Step 1: Transitioning from ACE
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.
Transitioning from ACE
The three-year commitment is a commitment of the district to the school (for stipends, extra positions, additional resources) and a three-year commitment from leaders and teachers to the district that they will stay at that school. A school can be an ACE school longer than three years if needed for performance reasons.
At the end of three years, some staff transitions are inevitable. Some staff may be promoted to leadership positions within the district and some may choose to join a new ACE campus. In order to sustain ACE, districts and school campuses should aim to keep the following resources and systems in place:
- Stipend for key positions, such as PLC or data leads, instructional coaches, APs
- Continuity of leadership and professional development offerings
- Systems such as arrival/dismissal/transitions
- School culture practices
- Data wall and data practices
- Social emotional learning curriculum and best practices (such as restorative circles), and adjusting master schedule as needed to accommodate loss of the extra hour in the school day
As the first wave of ACE campuses are finishing their three-year commitment, a few lessons are emerging:
- Identify and conduct “stay” conversations with teachers to understand teachers’ interest and ability to stay the course at an ACE Campus
- Identify positions that can be funded with a stipend to continue best practices of ACE model
- Communicate with parents/community about what the transition will mean for the school and, in particular, how the following will be impacted: after school, extra hour, transportation, dinner service, uniform assistance, etc.
Districts have a few options to sustain the ACE financial supports of the first three years.
The most common exercises for identifying resources are:
- Strategy Prioritization – This is an exercise to identify the most important areas within each department’s budget and, conversely, those areas that could be trimmed to free-up resources to utilize on a high impact strategy such as ACE.
- Reviewing General District Professional Development Contracts – In most districts, campus professional development vendors fall under a single, massive professional development contract that has very little oversight and, in some cases, no way of showing tangible programmatic benefits. A district can identify areas of saving within these contracts to reallocate toward implementing high-quality, student-centered initiatives such as ACE.
Another option is to explore a change in governance. In Ft. Worth, the ACE campuses or Leadership Academies are currently going through the SB 1882 process to become in-district charters that will be run by Texas Wesleyan University. This shift in governance allows these campuses to sustain their levels of funding.
Step 2: Middle School Transitions
Transitioning from a Middle School ACE model, as opposed to an Elementary ACE model, can require more intensive supports. For an elementary school, the new students coming in are Pre-K or Kindergarten students, and only about 15% of the school is new each year. For those grade levels – the expectations, the culture, the systems are all new – the students don’t have a previous notion from a prior school of how things are done, therefore, it is easier for them to adapt to the culture and performance expectations of the school.
But for middle school, the new students coming in are 6th grades, and they represent a third of the school that is “new to ACE” each year. This group of students has experienced other schools – often with failing systems, failing cultures, and without high expectations. These students often require more support to understand and embrace the culture, systems and expectations of an ACE school.
As schools transition off of ACE and have lost some of the resources, Dallas ISD leaders reflect that the critical strategy for sustaining the work, particularly in middle schools, is building the capacity of teacher leaders. Teacher leaders support the principal in leading the school and developing teachers so that teachers are equipped to support new and existing students thrive socially, emotionally and academically.