Recovery Plan Guidance: Systemic Improvement


Phase Two: Systemic Improvement

Schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions should balance addressing immediate needs with a look to the future as each institution develops plans for recovery funds expenditure. In Phase Two, planning shifts from a focus on Band-Aids to cover immediate needs to cures for long-term problems. 

Although there are few limitations on funding uses, SREB recommends that support address these broad areas identified in the legislation:

  1. Address student unfinished learning as both an immediate and long-term priority.
  2. Ensure the social-emotional health of students.
  3. Remedy infrastructure issues resulting from the loss of state and local funds during the pandemic.
  4. Strive to address concerns for equitable opportunities for students magnified by the increased focus on technology.

Use a Proven Improvement Process 

As leaders and institutions shift their attention from immediate needs to strategic planning, SREB strongly encourages a distributed leadership effort that engages all shareholders in the process. SREB also recommends that the shift to systemic improvement follow a time-tested improvement process. Examples include: 


Identify Problems

The shift from immediate needs and stabilization to systemic improvement does not mean a shift away from addressing problems. A key concern when federal funds are provided at such a rapid rate is the danger of focusing too much time and energy on simply spending the funds, not ensuring that specific problems are identified and addressed.

An early step in Phase One is identifying some type of needs assessment. Because these take time to plan and conduct, the findings will likely guide the work for systemic planning. Institutions may conduct an internal review, use surveys or other fact-finding processes, or invite an external review.

Examples of such external reviews include:  


Use What You Already Have

Identifying problems may be a process of affirming problems that you know exist. A first step will be to take stock of plans and actions already in place. The pandemic may have magnified the problems these plans were meant to address. SREB recommends developing a table or chart listing actions in place and actions planned. This will be a valuable resource in the problem-solving process.

New funding sources do not mean a shift in the focus of work. Use your strategic plans, improvement plans, recent audits or reviews, and other tools readily available as part of the improvement process. The recovery funds provide an opportunity to build upon ideas already developed and expand potential supports. 


Solve Problems

This seems obvious but is often not the focus when funds need to be expended quickly. Too often, wants replace needs with too little time spent on identifying problems and the root causes or drivers of those problems. Distributed leadership teams should use a problem-solving mindset as plans are developed. SREB recommends a multi-step process that identifies root causes before action planning begins.

This  process can be used by teams at small elementary schools or large universities to plan, test and study actions to eliminate problems. 


Establish Goals – Define Success

Whether an institution or LEA plans to expand upon already developed plans or design new plans for improvement, the establishment and communication of goals for success are critical.  The goals should be clear, include timelines and address both process changes (changes in practices) and product goals (changes in achievement/student success).  These goals become the true North for the work and should ensure that funding results in the desired outcomes. 

As important as having the vision is, communicating that vision constantly and widely is essential. The vision for success answers the why question that so often occurs during improvement.  The use of a distributed leadership model of focus teams makes the communication of the vision simpler.  More people who are involved in the development of plans provide more people to communicate the plans. 


Be Innovative

The pandemic brought unique experiences that shook our educational foundations.  What some call the “new normal”  requires problem solvers who are innovative in identifying potential solutions. Simply doing more of the same, or expanding practices that had limited results, will not address the needs of our students in this unique time. Innovative, technology-infused ideas that use time and space in new ways will be critical. Teaching practices that worked during the pandemic need to be expanded, and partnerships that came into existence during the pandemic should grow. 

Unfinished Learning

  • Consider acceleration over remediation. The old practice of slowing things down and using repetition — even when infused with technology — may not have the impact of an acceleration mindset.
  • Push students into advanced classes and provide supports for success on a large scale.
  • Consider using funding for tutors who can become your pipeline for future teachers.
  • Look at career and technical education courses that embed academics as a different way for students to garner access to unfinished learning content. 

CTE and Arts and Science Programs

  • Consider ways to use technology for direct instruction while using classroom time for laboratory and hands-on opportunities missed during virtual learning.
  • Expand the use of flipped classroom ideals to best embed technology. 

Social-Emotional Health

  • Expand the community partnerships created in many communities that provided support to students and faculty during the pandemic.
  • Consider ways to build on these relationships to continue that support. 

SREB has found that regardless of the interventions and supports, two critical elements influence student effort from the earliest years through postsecondary: purpose and relationships. Innovative ideas should ensure that students find purpose in learning and in school. And relationships are a key to social-emotional health that also impact student effort. Innovative plans should ensure that each student has positive relationships with adults both in and outside the building. 

Innovative actions should also strive to address equity. The pandemic magnified equity concerns, and remote learning provides an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. The pandemic has provided a “reset” that should allow schools to address equity in a meaningful way. 


Monitor Progress

Identify a monitoring process. Define the leading and lagging indicators of success and determine how you will monitor each. Constantly monitor both the implementation process and the results. 


Build Sustainability

This once-in-a-lifetime level of funding needs to have an impact many years from now. A funding cliff is inevitable, so an essential element of each plan should be sustainability. Just as the weaving of federal funds is encouraged for other programs, institutions should plan for the funding cliff by weaving program plans to ensure sustainability of efforts. 

One anticipated action is the expansion of staff. Each institution that does so should create processes to onboard new faculty and staff which make them aware of the institution’s vision and plans. The loss of jobs in the private sector will likely result in more teachers coming from alternative routes into education, so onboarding will require specialized support such as SREB’s Teaching to Lead new and early-career CTE teacher preparation program and SREB SMART (Science and Math Alternative Route to Teaching) program to build new teacher capacity.

Additionally, plan for sustainability after grant funding ends.  Build capacity within the organization to continue efforts. Identify continuing funding sources for positions having a positive impact, develop leadership capacity to support instructional changes, and use community partnerships to sustain efforts. 


Success Is Within Reach

Finding solutions will take time, but using a process to guide the work provides a roadmap for success. Successful institutions will engage stakeholders in the process, clearly communicating goals to address  problems while building for sustainability after funding ends. This will be a challenge as we grapple with the “new normal” and seek to innovate.

The lessons learned during the pandemic and the creativity displayed over the past 18 months show that the changes needed to address these problems are within reach. Following the steps detailed here, agencies and institutions can plan confidently for success this year and well beyond. 

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