Conversations about school reform abound; evidence of it is tougher to find.
More than 800 teachers and school staffers are at Fort Wayne's Grand Wayne Center right now, preparing to transform 11 of the city's schools. They are the teachers and staff selected for the Leading Educational Achievement with Distinction Schools -- LEAD, for short. The schools were identified by Fort Wayne Community Schools for lagging achievement. Not coincidentally, they are the schools with the most diverse student populations, the highest enrollments of English-language learners, the highest rates for free- and reduced-price lunch.
The Fort Wayne session is unique among U.S. public schools. The District of Columbia has received much attention for Chancellor Michelle Rhee's firing of 241 teachers, but the FWCS initiative involves about four times as many teachers in a less-disruptive approach to change.
The LEAD schools have been mostly reconstituted: New principals and mostly new teaching staff. I was told that 80 percent of the teachers at one elementary school are new to the school. But even the veterans are participating in sessions unlike anything before. I spotted long-time music educator Ed King among the dozens of North Side High School teachers. First-year principal Chad Hissong was making a passionate presentation on what teachers can do to engage the students who might be overlooked.
Today, the teachers and staff were getting to know each other. They met at 7 a.m. at their respective schools and rode school buses to the convention center. Superintendent Wendy Robinson spoke to a joint session, then the teachers broke into their respective groups to begin work.
Admittedly, it's an experiment in raising achievement. But what I saw today were teachers who seemed enthusiastic and engaged. The challenge will be to ensure their students are the same when school begins.