Redesigning for Excellence

The Evolution of Madera Unified School District Leadership

By Babatunde Ilori, Executive Director of Accountability and Communications

In March of 2019, the Madera Unified School Board adopted two guiding documents: The Community Compact and Student Champion. Both decisions serve as a foundation for the vision we have for student achievement across the district. The Board developed three goals for our district: Clarity and Consistency, Changing Perceptions and Mindsets of Staff and Community, and Excellence in All Things. To meet the bold vision, Madera Unified partnered with the National Center of Education and the Economy (NCEE), an organization established to research the world’s best educational systems and to provide states and districts with tools to elevate their craft and to become world-class institutions. NCEE developed the National Institute for School Leaders (NISL) which is a high-quality Executive Development Program (EDP) meant for school and district leadership. Madera Unified school site and district leadership have completed the 12-session program of over 144 hours of instruction. Leaders who have completed NISL EDP can receive credits toward a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership. The EDP is the largest and most effective executive development program for school leaders across the United States. It is the only executive leadership program fully recognized by both the RAND Corporation and the American Institute of Research.

Complementing the district’s major investment in EDP, beginning in the fall of 2021, Madera Unified teachers at Jefferson Middle school completed the NISL program called Teaching for Effective Learning (TEL). Teachers received three full-day sessions of coursework, meticulously going through content based on how people learn. Both EDP and TEL programs are high-quality professional development processes that were created to help provide leadership, support, and capacity building to school leaders and teachers.

Through the NISL programs, leaders learned about the nine building blocks that all high-performing educational systems have.
  1. Provide strong supports for children and their families before students arrive at school.
  2. Provide more resources for at-risk students than for others.
  3. Develop world-class, highly coherent instructional systems.
  4. Create clear gateways for students through the system, set to global standards, with no dead ends.
  5. Assure an abundant supply of highly qualified teachers.
  6. Redesign schools to be places in which teachers will be treated as professionals, with incentives and support to continuously improve their professional practice and the performance of their students.
  7. Create an effective system of career and technical education and training.
  8. Create a leadership development system that develops leaders at all levels to manage such systems effectively.
  9. Institute a governance system that has the authority and legitimacy to develop coherent, powerful policies, and is capable of implementing them at scale.

To dramatically improve student achievement across the district, Madera Unified worked with NCEE to craft a district redesign focused on developing a high-performing educational system. The district redesign, also called District System Design Partnership (DSDP), is a district-wide endeavor involving a wide array of community stakeholders and partners. Members of the redesign committee included many stakeholders, including site leaders, teachers, union leadership, district leaders, Trustees, and leaders of community-based organizations. 

The ambitious project was broken into the following two phases. The first phase, called “View Your District Context Through the Lens of Top-Performing Education Systems”, required district leaders to conduct a root cause analysis to identify the key elements that drive the district’s results. A process of contextual analysis was interconnected with the research on the highest performing education systems across the globe, which led to the team deciding to focus efforts on NISL Building Blocks 1 to 6. 

The second phase, entitled “Draft Your District Redesign Plan”, created design teams, each tasked with developing vision statements for each building block, while completing a contextual analysis and theory of action to inform the next strategic action steps. 

There is still much work to be done as we carefully redesign the district into a high-performance educational system, but substantial progress has already been made, and MUSD Trustees are committed to completing the entire process as the lofty goal is, now more than ever, clearly in sight.


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