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#AskExcelinEd: What Are the Implications of COVID-19 on Turnaround Schools?


• Adriana Harrington


School closures due to COVID-19 have far-reaching implications, some that we can’t even begin to realize. But a question that keeps me up at night is this: How will this virus and the resulting school closures impact our students in turnaround schools?

Equity Means Everyone

In conversations with fellow educators, equity is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. How do we help mitigate the very real potential for increased learning gaps? What about for students who are already three to four grade levels behind—how should supports be different than what is already being done?

There is no doubt that every student in every school needs his or her state and district leaders to think critically about how to use existing resources and/or shift gears to support them during this uncertain time. We must also acknowledge that this challenge is even greater for our students in turnaround schools who may face even more obstacles.

How Are Students from Turnaround Schools Being Impacted?

The additional weight of being a teacher in a turnaround school is something I carried squarely on my shoulders while in the classroom. And now, I carry it with me in how I approach education policy.

While thinking about the impact of COVID-19, I also can’t help but see and hear my former students. Malik was a ninth-grade honors student who didn’t always use a capital letter to start a sentence. Jaddarious carried a promotional letter from a local college in his back pocket for months with no idea that the 15, out of 36, he had scored on the ACT was not going to help open the doors he had hoped. Christina needed someone to tell her she could do it, and then she could.

How is this shutdown impacting these students and their peers currently not walking the halls of their high school? Having rapport and relationships with teachers and the school community is a central part of school for all students. How does going weeks with a packet of work make you feel? Especially if your family cellphone has been cut off and your teachers, who are trying desperately, can’t reach you to check in?

What Do At-Risk Students Need?

To ensure students are receiving the supports they need, leaders should be asking:

  • What’s different? What specific issues are students facing right now that look different than a few months ago? How is what students need today different than last week even?
  • What can we do? What will address students’ different circumstances? What are we doing that’s working? What are we doing that isn’t?

First of all, we know not everything is different. The achievement gaps already existed. The digital divide is not new. And many students faced housing and/or food insecurity long before COVID-19. But things are different—almost certainly worse—for our most vulnerable students.

How states think through the similarities and differences of what their most at-risk students face is paramount to student success.

Now is the time to address the issues that should have been addressed long ago. In order to do this, every conversation about COVID-19 implications and support needs to include the lens of school turnaround. It cannot be a topic left exclusively to the school turnaround team at the state department of education. Everyone must work together and think about what can be addressed through the holistic statewide plan, and what needs to be differentiated.

3 Foundational Elements of School Turnaround Support

The three buckets of instruction, wraparound services and funding are central elements for states to prioritize in considering how to address school turnaround support—traditionally through the implications of COVID-19.

1. Instruction

  • How do we help provide Tier I instruction and remediation for students who are already behind? And for students who may be falling further behind?
  • How do we ensure continuity of learning with the digital divide?
  • How do we support teachers in shifting the way they think about instruction to a focus on mastery?
  • How do we support teachers who themselves have a digital divide?
  • How do we ensure students have the holistic, and academic, supports necessary to be successful after high school?

2. Wraparound Services

  • What additional services do students need around mental health and trauma-informed practices?
  • What additional supports do families need?
  • How can community partners help support wraparound services so not all the responsibilities fall on teachers?

3. Funding

  • How can we help districts/schools capitalize on their existing school improvement funds to bolster the additional CARES Act or GEER funds?
  • How can we ensure funds are utilized in effective ways that directly impact students?
  • How can we help mitigate the risk with the potential for budget cuts so that school turnaround schools are not disproportionally impacted?

Each of these questions feels familiar, too familiar, but also new and daunting. Over the next few months, ExcelinEd will continue to help states think through these challenges impacting school turnaround and identify where we can pull lessons learned from turnaround schools that have already been grappling with many of these concerns.


About the author


Adriana Harrington @AdrianaHarrin17

Adriana@ExcelinEd.org

Adriana Harrington is the Director of Innovation Policy. Prior to joining ExcelinEd Adriana worked at the Tennessee Department of Education, most recently serving as the Director of Project Management for the Division of Consolidated Planning and Monitoring and the Division of School Improvement. In this role, Adriana lead the department’s statewide school improvement initiatives to increase student outcomes in schools performing in the bottom five percent. She previously served as the Program Manager, Student Readiness for the Division of College, Career and Technical Education. Adriana was also a high school social studies teacher in Memphis for several years and a Teach for America Corps Member. Adriana earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in History from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters of Public Policy from Duke University.