Step 1: Communication
A successful design and rollout of the ACE initiative with strong community and stakeholder support requires effective communication. The district must be able to clearly explain why the initiative is needed, how it will be implemented and whom it will impact. Examples of effective communication include:
- This video of an ACE proposal to a school board and,
- These presentation materials prepared by an ACE district.
Effective communication materials may take months to develop and should be ready for distribution when the program is announced. The following communication materials should be ready well in advance of program announcement:
- Communication plan for campus staffing changes (example campus staffing communication: ACE FAQ)
- Communication plan for board of trustees
- Communication plan for parents/community members (example parents/community member communication: ACE Description and Announcement Flyer, Letter to Families, ACE Letter)
- Communication plan for internal staff and district employees
- Recruitment materials (example recruitment materials: ACE Recruitment Fair FAQ)
- Media/storyline plan for positive coverage (example media coverage: Press Release, Media Alert, Talking Points)
Additional communication materials to consider preparing in advance include:
- Webpage/website (example website: Garland website)
- Report template for bi-weekly updates to the district leadership team, ACE planning committee and/or ACE schools and staff (example newsletter: Dallas Weekly Newsletter)
This Communications Checklist outlines when some of these materials will be used.
Step 2: Staffing
Districts should prioritize assembling the right team to champion the ACE initiative at the district level and at the campus level. National research has consistently shown that the effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom is the most important in-school factor for student success. Students assigned to highly effective teachers are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, live in higher SES neighborhoods, and save more for retirement.
A team of effective teachers and leaders is the key to strong implementation of ACE. Districts should hire staff based on their demonstrated history of driving student growth as well as their growth mindset, high expectations and ability to build inspired relationships. An example of the roles on an ACE campus can be found here.
Human capital management, the district human resources strategy and team, is a key partner to involve early in the ACE planning and staffing process. Including human capital management in the conversations early will allow them to add important perspective and effectively plan for staffing the ACE campus and broader topics (this may include an open transfer window, external hiring freezes or setting a target deadline for the placement of displaced staff). Additionally, while ACE is a new strategy for a district, a district may have reconstituted a campus before and the established procedures and guidelines can be used to provide a framework for thinking about staffing.
When to announce ACE is a balancing act for a school district. If a district announces too early, it could harm staff morale; if a district announces too late, displaced staff may miss opportunities to be selected for openings for the upcoming school year.
While having a full year to plan for ACE is ideal, the first four districts that implemented ACE followed an implementation calendar that began in December or later in the school year. Districts should aim for a yearlong planning timeline but if that is not possible other ACE districts have planned and successfully implemented the initiative in a shorter timeline.
A timeline for the human capital management components of ACE implementation can help a district schedule their announcement and mitigate for a short time frame. The timeline should account for the following:
- Open transfer window
- Non-renewal process
- Contract renewals
- Staffing budget for next school year
- External/internal job fairs
Examples of full-year and condensed planning cycles can be found here. The steps in the timeline example are all important and districts are encouraged to complete each of them to ensure successful implementation as demonstrated in the graphic below. However, the time to complete each step, or the time between steps, may be condensed to accommodate a faster timeline. The most important action is to identify school leadership early in the process so there is ample planning time to engage the community, identify and interview staff and establish a strong school vision and culture.
Districts should manage the dissemination of information and reduce opportunities for misinformation to spread. It is important to keep the school names and affected staff confidential until answers to both "what is happening to the school" and "what happens to me" can be shared simultaneously. This information should include (a) the process by which an employee may be able to stay at a campus and (b) how the district will support an employee who will be changing campuses.
While the decision to implement ACE is for the students, it may be disruptive for educators who leave their current schools.
A full, detailed plan for what the change will mean for staff members, the steps involved and the supports available throughout the process is critical. Of equal importance is who delivers the message during these staff transitions. While the superintendent may not be able to attend every campus meeting if multiple campuses are announced simultaneously, at a minimum district leadership should be present and explain the changes taking place in a clear and consistent manner.
Step 3: Principal Selection
One of the most important decisions a district needs to make after identifying its ACE campuses is to select the school principals. A principal is critical to building the culture and climate at an ACE campus and is responsible for day-to-day execution of the ACE program. Districts that implemented ACE often cite a strong leader as one of the key components to a successful ACE campus. In many districts, the selection of a principal for a newly named ACE campus is made by the superintendent. Districts may benefit from shortening the selection process to help ensure confidentiality prior to the broader district announcement about the changes.
