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Building a Dynasty: Running the Route to Success

Donna Warthan, March 2024

The problem: ISBE has been conducting an evaluation of the statewide system of support for CSI and TSI schools and identified inconsistencies within the state educational agency. Why it happens: Many state agencies fail to develop a structure and clarity of roles within their statewide system of support; thus, posing challenges in forming a cohesive strategy for coordinating and delivering vital resources, frequently resulting in access being contingent on personal connections rather than equitable distribution. How to fix it: R9CC and ISBE used the CoP process to support coordinators by providing evidence-based training and tools that align with the Illinois Strategic Plan. Additionally, R9CC and ISBE leads identified and co-developed documents to increase consistency in coordinators’ support to schools and make school improvement tools easier for schools and districts to access.

Successful professional sports franchises can show you the ways to gain and maintain a competitive advantage.

The 1992 Green Bay Packers were a failed organization. The Packers in the 1960s had built a sustained competitive advantage under Vince Lombardi, but in the 24 years after his retirement, the team had only five winning seasons. The Packers decided it was time to rebuild their dynasty. Their methodology was simple– identify critical success factors of sports dynasties, then build a plan to close performance gaps on each. The team interviewed the best minds in sports to discover how professional sports dynasties operated. They discovered that dynasties

  • execute a distinctive system for winning.
  • exhibit strong, consistent leadership.
  • create a positive working environment.

Execute a Distinctive System for Winning

Successful franchises have a clearly developed strategy and operating system for winning.

Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC) collaborated with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to support the implementation of their statewide system of support. This statewide system of support focuses resources on the schools and districts with the greatest need in order to build the capacity of school leaders to implement effective school improvement practices. The goal is to enable schools in improvement status to improve student outcomes and exit status.

It was through the development of the statewide system of support, that ISBE school/district improvement directors recognized the need to create a distinct culture of school and district improvement across the state. Early conversations between R9CC and ISBE found that coordinators’ support to schools was not consistently implemented. Thus, R9CC and ISBE leads identified key documents needed to increase consistency in coordinators’ services to schools and make school improvement tools easier for schools and districts to access. R9CC provided thought partnership, research, and writing support to develop key resources:

There is no one best culture. What matters is clarity and strict adherence.

Exhibit Strong, Consistent Leadership

NFL dynasties rely on coaches and “player-leaders” who work effectively together. The power of consistency is integral to achieving success and meeting your goals. The ISBE director and coordinators understand and demonstrate this daily. Their team is dedicated to providing high-quality support to designated schools in a consistent way. 

R9CC has helped ISBE more consistently engage coordinators, the player-leaders whose expertise helps shape education in Illinois. After feedback from Year 1 indicated that some coordinators felt underused in the process of updating the program, R9CC staff adjusted plans and content to tap coordinators’ expertise and meet their individual professional development needs. Interactions included the implementation of communities of practice (CoPs) for identified problems of practice and technology support sessions for identified needs. This combination of voice with support contributed to coordinators’ increasing success in monitoring and coaching schools. By 2022, coordinators expressed excitement about the team’s direction, noting that R9CC and ISBE have “systematized” their approach and that “R9CC has helped to better organize our approach to schools.” 

Dynasties systematically build capabilities.

Create a Positive Working Environment

Head coaches of top teams build working environments of teamwork and respect. 

ISBE team leaders created an environment that builds trust, encourages problem solving, and promotes growth and learning. ISBE and R9CC relied on these traits while identifying and addressing education needs at an Equity Community of Practice facilitated by the National Comprehensive Center during the 2022-23 school year. During this work, R9CC and the ISBE team discovered a high-leverage need– a multi-tier approach to providing the lowest performing schools with equitable supports that align to the ISBE equity impact analysis toolkit. 

This realization led R9CC and ISBE to develop the Stable Internal System Rubric, which will assist ISBE in reviewing the needs of schools and districts and ensure that the schools have equitable and adequate support from school improvement coordinators. ISBE can use this living document each year to memorialize work in school improvement. It allows the team to customize support to schools in implementing and sustaining school improvement efforts based on the Illinois Continuous Improvement Model. 

Moving forward

It was through collaboration and coordination among the R9CC team, ISBE, and the School and District Improvement Department that the statewide system of support was developed and implemented to support Illinois schools in status. In addition, coordinators have access to tools and processes to provide high-quality support to identified schools in a consistent way. 

Although most of us will never be a part of a sports dynasty, our team journey can still follow the same path. We can learn a lot about how professional sports dynasties and the ISBE team operate– execute a distinctive system for winning; exhibit strong, consistent leadership; and create a positive working environment. After all, by strengthening implementation and monitoring of the program and increasing capacities among coordinators to guide schools toward resources that will result in better outcomes for students, the work of the dynasty will only get stronger.

Donna Warthan, EdD, is a senior technical assistance consultant at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and serves as a project lead with the Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC), supporting the Illinois Empower Project. Dr. Warthan has served as a project lead, coach, and trainer for several successful leadership coaching and instructional improvement projects in school divisions across the country. These projects leverage data-driven instructional coaching, utilizing data to close achievement gaps, and innovative approaches to professional learning and growth to support diverse learning needs.