Freedom and Flexibility

What is Freedom & Flexibility?

A key component of the Board of Education’s approach to district-wide reform – or Theory of Action – Freedom & Flexibility is part of a district strategic plan initiative designed to improve student achievement by giving selected principals more say in how to organize and design teaching and learning at their schools to meet the unique needs of their students.

Why is CMS doing this?

Since the mid 1990s, CMS has used a top-down approach to managing instruction that spells out in great detail what and how to teach reading and other core subjects.

While this approach was very successful in increasing student achievement across the district and among all groups of children, growth has stagnated in recent years. Like other diverse school districts, CMS is also struggling to close the achievement gap between students who live in poverty and their more affluent peers.

As a result, the Board of Education worked for more than two years to develop a district-wide approach to school reform and improvement.

This approach, called a Theory of Action, shifts the decision-making power from central administration to those who work most closely with our students, teachers, parents and local community members: our principals.

Who gets it?

Principals – the CEOs of our schools – have been selected for Freedom & Flexibility because research shows they make the biggest difference in creating a climate of high expectations and success for all children, and driving increases in student achievement on a school-wide basis.

How were they selected?

For Phase I of this initiative, area superintendents and other executive staff members focused on selecting principals who have more than two years of experience as school leaders and who have a proven track record of success in increasing student achievement. The superintendent also reserves the right to select principals for Freedom & Flexibility, and make the final decisions.

More specifically, we looked at the average growth in student achievement during the last two years at the schools where the principal has been assigned, when this data was available.

 This criterion reflects the average growth for students at a particular school for school years 05/06
and 06/07 where the principal served. In a few instances only one year’s worth of data is available given the individual’s prior placement. Score growth is used by the state to determine if schools meet expected growth. These values do not represent proficiency or percent on grade level.

The state uses a statistical formula to set an expectation (scale score) for each student’s performance on EOC and EOG tests. Students’ actual performance is then compared to the expected performance. Thus, if a student’s academic change (often referred to as  growth) is 0.00 or greater, the child met their expected performance or exceeded it. In other words, a growth score of 0.00 means a student demonstrated approximately one year’s worth of learning compared to the previous year.

As a measure of how a school is impacting its students, the state averages the academic change for the  students who are tested into a single number representing the average growth of students in that school. For the Freedom & Flexibility criteria, we are expanding this to span two academic years as one of our measures, when available. The more positive the number is, the more students, on average, surpassed the specific expectation of performance. 

The following measures were used as part of the Freedom & Flexibility selection process for principals:

  • Elementary School - Average 2-year growth > .04
  • Middle School - Average 2-year growth > .04
  • High School - Average 2-year growth > .03

A value of zero indicates that on average the students met expected growth.
A positive value indicates that on average the students exceeded expected growth.
A negative value indicates that on average the students did not meet expected growth.

Was this a fair process considering how different CMS schools are?

Yes. The criteria are objective, and focus on student growth. The criteria used also recognize that great
work can – and does – take place in all kinds of schools.

How many principals are involved?

For Phase I, we have selected 48 principals, representing the full spectrum of CMS schools and all learning communities, including the Achievement Zone.

The principals selected represent 26 elementary, 10 middle and 12 high schools. Fifteen principals lead
FOCUS or high poverty schools; eight principals lead Title I schools.

Are pre-kindergarten center principals involved?

Not during Phase I. Pre-kindergarten principals will be selected once the new assessment for early childhood has been put into place and can generate result-oriented data.

Were any principals of high-poverty schools selected?

Yes. Fifteen principals lead FOCUS or high poverty schools; eight principals lead Title I schools.

What will Freedom & Flexibility entail?

As part of this initiative, all principals will be getting some additional flexibility, particularly around discipline
plans. During Phase I, we are focusing on instructional management – how teaching and learning is organized, structured and assessed. Principals with Freedom & Flexibility will have a much shorter list of district  requirements, or “non-negotiables,” they must follow.

The idea is to loosen the management reins so principals can work with teachers and parents to design
initiatives and programs that best meet the needs of their school’s students. The focus is on increasing
achievement by raising the bar and closing the gap for all students.

What are some examples of how a principal might use Freedom & Flexibility?

Principals will also have more freedom in trying promising, research-backed instructional strategies, such as gender-specific classrooms, homogeneous class groupings or using teacher-developed assessments
and tools. For example, research has shown that all male or all female class groupings work well for many students.

Also, rather than use district-developed tests to assess student learning, principals may have their teachers develop tools to monitor how well students are grasping certain concepts. Or, they may alter the frequency of the assessments so they can change and adapt instruction if they find students need more or less time on key tasks and ideas.

Another principal may use Freedom & Flexibility to alter class sizes so struggling or gifted students can get more individual attention or support, while another principal might alter the day’s schedule to spend more time on science or mathematics or fine arts if most students are already reading on grade level.

At a high school, a principal may change the districtmandated course sequence if students seem to need more or less time to grasp a particular science concept, for example. Principals can also “double block” or extend a semester-long class to a yearlong class for students who are having difficulty, while adding more advanced courses for students who are already excelling.

