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TNLI: Action Research: Teacher Leadership in School Change: The Power of Influence: Teachers and Decision Makers Influence Each Other in Educational Policymaking

by Lambros Alex Pappas
James Michael Curley Elementary School
Boston, Massachusetts

AUGUST, 1997

Position of Paper
Background to Case Study
The Case Study
The Early Learning Literacy Initiative (ELLI) Reading Program
The Boston Plan for Excellence 21st Century Initiative
The Executive Service Corporation (ESC)
Boston Partners in Education (BPE)
The Boston Private Industry Council (PIC)
Community Outread Programs

Isolation has become a serious problem in education. Teachers feel alone when they are entrusted with thirty years of accumulated mandates: national level reading standards, comparative mathematics and science statistics with other countries; pertinent to this paper, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Core Curriculum mandated by the Education Reform Act of l993; close to Boston, Massachusetts, The City of Boston's Citywide Learning Standards to be completely implemented by the year 2000. Professional workshops and courses for recertification, special education rules and regulations, bilingual mandates, and the new demands for each school to restructure its curriculum and educational plan frustrate teachers when policies do not meet the needs of the school; and, let us not forget the lack of funding for many of these mandates.

Out of necessity and survivial, a teacher's professional development must include: the identification of key players outside the school system who make things happen by understanding how policy is made, who makes it, on what level, and its affect . Then, the teachers can become part of the decision making process.

Policy makers may be members of government agencies (national, state and local); private industry providers of expertise and financial support; or, private citizens who have a powerful influence in the community; or, members of the media. Each in its own way contributes and expands the structure of the school and its curriculum.

Conversely, its is important for dcision makers in busisness, industry and universities:

  • to know the "the school day"
  • to share their expertise and resources, enhancing teaching and curriculum
  • to understand the school community and its structure connecting community reality and community services with a school's educational goals
Focusing on policy makers adds a new dimension to a teacher's professionalism -- a community service teacher also becomes a community service learner. How can a teacher become part of this process and make effective changes in how schools are perceived by the community; and, in turn, how to impact on the community. The problem is compounded because on each level, community agencies (health centers, police and fire departments, shelters, parks and recreational services, have their own policies and decision making processes.

Business, industries and agencies also have their own isolation created by their structure and policies. Thus, both groups, inside and outside of schools, have not gone out to really "see" what is happening to each other. Alsp, members of businesses and industry become aliented when their resources are misunderstood because the language is not understood.

Teachers ust step out of their classroom roles as reactors to policy maker's mandates and become part of the decision making process; key players in policy making must step into the classroom and become active participants in a collaborative dialogue to bridge the gap between a teacher's isolation and a decision maker's isolation in formulating policy that affects both players.

This collboration is based on assumptions made by experts who advocate the use of teams:

  • " Those closest to the work know how to perform and improve their job.
  • Most employees want to feel that they "own" their jobs and are making meaningful contributions to the effectiveness of their organization.
  • Teams provide possibilities for empowerment not available to individual employees." (Wellins, Byham and Wilson. EMPOWERED TEAMS. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, l991.)
Through this collaboration and building teams, a greater good is realized: the school is restructured to meet the demands of the community, the decision makers create reality policies; and, the community and teachers become true partners in the decision making process.


Policymaking that impacts on teachers may originate at levels far removed from the actual class; it structures teaching strategies, course content, edujcational philosophy and generates whoe school change; creating in turn, more decision making mandates and more policies. For this study, policy is defined as an adopted plan or course of action designed to influence and determine decision and actions.