Principals should be selected based on their proven record as a leader of a school(s) that achieve high levels of student growth. Typical character traits of an effective ACE principal include energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism and determination. An ACE principal is a leader people want to follow, the front-person to families and the community and an exemplar of how to give and receive feedback.
This example demonstrates qualifications and responsibilities of an ACE principal: elementary school principal job description.
While the character traits and selection considerations outlined above will help the selected ACE leader succeed, they cannot guarantee success.
All current ACE districts have considered a change in an ACE school principal position because of performance challenges. Districts that offered supports (such as increased district support or support from external supports such as Teaching Trust or Big Rocks) to leaders as soon as possible strengthened the leaders’ performance. However, some districts made mid-year principal changes based on information gathered from staff climate and satisfaction surveys, staff attendance, student discipline issues and progress of academic growth. The decision to make a leadership change during a school year is reflective of the increased expectations and pace of an ACE school. When the decision is reached to replace a leader, many districts have chosen to proceed with the replacement prior to the end of the year to ensure the upward momentum of the school.
Identification and Selection
A district should start with a quantitative analysis of current principals based on relative school performance vs. expected school performance. Other compelling data include staff climate survey results and qualitative considerations, such as feedback from principal supervisors. ACE districts typically prioritize selecting principals based on their history of academic success as well as their success in building a strong school culture.
A district should attempt to select a principal from its internal pool of candidates instead of looking externally for several reasons. Principals hired within the district tend to have the experience and contacts needed to navigate district culture and identify needed resources. This gives them more time to focus on planning and successfully implementing ACE once the new school year begins. A candidate under contract with another district may have less time and need more support to participate in planning, hiring, meetings and community engagement. If it is necessary to hire someone who is not an existing district principal, a promising practice is hiring an assistant principal within the district with strong operational know-how.
Until a leader is named, many teachers are often reluctant to move to a new ACE campus.
ACE campuses with a principal hired in-district have a quicker timeline for hiring teachers and staff compared to ACE campuses that hire a principal from another district. Even after the school year begins, differences between the campuses led by external principal hires and those with internal principal hires can be evident because of the steep learning curve for external hires. Added supports provided by the district often help shorten the learning curve of district culture and procedures.
While the selection of a strong principal for the new ACE campus should be cause for celebration, it may be negatively perceived by some staff and families at the school whose principal is leaving. It is important to provide information that helps the affected campus community understand the decision. Explaining why their former leader is needed to help a new group of students is as important as communicating the steps the district will take to make sure that a strong leader is selected to replace the outgoing leader of their campus in a timely fashion. Including community members in the selection process ensures they have input into the decision and helps minimize any negative impacts a change in leadership may have on teacher and family retention.
A similar messaging plan should be used to reach out to the new families and community at the ACE campus. It is important to provide information that helps the affected campus community understand why the decision was made. Many districts send a letter of introduction and host a meet the principal night in the spring. Here is an example of a Letter to ACE Campus Staff and an invitation to meet the principal. For many ACE districts, the outgoing principal will remain with their school through the end of the school year, providing stability as the school prepares to transition to ACE.
Onboarding/Training Plan for Teachers
Districts should provide ACE teachers onboarding and training based on the needs of the teachers and the instructional focus of the school(s). This can include training on district and school systems, instruction and school culture. When determining the focus of onboarding and training, districts should consider the make-up of the school staff and whether they are new to the district or primarily internal hires. The onboarding and training plan for teachers should include time for this newly formed team of educators to build their school community. This new grouping needs time and space to learn how to best work together in support of their students. Onboarding and training can be provided internally by the district and school or externally by technical assistance providers such as Teaching Trust.
Fort Worth ISD
In Fort Worth ISD, district and campus leaders partnered with Teaching Trust to lead onboarding and training. They helped teachers to align their instruction to expectations for student learning, develop tools for measuring student success and facilitate effective data meetings. Training also focused on school culture components such as how to build relationships with students and colleagues and be a part of a community of adult learners. In addition to formal PD, teachers have 1-1 check-ins with the school leader three times a year to discuss challenges and needs. These are non-evaluative conversations aimed to understand and support teachers so they feel valued and able to do their best work.
