Its methods: “We restart, reshape, and remake a school by bringing in the ingredients that weren’t there before to provide an opportunity for children to reach their highest potential,” says Executive Director Donald Feinstein, PhD. The organization restarts low-performing schools by hiring a new staff of strong leaders and skilled teachers. It then works to create a positive culture and climate, improve the curriculum and assessment programs, include new enrichment and after-school programs, and establish stronger and more positive relationships within the school and with the community and parents alike.
Because AUSL recognizes that teachers are the crucial levers for student achievement for children in poverty, it has created a teacher residency program to train aspiring instructors to be effective in schools that need to be fixed. During the yearlong program, teachers work four days in a classroom and take classes for their master’s degree on the fifth day. In the past five years, 80 percent of the teachers who have graduated from the program have remained in public school classrooms.
The teachers who reshape AUSL-managed schools understand that the poverty their students face requires schools that act against adversity. “The adults in the building have high expectations and will deliver quality instruction regardless of the challenges we face,” says Feinstein. As such, AUSL schools have curriculums that accelerate learning for those who enter well below grade level. They look to educate the whole child by providing social and emotional support for children and their families and will intervene when they see children who are disengaged. “We make sure that our schools are very orderly and welcoming, our routines are predictable, and our teachers are resilient and reflexive problem solvers,” says Feinstein. “We have a no-excuses mindset.”
Its impact: Between 2014 and 2015, the percentage of AUSL turnaround schools that were rated in good standing by Chicago Public Schools increased by almost 10 percentage points, and the number of schools receiving at least a level one rating more than doubled.
Student attendance rose in every school and outpaced district averages. “We assess each student according to his or her own growth target. This year, more of our students are enrolling in college and more are getting scholarship money,” says Feinstein. “I’m also proud that over the last two years we’ve trained more than 170 men and women who are in our schools, who are providing quality instruction, and who have passion about equity and equal educational opportunity for all of our students.”
How the Satter Foundation has helped: “Muneer is unequivocally focused on fairness and leveling the playing field for all children,” says Feinstein. “In fact, he was the genesis and the visionary for our advisory services, which help us share our knowledge with those trying to improve low-performing schools across the country.” The Satter Foundation funding has been crucial to launching and growing this program. AUSL has since partnered with school districts from Washington, DC, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Des Moines, and more to train them on how to turn around impoverished schools. “It’s been unbelievable how you can actually replicate what you do on the ground and have greater impact without having to go anywhere,” Feinstein says. “It’s broadened our horizons, and we would never have been able to do it without Muneer and the Satter Foundation.”
What’s next for AUSL: The organization is looking to include more school districts in its advisory services, increase the number of teachers it can train through its residency program, and transform even more Chicago schools.