Policies are made:

  • By targeting a common need (raise national standards of public education). For example: the number-one principle set forth by President Bush and forty-nine govrnors at the education summit in l989 and confirmed by Congress in l993, that all first graders should enter school "ready" to learn. As part of his America 2000 education reform it impled creating and funding massive pre-school programs.
  • By writing into law public policies (The Education Reform Act of l993) for the This Act calling for higher standards, benchmarks of achievement, curriculum overhaul and time frames, empowered the State Department of Education to hold a series of forums throughout the Commonwealth open to parents, community and business leaders, students and teachers; they sent out thousands of questionnaires resulting in state curriculum standards, school governance and modeling student behavior.
  • By delegating authority to local school systems to carry out state mandates Boston Citywide Learning Standards and Curriculum Frameworks). The Boston School Committee, after much dialoguye and consensus, approved in June of l996 the Boston Public Schools Standards and Curriculum Frameworks in Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and and the Social Sciences. By 2001, students must perform up to these standards as a requirement for graduation. Additionally, the same process will be used to develop standards in World Languages, Health, Physical Education and the Arts (once the State has mandated its policies in these curriculum areas), Boston, however, has approved of an arts curriculum for implementation in the fall of l997. These Standards and Curriculum Frameworks are works in progress to be field tested, evaluated by teachers and changed over the course of the next five years.



This case study profiles and chronicles the restructuring of an elementary school in Boston, Massachusetts. Employing action research, it is an anecdotal presentation in which:

  • Teachers were surveyed for perceptions of the policymaking process.
  • Key decision makers, pivotal to the school's whole school change, were identified and interviewed; and,
  • A collaborative dialogue has begun for change; to build bridges between teachers, administrators and decision makers. As a member of the School Site Council, the Instructional Leadership and seven committees, I was able to collect data to document this case study.
The James Michael Curley Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts is a case study of whole school change influenced by policies made outside the actual school structure resulting in creating policies for change. It is a school of twenty-five staff members, a principal and 350 students; situated in Jamaica Plain, a stable, multi-lingual, multi cultural, multi-generational neighborhood with many lifestyles. The James Michael Curley school was built twenty-five years ago as a modified Summerfield experimental model of open classrooms. This model has been reinterpreted as changes in leadership, staff and educational philosophies occured; it had become a school with solid traditironal standards and curriculum, consantly reexamining itself, incorporating support services and parental involvement to make it into a solid educational institution.

In the last four years, the most dramatic changes began to happen; a new principal who saw the need for change was appointed to the school; a strong parental group spearheaded the adoption of policies adding the parental voice in decision making; a School Site Council of teachers, parents and administrator; and a growing teacher's voice in governance.

The school began to focus on its purpose. Teachers and parents together created the vision and the school's misision and vision which have become the policy of the James Michael Curley Elementary School -- to create a child-centered environment with every possible available resources to develop the full potential of each child as an individual to become a responsible adult.

Two teachers attended a summer informational workshop at Lesley Collge in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the Early Learning Literacy Initiative (ELLI), first developed at Ohio State University. The implications to put into practice such a program was enormous and staggering. It meant total commitment and changes from principal, staff and changes in space allocation. Two teachers brought their enthusiasm and commitment to the administrator and faculty; and with a sense of anticipation, adventure, trepidation, and anxiety, the faculty accepted the responsibility of a long term process involving comprehensive school change. In the ELLI framework, children are read to, there is shared and guided reading, individual reading, interactive writing, modeled writing, and indipendent writing; the students goes from high support to low support and independent work.

The policies of the ELLI Program and explicit:

  • You enter into a long term relationship with Lesley Collge as implementor of the research-based ELLI program.
  • You form a leadership team to support and monitor the program.
  • You appoint a Literacy Coordinator who receives special instruction.
  • You make provisions for continued staff development and follow-up support.
  • You have adequate supplies.
  • You provide for a home reading program with parent outreach.
  • You collect data which is analyzed by Ohio State University to assess the effectiveness of the program in the school.
The only statistics available (this program has been in the school only one year and was field tessted in one second grade) shows that out of the twenty-six students in the classroom all but two read on grade level or beyond. One kindergarten teacher, with some training, has demonstrated that all of her students are entering the first grade reading on grade level and beyond.