Leadership Team Selection
The leadership team plays an important role in helping to implement the vision and mission of the school by establishing a school culture and routines on a campus where the majority of employees are new to the school. This requires the new leadership team to focus on building trust within the team and across the school. It is important for the leadership team, once assembled, to convey a consistent message of growth mindset, high expectations and inspired relationships for the entire school. Consistency in messaging does not mean that all leadership team members should fit a single profile – a principal should hire individuals with particular skill sets that complement one another and contribute to a strong, unified leadership team.
A member of the leadership team will have many, if not all, of the character traits highlighted for the campus principal: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, and determination. They are also leaders that people want to follow, effective liaisons to families and the community, and exemplars of how to give and receive feedback.
These example job descriptions demonstrate the qualifications and responsibilities of the leadership team roles: Campus Instructional Coach Job Description, Data Analyst Job Description, ACE Elementary Assistant Principal Job Description, Intervention Specialist
Identification and Selection
The newly selected principal should be an active participant in assembling the leadership team for the campus. Principal autonomy in this decision is key to staff cohesion and building a positive climate/culture. The district leadership should only veto a principal’s selection in the most egregious of circumstances. Building the leadership team early allows for more hands to assist with hiring of teachers and to implement the ACE strategy.
The school profiles and analysis used to evaluate principals can be used as the initial data analysis to evaluate assistant principals. School leadership is critical in helping to identify current leaders in the district who embody the character traits outlined above. Selection of the skill sets embodied by the assistant principals should complement the strengths of the principal.
The leadership team, along with the principal, established clear roles and defined the responsibilities of each role to ensure there were no gaps in supports for students or teachers.
Additionally, the school had five focus systems – student culture, staff culture, observation/feedback, data driven systems and collaborative planning - and to ensure these remained a priority for each leadership team member, they created schedules with at least 75% of their time dedicated to supporting those systems.
Selection should be communicated to the candidate’s current principal as soon as an offer is confirmed. The current principal, new principaland assistant principal should align on expectations for commitments, meetings and activities the leadership team may be involved in at the new campus during the spring months. A communication plan for staff and families at the current campus and the new campus should be developed to promote a smooth transition.
Successful ACE teachers are often described as being open to feedback, collaborative, and willing to ask for help – and receive it. They embrace the data and embrace the challenge. Additionally, successful ACE teachers tend to prioritize time for self-care (and are supported to do so by their principals) in order to sustain the energy and commitment needed for teaching at an ACE campus. Teaching at an ACE campus requires not only foundational teaching skills, but also supplemental competencies so that the teacher is ready, willing and able to persevere through challenges. These competencies are necessary to build a strong classroom and campus culture that can provide social and emotional support for students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.
Identification and Selection
Hiring should begin with a quantitative analysis of all district teachers in order to create a starting point to consider the pool of talent. Most districts used Educational Resource Group (ERG) for a portion of the analysis (e.g., STAAR data across all content areas and grade levels). While some districts were already ERG clients, others contracted with ERG just for this specific analysis. Other data points for consideration include MAP and ISIP/ISIP- Espanol.
Following the quantitative analysis, there should be a qualitative analysis that includes a vetting of information to ensure accuracy. For most districts, this includes classroom walks by members of district leadership and conversations with principals, instructional coaches and other district leaders. A fuller picture of teachers’ performance can become clear as the district reviews the list of highly-rated teachers and visits their classrooms. With this insight into performance, the newly selected campus principal can develop a target list of teachers for the new campus.
An overview of the internal identification process can be found here. Additionally, an overview of the quantitative and qualitative analyses and how they fit into teacher selection can be found in this presentation.
National data consistently establish that hires made earlier in the hiring season will outperform those selected closer to the start of the school year.
The pool of candidates with the experience and characteristics needed to succeed at an ACE campus will be smaller the later it is established. Delaying the hiring of teachers because a campus leader has not yet been named can present challenges that can be avoided by adhering to the Human Capital timeline guidelines outlined earlier.
A high-profile recruitment event as outlined in the Recruitment Section is a key opportunity to begin building the staff roster. However, it is unrealistic to expect that all teachers will be selected at such a recruitment event and/or from the target list of teachers. Some teachers may come from the original campus staff, although most ACE schools see a rate of about 10% retained. Some teachers may come from another district or even be new to the teaching profession, typically from programs that require a significant number of clinical experience hours prior to being the teacher of record. An example of teacher transition patterns can be seen here.
