Finding the Bright Spots

Written by Amanda Cote

On February 28, 2011

Just a few months ago, Dwayne and I had an opportunity to attend the Liberty Fellowship Summit in Columbia where more than 700 progressive thinkers came together to discuss some of South Carolina’s most pressing issues in the areas of education, economic development, health and the environment, and public policy.

The keynote speaker was Dan Heath, who together with his brother and co-author, Chip Heath, authored a newly-published book called, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.” The book is a must-read for anyone who is committed to catalyzing community change, but there’s one particular piece of advice that has had all of us at CPN thinking ever since we attended: “Find a bright spot and clone it.”

According to the Heath Brothers,

“That’s the first step to fixing everything from addiction to corporate malaise to malnutrition. A problem may look hopelessly complex. But there’s a game plan that can yield movement on even the toughest issues. And it starts with locating a bright spot — a ray of hope.”

The book goes on to share that bright spots are often the beacons of success that are already demonstrating that the “impossible” is actually “possible.”  The premise is simply this: Instead of focusing on what isn’t working, focus instead on what is working and figure out why, and then copy it.

Here at CPN, we’ve been keeping our eye out for bright spots for improving under-achieving schools, and there have been some terrific indicators lately that our work is right on target:

  • A bright spot for progress in a local school: Locally, Charleston Progressive Academy, which is a County-wide magnet school serving, amongst others,  41 children from the CPN attendance zone, has recently been awarded the Palmetto Gold award for performance and the Palmetto Silver award for its progress in closing the achievement gap in the high-poverty elementary school.  We visited with Principal Wanda Wright-Sheats in mid-February to talk to her about what has brought about the turn-around.  She credits an extended day learning programs staffed by qualified teachers that integrates traditional after-school programming with the school day, a focus on literacy instruction, a hands-on approach to teacher coaching/mentoring, and shared planning for all of Charleston Progressive’s teachers. Although the school’s report card rating has held steady at average for the past three years, its improvement rating has gone from “at-risk” in 2008 to “excellent” in 2010. Read more.
  • A bright spot for geographically-targeted funding partnerships to improve schools: In North Carolina, a group of private philanthropists and community leaders announced a five-year $55 million initiative called “Project L.I.F.T.” designed to improve graduation rates in the West Charlotte Corridor that will focus on West Charlotte High School and the elementary and middle schools that feed into it. According to the press release, “The project will focus on enhanced teacher and school leadership quality, more time spent on task (including extended day, out of school time, and pre-kindergarten programs), access to technology, and policy changes that will allow school leadership more freedom.  An extensive outreach program is also planned to engage community and business leaders, faith communities and others in ensuring that students get the most out of their educational opportunities.”
  • A national example of a winning formula for change: For the second year in a row, an all-male public charter school with students from the Chicago’s worst neighborhoods is sending its entire senior class to college. Urban Prep Charter Academy was founded in 2006, and set a goal of ensuring that every senior enrolled in the school would be accepted into college. According to a recent article, “It was an unlikely mission, given that only four percent of the school’s first freshman class was reading at grade level when they entered.” Last year, all 107 graduating seniors were accepted, and this year, Urban Prep has repeated its success.  Principal Tim King attributes the success, in part, to  extended school days, two classes per day of English, and every student is assigned a mentor from the staff who has a school-assigned cell phone that students can call them on 24 hours a day.

At Charleston Promise Neighborhood, we’re committed to using evidence and best practices for success to increase graduation rates and create a college-bound culture for the families and children we serve.  Do you have any bright spots to share?  We’d love to hear from you!

Warm regards,
Laura Deaton