachers.

Student achievement growth at AUSL turnaround elementary schools, measured by the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, has risen faster than average test scores in the Chicago Public School District (CPS) every year since 2008. Compared to similar neighborhood schools, student achievement at AUSL schools has increased at twice the rate, rising by 15 percent since the implementation of AUSL management.

AUSL operates through a contract with CPS to manage the turnaround process. Together, CPS and AUSL renovate the school facility, appoint a new principal, and replace the school staff. AUSL schools also have new curricula and additional after-school programs. Previous school staff members can apply to join the new turnaround effort, but the percent who remain tends to be low.

Teacher training through the Chicago Teacher Residency is key to AUSL’s strategy. Partnering with the National Louis University, residents spend one year practicing teaching and at the end earn a master’s degree and teaching certification. After projecting staffing for the upcoming year, AUSL solicits applications, ultimately only accepting about 10 percent of applicants under its rigorous selection process. Residents split their weekdays between four days of classroom practice, working at AUSL network schools under the mentorship of an experienced teacher, and one day of coursework. Residents sign a contract to serve in high-needs CPS schools following graduation. As a result of the training program, AUSL teachers share common expectations and often know each other, contributing to a strong school culture at the AUSL schools.

AUSL teachers continue to receive strong support once they start teaching. Turnaround Coaches support new teachers at early-stage turnaround schools and School-Based Coaches serve later-stage turnaround schools. In addition to the development support provided by coaches, Content Coordinators support teachers and principals in their content areas as well.

Clear and high expectations are required of principals in addition to teachers and students. Principals meet with Managing Directors quarterly to review performance and set goals. An AUSL Director of K-12 Assessment tracks performance on multiple student assessments and principals receive bonuses if they meet school-level goals each year.

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

Resources and references

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