5 Essential Conditions for a Successful High-Poverty Urban High School

By Dr. Stephanie Wood-Garnett

ISA President


Before ISA and a district or school enter into partnership, there are some essential conversations that must take place and some essential conditions that all parties must agree are necessary to achieve sustainable, transformative results.  These essential conditions are described below.

Engagement of key stakeholders. A meaningful, honest dialogue with key stakeholders—school leaders, teachers, students, parents, and community members—is needed to build ownership and commitment to the school or district goals and fully include families as partners in supporting their children’s academic achievement.

Commitment to bold, comprehensive, systemic change. The focus is on schools becoming high-performing learning environments for all students, capable of creating sustainable, transformative change, not making them a little less low performing by focusing on incremental improvements.

Unrelenting dedication to preparing all students for success in college and careers. There is a commitment to implementing school-wide a rigorous college preparatory curriculum based on inquiry-based methods and practices that promote critical thinking and application of knowledge across content areas.  This includes an infusion of safety nets and the development of non-cognitive skills that support every student’s chance of achieving academic success.

Investment in human capital. There must be a willingness to build the capacity of leaders and teachers at every level in the system to reach academic and non-academic goals.  This includes high-quality, embedded professional learning and individual and team coaching.

District adherence to “top down support for bottom up change.” Schools must distribute resources and align policies, procedures and processes so that they support school leaders and staff in effectively implementing the practices and structures necessary for creating high performing high schools.  These new policies promote distributed leadership and an increased sense of accountability and collective responsibility for student outcomes.