An internal hire typically avoids a learning curve for district systems and processes. This can be significant especially in the first six weeks. However, an external hire who has previous experience with ACE can also be a valuable asset. Such a teacher can help serve as a resource for fellow teachers and campus leaders. As a commitment to the larger ACE community, a district that seeks to hire from another ACE district should receive approval from that district before extending an offer of employment. When possible, districts should request data points for external hires similar to those used in the analysis of district teachers during the quantitative analysis stage.
A principal should consider the composition not only of the overall teaching staff, but also within teams, departments, and grade levels. For example, a third-grade team should neither be all first-year teachers nor all external hires. Full information about the interview process for ACE schools is outlined in the Interview Section.
Another strategy used by many districts is to hire high-quality, certified substitute teachers for each ACE campus.
This helps ensure that strong instruction by a staff member who has built positive relationships with the students will continue when the lead teacher is away from the classroom
The decision to join an ACE campus is a cause for celebration. At the teacher level, it is less common to encounter resistance from the families at the prior campus because the transition to an ACE campus occurs at the end of a school year. Most concerns will center on finding an equally strong teacher to assume the vacant position on the campus. District leaders should communicate to the staff and families the supports the district will provide to the campuses to help fill the vacant position and other positions that may occur through normal attrition. It also helps to highlight, when appropriate, previous success in hiring and onboarding strong teachers for that campus.
Onboarding/Training Plan for Principals/Leadership Team
Whether the principal or leadership team are internal hires, external hires or a combination, the level of support for the new ACE principal and leadership team is a significant investment by a district. Most districts provide the support internally through a principal supervisor within school leadership who may serve only ACE campuses. Other districts provide external support through groups such as Teaching Trust and Big Rocks. A full list of technical assistance providers can be found here.
The ACE model requires a district to rebuild a school with intentional hiring based on proven data performance and the mindset needed for success in an ACE campus. For most districts, recruitment for the ACE campus will run parallel to the district-wide recruitment activities. Many ACE districts hired a number of positions by hosting a celebratory recruitment event described in detail below. For all districts, recruitment extended beyond that one event. It is key for the success of the new ACE school that the same standards and practices used in hiring the first staff member are applied throughout the hiring of all new staff.
Some districts found that having a member of the district team supporting ACE campuses participate in the principal training greatly improved their ability to help principals and schools.
Additionally, they found that providing a professional learning community (PLC) for ACE principals allowed principals to collaborate and discuss areas of growth and strengths, which promoted learning and improvement across the campuses.
This example provides an overview of the capacity building that can take place on an ACE campus: ACE building capacity presentation.
Recruiting teachers for ACE campuses is a key part of the ACE initiative. This can take place in different ways, but many ACE districts have found success through a recruitment fair. Here is a FAQ on the ACE Recruitment Fair.
The recruitment fair should closely follow the public announcement of the district’s decision to implement ACE, typically within a couple of weeks. Ideally, the event should occur prior to an open transfer window within a district to ensure prospective teachers have not already been selected by another campus. Placing the recruitment event before an open transfer window also provides the campuses that have teachers leaving to join ACE an opportunity to hire internally for their newly identified vacancies.
For additional details regarding invitations, location, messaging, role of the principal, role of human capital management, and run of show, along with tools and resources to plan and implement the event, please see here.
A communication plan or touch point is recommended for a principal and newly selected teacher following this event. Continuing the dialogue and building excitement toward the next school year are important to ensure the teacher remains committed to joining the new ACE campus. It is also important to recognize that a campus will leave this event with teacher vacancies. Human Capital Management, along with the principal and school leadership, should develop a plan for how, where and when they will recruit for the remaining openings.
It is extremely challenging to recruit for a school without the principal being present or when the principal is not yet selected, so it is not recommended to host the event prior to selecting the principal.
Moreover, principals find it extremely helpful to have the leadership team involved in interviews and conversations with prospective teachers during the event.
Job Postings and Applications
All job postings for an ACE campus are public. In the posting of positions, it is important that a district consider the timing of the public announcement to pursue ACE. Most districts delay posting positions until the announcement has been made and the specific campuses have been named.
It is recommended that staff members at a current ACE school be afforded the opportunity to interview with the newly-selected principal if they are interested in remaining at the campus. It is also strongly recommended that all staff members reapply for their position to remain at the school. This can be extremely important in ensuring the process is not viewed as arbitrary or biased. It is important to note that previous ACE districts have seen a retention rate of no more than 10% of the current staff.
