Lessons Learned: When Your School is Navigating Change

Almost two weeks after school started in 2008 I was in the midst of organizing Open Houses, Prospective Parent Tours, and the general beginning of school activities as PTA Co-President at Myers Park High School when we received word that the IB Program at Myers Park might be moved to another school. At the time, the IB program had a magnet designation and students from outside the home school attendance zone were attending the program.  The loss of these students would significantly decrease the numbers in the IB program and would take away families that added much energy and value to the school.

Here are some lessons I learned from our team and from watching other schools deal with their own assignment challenges:

  • I noticed that the most effective groups were led by folks who were able to keep calm. More on that in a moment…
  • Our task force pulled together a group of parents who had a variety of skill sets:  data, communication, and networking.  I also thought it was helpful to make sure we had a voice in the group who knew the historical context of what has happened with assignment in CMS over the years.
  • While we were not successful on both of our goals (keeping the IB program and keeping the IB magnet designation), we did develop new solutions that we didn’t see presented and we were prepared to give something up if need be.  All the successful groups did the same thing.  Just asking the board not to “change” your school was not enough.
  • We calmly lobbied board members and staff with our proposals – or at least tried to be calm. That meant talking in our normal speaking tone and being open to conversation, rather than closed and on the offensive.
  • We had to limit the # of speakers to the Board of Education, because there were large numbers of groups involved.  As a result, we needed to stay organized to make sure all our points were communicated.  We were successful for the most part, although I remember one speaker in our group who was really out of line in his comments.  He threw insults and spoke negatively about other schools and programs. That speaker did us no favors.
  • I noticed that groups that were successful did NOT talk about property values, did NOT yell at the Board of Education, and did NOT yell at CMS staff.  Best I can tell, the Board of Education and the CMS staff are made up of humans, and we humans can listen better when we’re not being yelled at. It’s one thing to be passionate about your point of view; it’s another thing to attack others personally.

We worked very hard to keep those students at Myers Park, but at the end of the day, the Board of Education voted to move the magnet designation to another school.  Students attending from outside the home attendance zone would not be able to attend the next year.

After the vote didn’t go our way, we regrouped.  We lobbied for resources that helped us transition students to their new schools by hosting open houses from those schools on our campus.  We reached out to parents to communicate exactly what was happening. Then, I helped our leadership team develop and administer surveys to parents and teachers about restructuring parts of the IB program that might work better in the “new normal.”  Things have worked out pretty well since—the number of IB students is now over 800, and the school continues to attract families coming from the feeder zone and new families to the system.

Though we lost the magnet designation, we did successfully lobby to keep our IB program. Things can turn out for the good in ways you didn’t expect, so get creative and put the pressure on for more resources!