02/21/2012 05:26 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2012

A Guide to the School Reform Process

Many school districts across the U.S. could benefit from genuine school reform, but they may lack the resources and/or expertise to carry it out. The purpose of this article is to guide school districts through the reform process, step by step. As a disclaimer, since every school district or educational organization is different, this guide may need to be amended in order to meet your district's individual needs. Without further ado, let's begin.

First, when attempting school reform, district leaders must first assemble a district restructuring team. Groups no larger than seven usually work best, and the team can be made up of a variety of district personnel and staff. Restructuring teams normally consist of a school board member, the superintendent and assistant superintendents, principals, teachers, and other pertinent individuals.

Once the team is created, efforts must be made to assess the district's capacity for implementing and sustaining school reform. The team must ask itself whether the district has all of the resources needed to implement and sustain a successful school reform campaign. In extreme cases, when the district believes it is unable to coordinate its own reform effort, the team might want to consider contracting an educational consulting firm. There are many well-qualified firms that will be able to either work in conjunction with a restructuring team or oversee the process themselves. It is important to note, however, that this can turn into an enormous job with an enormous price tag.

The restructuring team must be committed to finding and implementing innovative strategies that have the potential to effectively produce educational change. However, assembling a top-notch team is simply not enough. All of the major administrators, including the superintendent and school board, must fully support the decisions of the district restructuring team.

Remember that parents, community leaders, and policymakers must be included in the school reform process. Many parents are involved in their children's education and simply want to be informed of any changes. The restructuring team will need to decide if parents and community leaders should be included as formal members of the group, or to simply elicit their advice and expertise as needed. When making decisions concerning what individuals will populate the team, remember to include members that have the expertise to be taken seriously within the district.

Involving parents and community members in the restructuring process might provide the restructuring team with a way to engage other members of the community, such as grassroots organizations, local business leaders, and area politicians. Community members can also assist the school in choosing the correct restructuring plan. It is vital for the restructuring team to understand the culture of the community, its needs and wants, and the life skills young people need to fit in and survive in the community.

The task of choosing the leader and deciding on the roles of each restructuring team member should not be taken lightly. In many instances, the leader of the restructuring team will be the superintendent or someone he or she appoints. The leader does not necessarily need to be the superintendent, but if they are not, they must have the superintendent's support. The leader must assume the responsibility of being held accountable for ensuring the success of the entire team as it moves to implement and sustain school reform. The leader's roles might include, but are not restricted to, determining the areas of expertise the team members bring to the table and how he or she can utilize their expertise.

The leader will need to establish a standing meeting time and develop an agenda to utilize their time to the fullest extent possible. The leader must decide if the team should have mandatory or optional meetings. If the meetings are optional, how information is disseminated to members who do not attend meetings will need to be decided by the leader.

Prepared agendas are essential for smooth meetings and excellent communication among the team. Preparing agendas are the team leader's responsibilities. The leader of the restructuring team must remain patient, but a sense of urgency must be the catalyst of all meetings. Since the team will be made up primarily of school district personnel and various other community members and parents, having an outsider on the team will give it valuable expertise, in addition to an objective lens with which to gauge progress.

It will be helpful to determine what viable options of reform the team is able to utilize. A district-wide plan must be developed, while bearing in mind that each school will need to modify the plan based on the needs of its students. Once the system of reform is created and approved by all team members, the plan will need to be approved by the superintendent before it is presented to the school board. The same rules apply whether reform is needed by one school or by all the schools in the district.

A concern, alluded to in above comments, is the need to assess the district's capacity for implementing and sustaining educational reform. To appropriately assess the abilities of the district or school, the leader will need to complete an inventory of the qualifications and areas of expertise the team members have. If the inventory concludes that the district or school does not have the capacity to implement or sustain the plan for reform, state takeover or hiring outside education consultants may be the only options.

Another concern might be that the team members do not understand the dedication and the length of time it will take to carry out the reform. Before the team starts to implement the necessary changes, the leader will need to stress to all team members the enormity of the task, the number of hours the members will need to dedicate to the project, and what is truly at stake.

Once the team's reform plan has been approved, it is time to implement the plan. The restructuring team will discuss possible impediments to the approved plan and ensure that it has a contingency plan to deal with these issues as they arise. Next, they will implement their target goals and timelines.

The leader should then appoint a task force to be responsible for continuously collecting, analyzing, and interpreting any data. The leader will then use this information to continuously revise and refine the team's restructuring efforts, as well as report their findings/data to the superintendent and/or the school board. If your district follows the blueprint that have outlined in my article, I think that you will begin to see positive results in no time.