Because this ELLI program is in its rsearch state and showing grade results, teacher imput is vital to constantly re-examining existing policies. By the third year, the entire Literacy Initiative model will be implemented in the school and documented.

A privately funded organization which changed its policy in December, l995 and voted to consolidate small granats into larger 21st C. School Grants -- fewer schools, larger grants and over a longer priod of time. This grant, to begin the process of whole school change, "was developed from research ab out how school change happens and is based on key assumptions:

  • Change must center on curriculum and instruction. School change must explicity aim to improve student performance.
  • Change efforts must assess student learning with measurements that inform instruction.
  • Change must be based on existing practices and research which have demonstrated improved achievement.
  • Change efforts must involve every member of the school community, including students and parents. Team-and consensus-building are crucial.
  • Change must be accompanied by new roles for teachers.
  • Change requires principals skilled in insstruction and in school managemnt.
  • Change will require a new organization of existing resources.
  • Change efforts must abe ongoing and must be continuously measured and adjusted to reflect lessons learned." (Focus: Mid-year Review, "21st C. Schools, Boston Plan for Excellence," February, l997)

The James Michael Curley School based its 21st C. grant on the ELLI program making early literacy as the school's focus -- to have all students read on grade level by the third grade. This focus has become the school's policy. The school is now entering its secon d year of school change. A needs assessment framework was created and a framework for change was established:

  • The 21st C. Coordinator began intensive training and held informational staff meetings.
  • The second grade teacher trained as an on site ELLI leader.
  • An instructional Leadership Team was formed, meeting once a week.
  • A coach was engaged to implement the Ruth Mitchel model of looking at students' work; leading to student self assessment and independent work.
  • Initial professional development of staff to be intensified this coming year.
  • Grade level teams were organized to focus on grade level implementation of
  • ELLI usage in the classroom and how it meshes with the New Standards.
  • An organization plan of the school was developed.
  • All programs and grants were examined and ranked supporting the focus. All subject areas will incorporate literacy; all students will assess themselves.
To understand the depth of these changs, a teacher's professional development includes readings and research teaching strategies and changes that affect the classroom curriculum and management. Three studies were vital to whole school change; each emphasizing a different aspect of change:
  • The Texas Study which shows that the most critical factor in the presence of a clear school wide instructional focus.
  • The RAND Study stating that schools must be focused with clear, uncomplicated instructional missions centered on standards.
  • The Elmore Burney Study of New York's District 2 placing professional development at the core of change.
The 21st C. School grant is newly formed, and as it is being implemnted, its policies will take on new dimensions and directions. Decision making is exercised in the Instructional Team meetings led by the Coach. These decisions are brought back to the grant providers who examine the implications for the entire 21st C. grant program.

Thus, in examining the role of teachers as decision makers with key people outside the school structure, it was found that teachers influence policy by "testing" these policies in the classroom. This was the missinbg link in tachers connecting with decision makers. By reporting back to the decision makers, the teacher becomes part of the decision making process. It becomes apparent that a teacher may not influece or be part of the original policy; but a teacher can influence those who influence the policy makers.

To make whole school change, the following perceptions and directions need to change:

  • Teachers still feel aliented from the decision making process. In BUILDING TEAMS TO REBUILD SCHOOLS, Gene Maeroff (Phi Delta Kappan, March, l993), says: "Teachers need to be prodded if they are to take the risks inherent in restructuring, and they need to be bolstered in the uncertain pursuit of change." And later, "At a time when schools are replete with talk of cooperative learning, there is no concomitant move to encourage collaboration among professionals."
  • Non-academic leaders still maintain the perception of a top to bottom hierarchical organization in a school (a carry-over from l9th C. industrial models). Business leaders talk to other leaders and leadership means control. I found this perception to be pervasive when talking to decision makers. (I cannot quantify this perception but its thread ran through conversations I had with business and community leaders.)
The James Michael Curley School, as you can see in the attached chart, has developed a triadnal governance plan to be tested with coming year. Administration is represented by the principle; decision making is under the School Site Council; and the Curriculum Standards are implemented by the Instructional Leadership Team. These three organizational foci are interdependent of one another.