Here are example job postings for the various roles at an ACE campus: Elementary School Principal Job Description, Elementary School Teacher Job Description, Middle School Teacher Job Description, Campus Instructional Coach Job Description, Data Analyst Job Description, ACE Elementary Assistant Principal Job Description, Intervention Specialist.
The newly-named principal for the ACE campus should serve as the primary decision-maker in assembling the new staff. School leadership approval may be appropriate for hiring members of the school leadership team, internal teachers who are not on the list of highly qualified teachers based on the quantitate analysis and external district hires.
Once the leadership team has been identified, it is expected that its members will serve in the interview process. Here is a an example of how other ACE districts have structured their interviews: ACE interview configuration.
Selection Model Overview
Through the teacher selection model, all candidates are evaluated based on competencies around candidate mindset, commitment, achievement and instructional practices predictive of teacher effectiveness listed below. These competencies were determined based on research and guidance from other large urban school districts. They guide both the process and design of the selection model and materials.
- Candidate Mindsets: equity, respect, personal responsibility
- Commitment: initiative, perseverance, professionalism, adaptability
- Candidate Achievement: leadership, academic success, relationship building
- Instructional Practices: data-driven instruction, behavior management, content expertise/pedagogy
However, the competencies are not required for every ACE district. The final determination should be made by each individual district.
The campus-based interview is a crucial final piece to ensure that candidates are a good fit for the campus and possess the skills and mindsets necessary to succeed. Research shows that structured interviews (i.e., reusing the same questions/prompts and scoring candidate responses on a rubric in a consistent manner) are much more likely to predict job effectiveness than unstructured interviews (Rose, D. S., English, A., & Finney, T. G. (2014). Hire Better Teachers Now: Using the Science of Selection to Find the Best Teachers for Your School. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press). Here is an overview of the campus based hiring components.
Here are example rubrics and interview questions: sample interview questions, behavior based rubric and questions for teachers, sample rating sheets, interview questions for principals and additional interview questions for principals.
Transitioning Current Staff
ACE can be disruptive for adults, especially to current staff members who may be asked to transition to a new school. For this reason, districts should pay special attention to these staff members and establish a plan for this group early in the planning process for the implementation of ACE. If a district can communicate the entire plan when announcing ACE this will help minimize the impact and uncertainty of change.
For many districts, the first decision will be if positions for the upcoming school year will be guaranteed. Some districts have pursued non-renewal for a sub-set of teachers, but for many districts, a teaching position is guaranteed within their district for the upcoming school year. The timing of the announcement to current staff should be mindful of the non-renewal timeline (if applicable) as well as the open-transfer window.
Districts should follow their human resource guidelines on notification of campus reconstitution. As outlined in the Communication section, having the superintendent or another high-level district official assist in the meeting with current staff is important to ensure clear communication of why the campus is undergoing the transition as well as explain the next steps for the employees.
Districts should also set a target-date, often prior to the end of the current school year for each transitioning staff member to find a new position. Some districts have implemented an external hiring freeze, some have placed teachers in vacant positions, and some have given preferred hiring status to transitioning staff.
An example of a timeline for non-renewing staff can be found here. Additionally, an example of a notice of campus reconstitution to inform staff of the change can be found here and a survey to gauge staff interest can be found here.
At one ACE district, Garland ISD, they used social media to tweet out and celebrate the new teachers joining their campus.
This practice helped the transitioning staff feel welcomed, valued, and celebrated.
Step 4: Instructional Excellence Overview and Process
Once the team of teachers and leaders has been assembled, the work of ACE quickly turns towards effective instruction. While the curriculum may vary by district, smart use of data is at the heart of instruction for each district and school. The schools use data to inform daily instruction and intervention as well as monitor the overall progress of students.
For many schools, the work begins with a new approach to professional learning communities (PLCs). Often times the PLC teams break down standards into “what does a student know” and “how will he/she show the teacher he/she knows it” - know/show. Data meetings that dive deeper into the misunderstandings and the areas for re-teaching follow this exercise. The teams go even further by revisiting the know/show to uncover what was missed and making further revisions to the know/show chart. Through the process of breaking down standards, looking at assessment items and discussing student work, teachers effectively use data to inform their practice. Examples of a data driven PLC session can be found here.
In the classroom, data is present both from a visual display of student levels and progress on demonstrations of learning (DOLs), but also in practice of each lesson. Many districts employ aggressive data monitoring protocols to make sure data is being looked at regularly.
