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


Turnaround Spotlight: Boston Public Schools

In May 2010, Boston Public Schools (BPS) finalized their five-year plan, including a turnaround strategy for its 12 schools designated by Massachusetts among the lowest-performing statewide (Level 4) and just one step away from state receivership. The following autumn, BPS initiated its turnaround strategy with the goal that by the end of a three-year period, all 12 schools would exit Level 4 status. Compared to the district, the turnaround schools as a group had a higher percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch (86 percent), a higher percent of Black or Hispanic students (92 percent), and a higher percent of limited English proficient students (40 percent).

In the aggregate, first-year results showed math and reading test results improved, attendance increased, absenteeism decreased, and the number of suspended students went down. Overall during the three-year period, the original cohort of schools improved, but on a school-by-school basis, the progress was variable. By 2014, half of the schools improved, moving their designations up to Level 3, or in the case of one school, Level 2. One school was closed and the other three remained at Level 4, with two worsening to Level 5.

Within two years of the turnaround, BPS appointed new school leaders at all the turnaround schools. BPS chose the principals based on criteria indicating highly effective leadership skills, including a focus on outcomes, use of data to manage performance, experience creating a strong school culture, and the ability to leverage resources to achieve goals.

In addition to new principals, BPS also replaced over 50 percent of teachers at some schools. At seven of the schools, BPS required staff to reapply for their positions. The process of reapplying encouraged only teachers who wanted to be part of the turnaround effort to remain at the schools. District partnerships with the Boston Teacher Residency program and Teach for America helped fill remaining vacancies.

The school days at each of the turnaround schools were extended as part of the turnaround effort, providing one extra hour per day split between classroom instruction and teacher development and planning. Teachers were compensated with a stipend for their extra time.

BPS added additional instructional leaders, data managers, and social and emotional supports to the turnaround schools. Though partnerships, BPS placed full-time data managers at three of the schools and additional district partners provided social and emotional supports at schools.

The turnaround plan also included supports for increased family and community engagement. Each turnaround school had a Family Community Outreach Coordinator and the district worked with school staff and partners to identify and coordinate additional community partners. At the district level, the Office of Family and Student Engagement helped schools develop a communications and engagement plan.

BPS monitored the progress and performance at each turnaround school. Overseen by Chief Accountability officer, Frank Barnes, the measurements tracked student truancy and dropout rates, student achievement, and college readiness and school culture. By assessing the schools’ progress, the district could determine and provide necessary central supports.

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

Resources and references

RSVP today for “It Can be Done: Convening on School Turnaround”

What would it take for the lowest-performing schools in the Valley to become great?

Come find out what’s being done across the country at this special event to jumpstart local efforts on this critical issue.

Microsoft – Silicon Valley Moffett Towers
1020 Enterprise Way, Building B
Sunnyvale, CA 94089

Parking directions

Thursday, May 1, 2014
10 a.m. – noon
RSVP here to secure your spot.

Russlynn AliKeynote from Russlynn Ali

Chair, Emerson Education Fund for the Emerson Collective

Former head of the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights




Scott Given“Lessons Learned: Transformation to Excellence”

Scott Given, CEO, UP Education Network

UP Education Network has restarted four of the lowest-performing schools in Massachusetts, all of which which are now posting among the strongest academic growth of any schools in the state.



Panel: Local Perspectives

Moderated by John Fensterwald, Writer for Edsource Today


  • Jason Willis, Assistant Superintendent of Community Engagement and Accountability, San Jose Unified School District
  • Kenji Treanor, Senior Program Officer, Sobrato Family Foundation
  • Greg Lippman, Executive Director, ACE Charter Schools, and others to be confirmed


Space is limited. RSVP by April 25 to secure your spot.

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