Principals will also have the freedom to determine if staff must attend district-wide professional development
opportunities on required teacher workdays or if staff will participate in school-developed programs that target specific student needs.

What isn’t included?

All CMS schools must follow North Carolina statues and laws, and CMS school board policies and regulations.
All CMS schools must also follow the North Carolina Course of Study, the state’s required curriculum.

Why are you only focusing on instructional management?

Our core business is teaching and learning, so during Phase I we’re focusing our attention on our most important goal: increasing student achievement. During Phase II, we will evaluate opportunities for awarding
more Freedom & Flexibility in operational areas.

How long do principals get to keep Freedom & Flexibility?

Principals will get Freedom & Flexibility for three years, subject to an annual review and ongoing monitoring of their schools’ progress by area superintendents.

How will Freedom & Flexibility be evaluated? What does success look like?

Freedom & Flexibility will be evaluated annually by area superintendents in partnership with the accountability division. Growth in student achievement is the primary measure and outcome that will determine whether an initiative has been successful. The new accountability system that is being developed will also include qualitative measures, such as school culture and climate.

What happens when a program approved under Freedom & Flexibility doesn’t work?

The idea is to spur innovation that will lead to greater student achievement. This means principals are going to have to take some calculated risks, based on education research and best practices. If a program or initiative doesn’t work after a reasonable amount of time, principals will have the freedom to adapt or modify the program. Or they may drop it and try something new.

How will principals who get Freedom & Flexibility be held accountable?

Area superintendents will monitor principals and hold them accountable for results and meeting the goals outlined in their school improvement plans.

What happens if a principal doesn’t want Freedom & Flexibility?

Principals can use or not use Freedom & Flexibility as they see fit. The status doesn’t change.

Who is going to monitor principals who get Freedom & Flexibility?

Area superintendents will work closely with all principals, including those who earn Freedom & Flexibility.

How will this impact equity among schools?

CMS will continue to allocate additional staffing, materials and supplies, and other resources for high
poverty schools. The Board recently adopted a 10- year master plan for facilities that also addresses equity issues. CMS is also aggressively seeking new, more effective ways to attract high quality teachers and principals to low performing, high poverty schools.

These efforts only help level the playing field, however. Breaking the stranglehold that poverty traditionally has had on student achievement, however, is going to take individual student-by-student, classroom-by-classroom and school-by-school initiatives.

We believe that giving principals more power to make decisions that benefit their students will increase student achievement. Closing the achievement gap is the ultimate measure of equity, and something that CMS – like all other diverse school districts in the United States – must continually strive to achieve.

Will this plan hurt high-poverty or low-performing schools?

No. This initiative should help high-poverty or lowperforming schools by placing more decision-making authority in the hands of principals. In some cases, moving a principal with Freedom & Flexibility to a low-performing school may be part of a comprehensive reform or restructuring strategy.

What happens to principals who don’t get Freedom & Flexibility?

Our long-term goal is to have all principals qualify to receive Freedom & Flexibility. Ultimately, principals that can’t demonstrate student growth at their schools will be evaluated appropriately. Good principals are receiving Freedom & Flexibility during Phase I; good principals are not receiving Freedom & Flexibility during Phase I. This is the start of a new chapter for CMS: one that will require everyone’s efforts to succeed. The goal is to raise
the bar for all kids while closing the gap.

Can a principal lose Freedom & Flexibility?

Yes. If students lose ground over the three-year period, it’s possible that an area superintendent or the superintendent may decide that they need to manage that principal and school more closely.

How does getting Freedom & Flexibility impact principal contracts?

At this time, getting Freedom & Flexibility does not automatically extend a principal’s contract.

Will principals with Freedom & Flexibility be able to transfer to another CMS school?

Yes. All principals, regardless of Freedom & Flexibility, are eligible to transfer. All principals, regardless of Freedom & Flexibility, are also subject to transfer by the superintendent.

What happens if a principal with Freedom & Flexibility transfers to a different school in CMS?

Freedom & Flexibility goes with the principal. To ease the transition for the sending school, some of the initiatives
or programs started by a principal with Freedom & Flexibility may stay in force, pending the approval of the area superintendent.

If a principal with Freedom & Flexibility transfers to a different school, can he or she recruit staff members from his or her current school?

Yes, in accordance with Board of Education policy.

How much is this going to cost?

Phase I is budget neutral. Principals with Freedom & Flexibility will have more say in how they use their existing resources; they will not receive additional resources from CMS.

Why aren’t teachers getting Freedom & Flexibility?

As instructional leaders, principals set the tone for their schools and have a direct and lasting impact on
everything that impacts student achievement, including teacher recruitment and retention. Effective leaders attract effective teachers.

 Effective leaders also need to be able to manage all aspects of the instructional program, including granting teachers more freedom and flexibility in how they meet the needs of their students.

What will Phase II of Freedom & Flexibility involve?

During Phase II, we will evaluate opportunities for awarding Freedom & Flexibility in operational areas. We also want to involve the first group of F&F principals in this process, so they can help shape the decisions that will impact them, and so they can share what they learn with their colleagues throughout the district.