The first step for many schools is to create a master schedule, which can look different across and within districts. Many schools use this opportunity to create double blocks for high priority areas such as math, English language arts or language development. An example of a master schedule created by Titche ES can be found here and by Umphrey Lee ES can be found here.
Dallas ISD implemented a schedule that included math and reading blocks, which can be seen here. They implemented guided reading during this time; an example of that is here. Additionally, the district developed an extensive system for tracking and understanding data. The district uses a dashboard that campus leadership and ACE principals can use to monitor data. This includes tracking everything from DOLs to teacher observations.
Step 5: School Culture
The culture of an ACE campus is important for both students and teachers. Schools should create a safe, positive environment that is joyful and fosters school pride. For many ACE campuses, this includes both creating and implementing routines and strategies for celebrating success. Many ACE campuses spend significant time creating routines to facilitate a positive student environment that sets students up for student success. Additionally, schools create ways to celebrate the success of the students and teachers. Districts should recognize these gains not just at the end of the year but throughout the year as well.
To create a positive staff culture, schools should celebrate their gains as well as create a joyful environment. This can be done through large celebrations or smaller strategies such as staff newsletters, staff recognition at meetings, spirit shirts, staff chants and videos. In addition to a positive staff culture, it is important to create a positive school culture. Schools can do so through individual classroom celebrations, full school celebrations, individual student recognition and school wide competitions. An example of this is the house system implemented by Ron Clark Academy where students are organized into different houses and compete against one another.
At Garland ISD, they used a breakfast celebration in the spring to recognize the gains made at the ACE campuses throughout the first year of the initiative.
This included showing the growth on the data points that were used to select the campuses (teacher turnover, teacher/student absenteeism, achievement scores, etc.) as well as showing the staff the positive remarks being made about the campuses. The district observed how amazed teachers were that their efforts were being recognized. Moving forward, the district would like to create more opportunities to celebrate success throughout the year so teachers and students can see the results of their hard work.
Step 6: Extended School Day Overview and Process
An extra hour of targeted, intentional instruction with meals and transportation provides students with a safe, secure, and enriched learning environment. This pillar of ACE can include a significant financial cost for districts because of the additional transportation and free enrichment activities until 6:00 p.m. However, ACE campuses find the additional hour of instruction critical to accelerating the learning and closing the gaps that have persisted for years, especially for students who are often more than a year behind their peers. By keeping the campus open until 6:00 p.m., the district can provide a free meal and create space for activities such as dance, coding, cooking, guitar lessons, robotics and chess that otherwise would be unavailable to the students.
The extended learning component of the ACE model is comprised of two components:
- Extended School Day: This is an extra hour of instruction in the school day. Most ACE campuses embed this time into the master schedule for the campus, allowing for reading and/or math to be an extended period. Others use this hour at the end of the school day for additional tutoring and instructional support. For examples on how districts have created their master schedules, see the Instructional Excellence and Overview section.
- Campus Open until 6:00 p.m.: By allowing the campus to remain open following the extended school day, the school can offer free enrichment opportunities to the students along with a free evening meal. This extended time for students creates space to offer free programming for the parents, making the school a central part of the community it serves. While the specific programming offered by each district varies, each district makes the offerings free for all students at the ACE campuses.
Additionally, district leaders can work with the ACE schools to understand the current resources and conditions of the campus to ensure the needs of students are being met during extended learning time. To determine the current resources and conditions of ACE campuses, districts can complete this Asset Inventory Interview for principals and counselors.
ACE districts use the additional hour of instruction in different ways to enhance student learning and provide additional enrichment opportunities. For example, Fort Worth uses the additional hour of instruction for re-teaching based on student data and enrichment opportunities, such as fencing and sports. The enrichment activities are provided by Clayton and the YMCA based on student surveys that captured student interest. Richardson ISD has an after-school program, xPlore, available at all schools. At the ACE campuses the district contracts with outside vendors, such as Girls on the Run, to provide enrichment opportunities to students in addition to providing dinner. Dallas has a district wide after-school program and provides students on ACE campuses with enrichment opportunities through outside providers. An overview of how Garland ISD uses their additional hour of instruction and extended can be found here.
Additionally, districts and programs that are not a part of the ACE initiative may provide useful examples that districts should consider when deciding how to use the additional hour of instruction and extend day. See here for examples
One district found that many teachers volunteered to run enrichment opportunities, but given the demands of the day this added time resulted in teacher burnout.
