GCS Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras announced her comprehensive entry plan upon her arrival to the district in the summer of 2016.
Children and young people thrive in our public schools when they know they are valued, loved and supported, and when they are challenged to excel in academics, character, service, and all aspects of their lives. Balancing the need for care and concern with the kind of academic challenges that truly inspire students to achieve more than they dreamed possible represents an art and a science. It's a balancing act that educators know well, and it's difficult professional work that requires an "all in" commitment. Creating classrooms and schools where all students prosper also requires that each of us, as the adults in the district and in the community, retain a laser-like focus on meeting the physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs of children. In my more than 25 years of educational leadership, I have found that while this is easy to say, it is demanding and challenging to do on a consistent basis.
Guilford County Schools (GCS) understands this, as evidenced by its nationally recognized accomplishments in many areas, including high school graduation rates, extensive Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate course offerings and programs, and its deeply rooted commitment to the arts, career and technical education, character development and service learning.
GCS knows that one size does not fit all in real life or in public schools, and I'm proud and honored to lead a district that recognizes the power and potential of personalizing learning for more and more students. Yet, even strong and well-managed organizations can improve, and GCS is no exception. We have schools that rank among the best in the state and nation, and we have schools that are still struggling to serve all children well. This is not unique to GCS, but it is our responsibility as educators, parents and community leaders to make every classroom and every school a place where children and teachers exceed expectations everyday.
The Guilford County Board of Education has charged me with leading this dynamic school system and has challenged me to increase academic opportunities for all children while closing the gaps in opportunities and achievement that still constrain career, college and life aspirations for far too many of our students. As I assume leadership of GCS, this transition plan is designed to accelerate my learning curve while also giving me a wide range of opportunities to listen to and learn from many different people and many different perspectives before embarking on any major change initiatives. Transitions, as every leader knows, are tricky: "It isn't the changes that do you in, it's the transitions," notes William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions.
GCS has a foundation of success and innovation that we may build upon. As I spend the next 100 days listening and learning, I will start assessing our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges, while creating a sense of urgency and momentum for the changes that we will collectively identify and make to improve outcomes for children and our community. We must work together to shape our vision for our future, for it is only by leveraging our collective dreams, wills and resources that we will make the improbable probable and the impossible possible. Public education - and GCS - is at a crossroads. Only a world class organization will successfully navigate the challenges ahead. I believe we're ready, and invite you to join with me as we soar to greatness.
This entry plan is designed to:
- Ensure as seamless a transition as possible while centering better instruction and more robust learning outcomes for all children in our work;
- Build productive and collaborative relationship with the GCS Board of Education;
- Quickly gain a comprehensive and deep understanding of GCS and Guilford County while listening and engaging a broad range of individuals, groups and organizations who are representative of our globally diverse students and our community as a whole;
- Reach out and engage those who far too often are not invited to the community table when decisions are being made and policies are being crafted while helping all understand that helping children soar represents multiple journeys and paths, rather than a single destination;
- Energize all those with a stake in the outcomes of our schools in support of our shared vision and mission, as well as the new strategic plan we will craft and execute together.
Outcomes & Deliverables
- A revitalized community that understands the focus and direction of our school district, with a renewed commitment to the success of all children in all schools.
- A thriving community where the strength and vitality of its public schools attracts new parents, employees, businesses and community investments.
- A concise and compelling summary of our collective insights, findings and strategic recommendations for advancing all students, from those who are struggling to learn, to those who are already winning international academic competitions and everyone in between;
- A new collective vision and high-impact strategy recommendations that will help us move from a good school system to a stellar one that is the envy of the nation.
Encompassing a 100-day Listening & Learning Tour of GCS and our 650-square-mile county, my transition plan is built upon core areas that represent key leverage points for me, my leadership team, our school principals and the Board of Education. Based upon conversations with the Board of Education as well as the input gathered as part of this process, other priorities may be added or deleted.
The entry plan has five focus areas, followed by a number of specific tasks and strategies. To keep us on track and to keep everyone informed of the progress we are making as a team, we will update these pages frequently.
I. Governance Team: Guilford County Schools' Board of Education
In order to ensure that the district has an intense focus on meeting the needs of all children, the Board of Education and superintendent of schools must develop a trusting, positive, collaborative, team-oriented relationship. These relationships must be established with each Board member and the Board of Education as a whole. During my plan of entry, I will work with the Board of Education to discuss issues and matters of governance, management, core values and beliefs, structures of their working relationship, and consider issues of reform governance.
II. Organizational Capacity and Alignment: District Executives and Senior Staff
It is essential for Guilford County Schools to have a high-performing, results-oriented district executive team. To make sure that we operate as a highly effective, positive team with a professional culture, we must, as author Jim Collins states, "Ensure that we have the right people on the bus and in the right seats.”
III. Student Achievement
Ensuring that all students not only graduate from Guilford County Schools, but also receive their diplomas truly college and workforce ready is the ultimate goal and responsibility of all employees. To ensure instruction is occurring at high levels, teachers must have a rigorous K-12 instructional curriculum, processes and tools to monitor students' progress, and opportunities and resources to provide appropriate interventions. Ensuring all decisions are made using the barometer of, "Is it good for children, teaching and learning?” will be emphasized in all discussions.
IV. Community and Public Relations
The proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," reflects my core beliefs about involvement and engagement in the community. During the time of initial entry, there will be a focus on engaging and mobilizing parents and community leaders in the pursuit of making Guilford County Schools a world-class school district. There will be a focus on establishing openness and transparency in all communication systems and protocols used by the district, and by me, personally.
Understanding the culture, history and expectations of Guilford County Schools will be critical. I will be proactive and deliberate in reaching out to stakeholders traditionally underrepresented in public education to make certain their voices are also heard and valued. Key questions to consider for all stakeholders will include:
- What are the strengths of Guilford County Schools?
- What areas need to improve for Guilford County Schools?
- Where should I begin as I start working in Guilford County Schools?
- As the budget remains a challenge, what should be the priorities of the district?
- How can we raise the bar of academic achievement for all students?
- What will "world-class" mean as a standard for Guilford County Schools?
V. Operation and Finance
In order to meet the needs of all students in Guilford County Schools, it is critical that operations and finance continue to be exemplary. Understanding the current strengths, strategies and opportunities for improvement in light of current budget challenges will be a critical focus. Each division will be appraised to determine how they maximize support and services to schools using the continuous improvement model.
I recognize that this entry plan is ambitious. However, it is consistent with my belief that children deserve excellence now. I am inspired by this quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
"Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve.
You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.
You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul is generated by love."
As such, in collaboration with the Board of Education and the staff of Guilford County Schools, I will operationalize my entry plan to execute it seamlessly and chart a path toward excellence that will sustain Guilford County Schools for years to come.