It was also found that many agencies and businesses want to participate in school change but find themselves uncomfortable with school language and a scant knowledge how a school works. Learning business language is essential is communicating with non-academic leaders.

In analyzing the James Michael Curley whole school change, it became apparent that a school with a focused policy ( in this case early literacy) will guided to select those programs that will determine future decisions in shaping existing policies.

With my focus on the ELLI reading program and the 21st C. School grant, I limited my interviews to those players represented organizations outside the school structure that: will play a role in shaping the school's structure; address the early learning literacy initiative policy; and provide a connection with the community: The Executive Service Corporation, ReadBoston Reading Partners, Boston Partners in Education and the Private Industry Council.

Unlike SCORE (which advises "for profit"), ESP is a non-profit corporation, with thirty offices throughout the country, providing professional consulting services of volunteer retired executives and professionals to non-profit organizations (such as schools) to operate more efficiently. Through leadership seminars and one-on-one mentoring programs, Boston Public School principals can tap into successful business practices to become more effective leaders (in problem solving, planning assistance, readings, time and personnel management). "These retired executives know how to get things done". The principal of the James Michael Curley School is a participant of this group.

Mr. Tom Bushman, Executive Director, is a member of the JMC School Site Council offering his expertise in decision making, especially in creating policies. "You cannot manage if you cannot measure".

Over 60% of the 40 principals in this program indicated that they were helped in their ability to lead in their schools and to communicate with their staff. 100% stated that they had grown professionally in communicating with their staff. The pivotal work is "communicating". This will be an area to document any changes at this school.

Obviously, the policy of the ESC is to develop principals as leaders in decision making, a role that is as new to them as decision making is to teachers. With the new accountability of a principal's performance how to make policy is crucial. As administrators they can influence policy; the next step is to involve the teachers in this decision making and raise the 60% success to l00%. Given the existing hierarchical organizational plan entrenched in schools, it is difficult for administrators to look at teachers as co-decision makers. This change is necessary at the James Michael Curley School where whole school change is being taken seriously.

Generally, in my discussions with Mr. Bushman, he commented that there are many retired business executives who wish to be involved, but do not know how to do it. This is a community resource that needs to be explored and tapped into as another community connection.

ReadBoston is a literacy program, supported by Mayor Thomas Menino and Superintendent Thomas Payzant, whose goal -- to get ALL students to read on grade level by the year 2005. The Nation's Reading Report Card showed that in l994, 41% fourth graders, 31% eighth graders and 25% high school seniors were reading below grade level. To implement ReadBoston, public and private leaders, businesses and universities would be expected to supply schools with tutors and books, volunteers, and bolstered by community literacy classes. As a facilitating agency, ReadBoston, Margaret Wiilliams as director, will create a "latter of lieracy" which includes parents, early childhood centers and schools. The James Michael Curley School is makaing ReadBoston part of its literacy initiative policy -- that all students will read on grade level by the third grade.

ReadBoston is based on the research for the Success-For-All model developed in l9987-l988 by the joint efforts of Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore School Department under the principal founder, Robert Slavin. Research done by this group shows that children who are not reading at grade level by the third grade are more likely to fail. Many strategies are used by parents, teachers, community leaders and administrators in improve a child's reading capacity. As adapted by ReadBoston, Success-For-All's tightly focused goal meshes with the ELLI reading program and is included in the school's Comprehensive School Plan -- that every year a significant percentage of students will read on grade level until ALL children become grade level readers. Documentation will begin this coming fall and an analysis of the finding will be on-going thus influencing the school's reading policy. (See Robert Slavin et al in the bibliography for referen ce to research analysis on this reading program).