Districts should consider how much is being asked of staff members and look for partners to help engage in this work and provide enrichment opportunities.
Step 7: Social and Emotional Learning Overview and Process
While social and emotional learning practices are increasing for many districts, they are of particular importance for the students served by ACE campuses. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), potentially traumatic experiences for children, according to the Center on Disease Control are linked to: risky health behaviors; chronic health conditions; low life potential; and early death. As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes. Additional information can be found here and here.
The social and emotional learning pillar of ACE allows for each district to implement a curriculum or approach selected by its district or campus. For some districts, this may be a continuation of a current program or the beginning of a new initiative. For other districts, this may be a new program specific for the ACE campuses. At the core of each district’s approach is a focus on developing positive student/adult relationships, creating a safe learning environment, and emphasizing restorative discipline practices in order to focus on the needs of the whole child.
The intentional focus or refocus on addressing the social and emotional needs of students provides the schools space to institute systems and routines that create and build positive relationships between adults and students. Simple daily acts by adults who are present and active can create an environment conducive to positive learning and student success such as:
- Welcoming students in a positive manner
- Having students indicate their starting point on a “mood meter” as they enter the classroom
- Building trust and understanding through restorative circles
One of the most common reflections about an ACE campus from parents, students and staff is the transformation that takes place on the campus. In many cases, parents and other stakeholders do not even recognize the new campus. Administrators often share stories about their campus prior to ACE being chaotic as evidenced by things that include negative student culture, low staff morale, and poor student and staff attendance. Here are some examples of the results ACE districts have seen.
ACE districts embed social and emotional learning into their ACE campuses in a variety of ways based on the district context and the needs of the school(s). For example, Fort Worth prioritized three initiatives:
- Employing a Behavior Specialist at every campus;
- Creating a calming room on every campus; and
- Providing Restorative Practice training to staff and implementing the practices.
Richardson ISD implemented Second Step curriculum, which included scoping out the calendar of lessons for teachers to deliver at the beginning of the school day. Additionally, they integrated mind-body breaks into the daily schedule that allow students to move and center themselves to better engage in classroom work. As the district goes into their second year of implementing ACE, they will incorporate Restorative Practices, including restorative circles, on ACE campuses as well. Dallas ISD partnered with CASEL to implement social emotional competencies along with a social and emotional learning curriculum, Harmony, for morning meetings. In addition, they provided a variety of trainings to ACE staff including Restorative Practices, the redirection hierarchy, and implementing calming corners and morning circles. An overview of how Garland ISD embeds social and emotional learning can be found here.
Districts should consider the examples provided by current ACE districts along with social and emotional learning programs that take place outside of ACE districts when deciding what social and emotional learning will look like in their schools. Examples of those can be found here.
Step 8: Parent and Community Partnerships Overview and Process
The parents and greater community are key partners for the district in undertaking the work of ACE. Typically, the students and the school rely on the additional support parents and the community provide as partners in this work.
The parent and community partnerships vary across the districts that have implemented ACE. Often, the partnerships are building upon previous relationships or best practices from other schools within their district. The approach a district takes to engaging parents and the community should fit the context of the district and the specific schools in the initiative.
A few examples of how ACE districts include parents and the greater community in this work include the effort of Richardson ISD who partnered with the parent teacher associations (PTAs) from the ACE schools with PTAs from other elementary schools across the district. Additionally, Dade MS in Dallas ISD started an initiative called “Breakfast with Dads” to bring father and father figures into the school and to ensure all students felt comfortable participating they brought in men from the community to serve as volunteer dads and mentors. For more information see the following article. In addition, many districts host parent workshops on topics that include how families can help their student be successful, social and emotional learning and how to read and understand student data.
Additionally, ACE districts used the roll out of the ACE initiative as an opportunity to engage with families and the community. This includes general parent and community information on ACE, new principal meet and greets and information sessions for families to get additional information and ask questions.
Additional parent and community communication resource include: parent information letter, family presentation, principal meet and greet invitation, parent notification letter, student and parent one-pager, student and parent pledge.
For the ACE model to gain traction and create lasting change, district leaders, school leaders, and teachers of ACE districts should commit to three years of implementing the components of ACE with fidelity. This provides time for the systems and school culture to take root and continue to grow, even when the financial supports are removed.