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SIG: A Vehicle to Realize the Vision of School Improvement (6/21/15)

One of the most hotly debated elements of current school reform efforts driven from the federal level is the School Improvement Grant (SIG) initiative. SIG provides millions of dollars to states to help turnaround persistently underperforming or failing schools. States then provide funding, after application of course, to individual schools in local school districts. The funding that the states provide to SIG schools totals in the millions of dollars and it typically provides sustained support anywhere from one to five years in length.

The controversy surrounding SIG is that many of its opponents see it as throwing money at an old problem that can’t be fixed. Supporters of the program though, know the difference that a SIG grant well used can make. Indeed, money matters in schools. The key is having people in place who know how to use the money to improve student achievement and establish a sustainable cultural change in schools that will maintain success long after SIG funding has ended.

A 6/9/15 Education Week article by Alyson Klein titled SIG Money Gives Principals Tools for Turnaround highlights the success of a North Carolina elementary school in implementing a SIG grant to change school culture and improve student achievement. In the highlighted school, the principal, who had previous experience turning around under performing schools, used the grant to impact five areas of practice which resulted in an improved climate and improved student achievement. The five areas, which I believe are transferable, are: modified calendar, modified schedule, innovative programming, incentives, and a focus on results.

Regarding the modified calendar, SIG provides the resources to extend learning for students and this can be done in a multitude of ways. When implementing a grant, leaders need to look for ways to address the school calendar to benefit students. SIG also provides the ability to address the school schedule; this too can be done in a multitude of ways. Also, with the resources to do just about anything you can think of, school leaders must look at ways to address the school schedule, including course offerings and student groupings, to improve student achievement.

SIG also provides the ability to implement innovative programs in schools to serve students, programs that you would not otherwise be able to support. Here again educators must find innovative ways to leverage the funds to promote student achievement. Further, incentives are another area where SIG can provide assistance. The key in realizing the full benefit of incentives is to structure them in a way that they endure throughout the life of the grant and create the possibility for you to retain the most effective staff members who were recruited at least one year beyond the conclusion of SIG, which can be done. Finally, the implementation of the grant must be closely monitored and executed in an environment of high expectations.

To close, our nation’s toughest schools face enormous challenges in regard to culture and student achievement. SIG provides the resources to overcome many of these obstacles. The key is that the grant has to be executed properly by personnel who know how to turnaround schools and how to use the funding to best serve students. It is imperative that our nation’s educators meet this challenge as we seek ways to make school work for all students.

Shawn McCollough
President & CEO