It only takes one plan to align a school district to be successful. During his session “What Does it Mean to be An Aligned School District” on Thursday at the AASA National Conference on Education, the superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District in Mountain View, Calif., discussed the impact alignment had on his community.
“Up until [we implemented alignment], we functioned as a district of schools instead of a school system,” said Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph. “[Alignment] actually had an impact. It changed our outcomes and changed our approach.”
An alignment plan in a school district relies on two basic principles: (1) engagement by all stakeholders in the district and (2) purposeful actions that align with a unified plan across the district.
While Mountain View Whisman already had a strategic plan in place before Rudolph introduced alignment, he said its effectiveness was unclear at best. However, by setting concrete goals and measuring effectiveness with extensive assessments of students, teacher, staff members and others, the alignment’s impact became clear. Student testing outcomes have improved, and teacher retention rates are beginning to increase.
“If we’re going to change, if we’re going to retain teachers, if we’re going to be an aligned district, then you have no choice but to address the working conditions that people encounter day by day,” Rudolph said.
The alignment plan focused on five main components — leadership/working conditions, recruitment, salaries, professional development and housing. Examining leadership through conducting extensive research, it became clear that alignment was key to success—school performance worsened the further away from alignment it was.
Rudolph revamped the district’s leadership, dismissing assistant superintendents and more than half of the district’s principals whom he considered weren’t a good fit for the plan. The superintendent created competitive compensation packages to offer teachers and spread awareness of the alignment plan.
“We found out that our employees actually hold themselves accountable. They actually care about outcomes,” Rudolph said. “They just felt like they didn’t feel empowered to make any type of decisions whatsoever.”
The alignment plan also sought to address the major teacher housing crisis by developing affordable housing within the school district for teachers. San Francisco’s high cost of living means that a salary of $112,000 is barely enough to make ends meet, according to Rudolph. With an average salary of $69,300, most teachers are considered low-income, with most of their paychecks going toward housing expenses.
“Four years ago, we started off this conversation [that] we’re really struggling with figuring out how we’re going to retain our staff, and retention fell on one person,” Rudolph said. “Now, retention falls on every single department to figure out a solution for it.”
As part of the alignment plan, the Mountain View City Council recently approved 144 units of housing for low-income teachers, which the district is financing. Final approval measures will be completed by next month, and construction will start in 2022, Rudolph said.
(Cindy Liu is a senior at Diamond Bar High School in Diamond Bar, Calif., and an intern with AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)