COMMENTARY: New Partnership Network aims to boost student achievement at local campuses

In the 15th century, the Medici family began inviting the greatest minds of the time to Florence. Their goal was to provide an opportunity for leaders from the fields of art, architecture, literature, poetry, philosophy and science to come together to create something truly great.

The result was the Renaissance — considered by many historians to be the most innovative time in human history. The conditions that brought about the Renaissance were so remarkable they have earned their own moniker, “The Medici Effect.”

It is time for Nevada’s education system to have its own “Medici Moment.”

This is why the Nevada Department of Education and the Clark County School District teamed up to create the Las Vegas Partnership Network. Within the network, great school leaders and educators are paired with national nonprofit leaders specializing in school leadership and data-informed instructional delivery.

“As school leaders understand the needs at their schools, the Partnership Network provides opportunities for leadership to collaborate with professional organizations that focus on academic excellence for our students,” said Mike Barton, the Clark County School District’s chief academic officer.

For example, New Leaders worked closely with Memphis iZone schools, traditionally among the lowest-performing schools in Tennessee. Half of those schools were helmed by New Leader principals, and they outperformed other iZone schools in every subject. NYC Leadership Academy has provided leadership coaching to more than 1,900 principals in New York City. The results were principals staying in their schools significantly longer than the national average, reduced suspensions and increases in student attendance, engagement and achievement.

The Academy of Urban School Leadership has dramatically transformed 20 of Chicago’s lowest-performing neighborhood public schools from the lowest to high-performing. Partners in School Innovation (PSI) has worked with schools from Mississippi, Pennsylvania and California. Within three years of partnering with PSI, 17 of 22 schools cleared school improvement status.

The Partnership Network also provides schools with funds to provide before- and after-school opportunities for students overseen by high-quality nonprofits such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, After School All Stars and Communities in Schools. Participation in a high-quality before- or after-school program has been shown to increase academic performance and communication and collaboration skills while decreasing absences and disciplinary incidents for participating students.

All of these experts plus leaders from the Clark County School District and the Nevada Department of Education come together on a regular basis to collectively problem solve and share best practices.

“The Partnership Network is a powerful synergy of successful leaders from schools, district, state and national partners with the goal of infusing intellectual capital into our education system,” said Antonio Rael, an associate superintendent at the district who oversees eight schools in the network.

Each of the schools in the Partnership Network shares a few common attributes. First, each school was eligible for state and federal school improvement funding that allowed it to buy into the network. Second, each school has strong leadership in place with a mindset that would add value to the conversations happening in the network.

“In an effort to fully realize the potential and meet the various needs of our students and school staff, we leverage all available resources in the most innovative and dynamic method possible; which is why I wholeheartedly support the power and effectiveness of the data-focused and behavior-based approach of the Partnership Network,” said Alaina Criner, principal of Matt Kelly Elementary. “Having the ability to collaborate within the entire network and communicate with your designated cohort is so beneficial.”

All participants in the Partnership Network believe students are capable of academic achievement on par with or exceeding students in any other state. Through the Partnership Network, we aim to prove that at scale across 30 schools.

Nevada’s “Medici Moment” has arrived.

Brett Barley is Nevada’s deputy superintendent for student achievement.

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