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Burton Middle School Improves Reputation and Enrollment Through Transformational Leadership Practices

A struggling school improves engagement with its leaders, increases enrollment, lowers staff attrition rates, excels in academics, and improves its image, one connected student at a time.

Burton Middle School (BMS) faced reputation challenges, including student transfers, community disengagement, low teacher retention, and declining test scores. Principal Casey Rangel and her team took proactive measures to address these issues. Partnering with Studer Education, they conducted research to identify key problems and engaged the community in finding solutions. Through enthusiastic collaboration with staff, students, and community members, they implemented a comprehensive plan to improve BMS’s standing. As a result, BMS became a preferred choice for more students and families.

Challenge

A primary issue facing Burton Middle School was its reputation within the community, leading to declining student enrollment. BMS was viewed as unsafe, lacking opportunities, and having lower standards compared to other schools. Consequently, many students opted for middle schools in different districts instead of BMS. Annually, BMS lost approximately 50-60 students out of 300 eligible attendees, with even some school employees choosing alternative schools for their children. Additionally, student achievement remained stagnant, evidenced by unimproved state assessment scores.

Approach

Principal Rangel and her team at Burton Middle School conducted thorough research activities to understand the root causes of their challenges, engaging with current and former students, analyzing attendance data, and surveying employees and parents. These insights revealed a lack of awareness about the school’s programs and a need for improved communication to enhance the school’s image. With strategic improvement initiatives focusing on effective communication, positive school environment creation, and community engagement, they partnered with Studer Education for guidance on continuous improvement practices. Implementing measures such as weekly student meetings, leadership development programs, and increased communication channels, BMS aimed to enhance student engagement and community perception. Regular tracking of student involvement and publishing of progress updates ensured transparency and accountability in achieving their goals.

Understanding Root Causes:

Principal Rangel and her team conducted research by engaging with current and former students, analyzing attendance data, and surveying employees and parents to understand factors influencing students’ choices and behaviors at BMS.

Community Knowledge Gained:

The survey highlighted key areas for improvement at BMS. It revealed a lack of awareness about the school’s programs like Visual and Performing Arts and Gifted and Talented Education, which could attract more students. Parents and students expressed a desire for school pride, indicating a need for a more positive perception of BMS. Recognizing the enduring impact of negative perceptions, staff aimed to increase positive communication about the school. They also emphasized the importance of district-wide awareness of BMS programs to enhance community perception. Additionally, the survey emphasized the significance of consistent leadership and measuring student engagement, prompting efforts to foster connections among all students beyond academics.

Strategic School Improvement:

Principal Rangel and her team formulated a strategic plan based on their findings. They prioritized enhanced communication about Burton Middle’s programs and achievements, fostering a positive environment, and celebrating diversity. Collaborating with the school district and community, they improved the school’s image. A strong leadership team, involving staff and students in decision-making, facilitated integrated decision-making. Tracking student engagement led to the introduction of more clubs and activities. The plan was executed with enthusiasm and dedication.

Studer Education Guidance:

Burton Middle implemented its strategic plan with guidance from Studer Education, experts in enhancing educational performance nationwide. Studer Education collaborated with BMS to collect feedback, hold regular meetings, improve teaching methods, and provide professional development. Their goal was to assist the school in achieving excellence and fostering a positive learning environment. Working closely with BMS leadership, Studer Education tailored solutions to address the school’s specific needs.

Improving Student Engagement:

BMS leaders, guided by Studer Education, introduced specific practices tailored for the middle school. One such practice was “MVP,” a weekly meeting where students directly engaged with the vice principal to share ideas and concerns, fostering a sense of care and responsiveness. Additionally, Student Leadership Huddles were implemented, empowering a team of “change makers” to lead improvement projects and inspire their peers, enhancing campus pride and student engagement.

Increasing Communication Channels:

To improve communication at Burton Middle School, leaders introduced weekly huddles with classified staff to discuss perceptions of student connectedness and share observations and solutions. The school implemented a communication strategy focused on spreading positive information about the school and its students through various channels like newsletters, websites, and social media. By sharing success stories and achievements, the community became more engaged, and students began to take pride in their school. Staff ensured that positive data was shared with internal and external stakeholders, emphasizing the benefits of being part of the school community.

Student Engagement Measures:

Constant monitoring and adjustments were necessary to assess the effectiveness of activities at Burton Middle School. A system to track student engagement was implemented, with efforts focused on creating new club opportunities aligned with students’ interests. Surveys, interviews, and data analysis were used to identify students not involved in extracurricular activities, with weekly meetings held to address this. Additional clubs and programs were introduced and tailored to match students’ passions, ensuring all students had opportunities for exploration and skill development. The school aimed for 100% student participation, emphasizing the importance of every student feeling valued and engaged.

Tracking and Publishing Efforts:

Research was conducted to understand why students enrolled in or left Burton Middle School, helping identify effective retention efforts. Student attendance and activity participation were tracked to gauge engagement levels, allowing staff to tailor programs accordingly. Regular publication of enrollment and attendance data aimed to keep the community informed about the school’s progress. To enhance accountability and ownership among staff, leaders provided support in implementing solutions, fostering a collaborative and accountable culture at BMS.

Outcomes

The efforts at BMS yielded significant success, establishing it as a model for other schools. Daily attendance rose to 96%, indicating increased student engagement and motivation. Students enjoyed participating in BMS’s diverse activities and programs, fostering a sense of belonging and support within the school community. BMS retained all transitioning students from local elementary schools and attracted 60 new students from other districts, drawn by the school’s positive reputation. Student performance on state tests improved notably, reaching record-high scores. A seamless leadership transition ensured continuity in the school’s improvement efforts, with outgoing Principal Casey Rangel and incoming Principal Diriki Jordan collaborating to maintain the school’s vision and culture. These solutions propelled BMS to become a distinguished institution, revered by students and parents alike for its academic excellence and growth.

Results

Attendance
Daily attendance rates increased to 96%

Student Retention
Pre-Strategic Plan: 20% attrition from elementary to middle
After Strategic Plan: 100% retention & gain of 60 new students

State Testing Improvements 2022-2023
Highest scores ever for BMS
• ELA 40.69% met or exceeded standard
• Math 27.05% above standard

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