Stevenson and Stigler, in their book The Learning Gap, show that even a student who does not read on grade level by the first grade may be heading for failure because reading is a cumulative activity; the further back one lags, the less confident one becomes.

Formed in l966, BPE is an independent non-profit organization which involves community resources; especially volunteers in the Boston Public Schools. The agency's policy: "to improve the academic achievement and social development of public school children through a volunteer program, school/business partnerships, parent workshops. individuals , and some government sources. Individual teachers or a school can requests volunteers for specific projects.

The policy of the BPE is to provide training and technical assistance to schools and community agencies whenever the need arises. The ReadBoston coordinators will be trained by the Boston Partners in Education. Being a new program, the coordinator of ReadBoston at the JMC will have an opportunity to influence those who influence the decision makers. The literacy policy of reading on grade level gives us an insight into the networking complexities of policymaking. The School Board and Superintendent are the only true policymakers of the Boston Public Schools. They created this literacy policy; involved the Mayor as part of this policy (Mayor Menino has committed himself to education and has taken a decision making role in the policies of the School Board) who created the ReadBoston facilitating agency which will use the technical assistance of the Boston Partners in Education to train the coordinators of ReadBoston who then will implement it at the classroom level. At each level policies were created to implement the original policy of literacy. There are the three "P's" to success: Policy, Politics and Purse. Although the teacher's voice may not have been included in the original policy, it is the teacher's responsibility to "field test" this policy and give feedback to the policymaker; they can then examine their original policy.

Betsy Nelson, director of BPE, and Linda McGregor, Program Director, commented that, by understanding the school community, but not encumbered by school policy, they can listen, articulate the need, and develop a plan of assistance. This is an important point; it indicates that if an outside agency wishes to share its expertise and resources with a school and does not understand the school community, a relationship is established where teachers help that agency develop a policy that is mutually beneficial.


PIC is a consortium of business leaders, under the chair of Neil Sullivan, who have put together a powerful school/business partnership program to help schools financially or offer in-kind assistance. The PIC coordinator matches the needs of a school with the services offered by businesses, corporations, banks, utilities and universities. Their policy is to establish a working relationship of school and business that will be mutually beneficial.

The James Michael Curley school is partners with the Boston Beer Company located in Jamaica Plain, not far from the school. They have been generous with financial aid, but have not been actively involved with school programs and sharing their business skills. It is perceived that is a school language barrier in communication. To be effective as a partner there has to be an active collaboration as state in the position of this paper. This may be an area where the Executive Service Corporation may assist the school in developing this partner.

At this point, let me present a model of partnership of active participation. The Berkshire Group partnered with the Eliot School in the North End of Boston, organized a school board within their company with a cadre of employees who worked with the teachers and the principal to write a needs assessment document establishing a policy to become actively involved in the school. Each program and committee (add books to the library, build a new computer room, design a new school yard, sponsor, school field trips and form a mentoring program) would be co-chaired by a teacher and a member of the Berkshire Group. These two co-chairpersons would form a committee of teachers and personnel from the business partner's organization and report to the President's executive secretary who in turn co-chaired the administrative duties with the principal. The president became an active member of the school site council and thirty mentors for fifth grade students were released from work to read, "do math" or become a big brother or sister. A contract was signed by both groups detailing the conditions of the relationship that cold be terminated at any time by either side.

Policies established by both sides became a workable reality. Early on, however, it became apparent that the school need organizational restructuring and the faculty and principal could not see beyond their traditional roles; they did not use the managerial skills offered by the Berkshire Group to restructure the school.

As part of the JMC's reorganization, two programs independently funded, have had a huge impact on the quality of teaching and learning in our case study school.

The AARTSTEAM, organized by parents, chaired by Amy Poliakoff (parent), and funded through grants and private donations, has been expanded to include teachers. First organized to provide musical experience for the students, it has now developed a policy to research, select and provide the best possible cultural experiences in music, theatre, art, poetry, and dance.


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