This post is written by Robin Chait, Senior School Choice Policy Associate, and Aimee Evan, Senior Research Associate, with WestEd’s Learning Innovations program.

Located in Washington, DC, Perry Street Public Charter School serves a diverse Pre-K through grade 8 student body. In early 2019, Perry Street was recognized by State Superintendent of DC Hanseul Kang for the leaps it made to close the achievement gap for students with disabilities. But at one time, Perry Street, one of the first charter schools in the District of Columbia, faced a possible closure.

Having made it through both a rigorous and eye-opening school turnaround process, one that helped to boost their academic performance by 20 percent, school leadership is sharing lessons learned to support other schools in their improvement efforts.

Every school in both the traditional public and public charter sectors has a set of best practices that inform their internal processes and decision-making. Sharing of best practices is particularly important for high-performing or high-growth public charter schools, as many believe the primary purposes of charter schools were to:

  • Incubate new ideas swiftly and creatively to meet all students’ needs; and
  • Disseminate these innovative ideas to other schools — both traditional public and public charters.

Effective dissemination empowers all schools to replicate successful models. Given that so few charter schools undergo turnaround, it is all the more important for Perry Street to share how it achieved significant improvement to a wide audience.

Supported by a dissemination grant, Perry Street is collaborating with WestEd to evaluate and document its turnaround process, as well as to disseminate findings. Here are tips for approaching the dissemination process.

Identify and tailor dissemination activities for a defined audience.

Dissemination of ideas is more than sharing best practices; it is also thinking about what you hope the audience of educators will do with the information that is being shared, and how the information may change their thinking, their behavior, and their practice. It’s like going from objectives (what the teacher will do, for example) to learning outcomes (what the learner will be able to do because of this teaching). That’s why educators should think critically about what they are trying to share.

Determine the best dissemination tactics.

Dissemination tactics vary — from awareness activities, such as sharing best practices through web-based or social media platforms, to more intensive professional learning activities. The mode of dissemination should fit the type of information being shared. For example, an in-person leadership development program will require a greater level of time and intensity to execute than a set of best practices on addressing chronic absenteeism. In the case of Perry Street, the school wants to share rich content that features deep lessons they are learning from their turnaround experience. Therefore, they are selecting tactics that will engage viewers and encourage adoption of new, promising practices.

Build relationships with partner schools for collaborative professional learning opportunities.

Meridian Public Charter School, also in DC, is a school that faced similar challenges. Perry Street partnered with Meridian for collaborative professional development opportunities. Leaders from Meridian participated in Perry Street’s leadership team meetings, data reflection discussions, and classroom observational “rounds” to learn how to implement these practices in their own context.

Draw on research and experience.

It is commonly understood that video can have a greater impact on audience engagement than many other modes of communication. There are also numerous studies showing that people who have a “picture” in their mind of what they are aiming toward are much more likely to reach their goal. Those who create robust mental models tend to be more productive and successful than their peers. They get less overwhelmed by information surrounding them — which, in complex turnaround settings, is important. Relevant video content is known to materialize objectives and milestones more effectively than written collateral. When leadership teams have a vision in mind of what success looks like, they are often able to make proactive decisions instead of merely reactive ones.

Moreover, school staff are busy with administrative and other tasks related to day-to-day school operation. They often don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to dedicate to dissemination. Staff turnover can also affect the success of a dissemination effort through potential loss of momentum or ownership, with no one left to take over the initiative. Creating a video ensures that the dissemination activity is sustainable — educators can view a video at any time without additional support from school staff.

Design a strategy that “begins with the end in mind.”

WestEd worked with Perry Street to develop a strategy for dissemination that ensured promising practices from school turnaround would reach and engage an audience. A high-quality video detailing a turnaround journey successfully delivers the Perry Street story — and the coaching, relationship-building, and data-use practices that contributed to a significant boost in academic performance. Ultimately, these practices will support other schools as they embark on school improvement plans.

In conclusion, how did Perry Street go from the brink of closure in 2014 to being named a DC All-Star School just four years into its turnaround plan? Watch Turnaround at Perry Street Prep: Pieces to the Puzzle below to find out.

Learn about Charters & Choice at WestEd.

Subscribe to the WestEd E-Bulletin for regular updates on research, free resources, solutions, and career opportunities.