The Journeys Project: Chronicling School Turnaround JOURNEYS

By Heather Mattson / August 19, 2015

Photo of empty highway with sign post that says "elementary school"

Most school improvement efforts are described after the turnaround occurred. In the Journeys Project, the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd (CST) documents schools throughout the turnaround process. The first turnaround journey this project has chronicled is Amargosa Valley School, a remote rural Nevada K-8 school with a large migrant, English learner, and socioeconomically disadvantaged population.

Over the past two years CST staff have regularly engaged with school, district, and state department of education leaders to collect and document their experiences on implementing this school’s School Improvement Grant (SIG). A variety of Journeys resources allow followers to reflect on the challenges and solutions in implementing turnaround. These resources include longer stories or “episodes” focusing on key issues, blog posts highlighting smaller vignettes along the school’s journey or related research, and interactive webinars with school, district, and state staff.

While some of the issues are uniquely rural, many are universal to any turnaround process. What are the early challenges, decisions, and results? How are roadblocks handled? How do the district and state provide monitoring and support? How is the school revising the plan to better fit their context and address implementation challenges? These are some of critical decision points leaders from all levels of the system have grappled with along the journey so far.

The resources chronicling Amargosa’s journey developed include:


Implementing SIG: Early Successes and Challenges from Rural Nevada – In this webinar archive, leaders from Amargosa Valley School, Nye County School District, and the Nevada Department of education provided an overview of the early stages of implementing their SIG. What’s working? What needs adjusting? What has been more challenging than they expected? What are they learning as a result of their first state monitoring visit?

UPCOMING…Refining and Revising an Improvement Plan – In this webinar, the school’s Principal, Robert Williams, and the district’s School Intervention Director, Evangelyn Visser, will share how they have handled aspects of the plan that required modification, along with how they have built on successful plan components. Register Here.

Amargosa Episodes:

Episode 1: Increased Focus and Team Effort – Meet Amargosa Valley School and find out how the district, school board, and state department of education have all rallied together to focus on a plan for improving Amargosa’s student outcomes.

Episode 2: Recruiting and Staffing in a Rural School Learn how the school and district handle the challenges of staffing a remote, rural school in the middle of the desert.

Episode 3: Refining and Revising the Plan – Read about the aspects of the School Improvement Grant plan that seem promising for Amargosa and which needed to be reconsidered as part of their continuous improvement cycle.

Related Blog Posts:

Focusing on School Culture – Learn how focusing early on school culture is helping Amargosa Valley School build a strong foundation for turnaround.

The Challenges of a First-Year Principal – Hear some of the on-the-ground challenges for a new principal at a turnaround school.

Urban and Rural Staffing Challenges – Recruitment and retention concerns have long plagued public education. Generally, urban and rural locales have a harder time recruiting and retaining teachers and school leaders than suburban communities. Read what staffing issues are common in both urban and rural sites, and considerations to address them.

State Monitoring of School Improvement Grants How do states monitor turnaround efforts? Read about Nevada’s comprehensive approach to assess school and district implementation and progress on SIG/Priority plans.

Seriously Rural Challenges Amargosa is a remote, rural school in Southern Nevada. But what does that really mean? What are the real implications?

Connecting Communities: Learning Together Using PLC’s Amargosa Valley school plans to implement Blended Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). What are the strengths and challenges of PLCs? Check out our resource list.

How Districts Can Support Reform Nye County School District is a key part of Amargosa’s improvement effort. What is the role of the district in reform? Is it to lead change, or simply monitor change? Is it to serve as enforcer or cheerleader? Is it a combination of all of these roles?

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About the author

Heather Mattson

Heather Mattson is a Senior Research Associate at WestEd and a staff member of the Center on School Turnaround. In addition to coordinating the Journeys content team, she is a Journeys school facilitator and a blog contributor.

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