School & District Management Opinion

Shared Power Creates School Success

By Carrie Bakken — June 25, 2014 2 min read
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Carrie Bakken

At Avalon School, a charter school that serves 190 students in grades 6-12, the teachers control all aspects of running the school. If we try something and it doesn’t work, we have the ability to change direction immediately. We create our own curriculum, develop partnerships with the community organizations, and locate internships for students. In collaboration, the teachers determine all aspects of the learning program, make employment decisions, design the evaluation process, and set the budget. We also accept full accountability for our school’s performance.

With our model, Avalon School easily retains 95-100 percent of our teachers every year. With high teacher retention, we are able to establish strong relationships with each other, our students, and their families. This continuity also allows us to build on our strengths and let go of practices that do not work. We know that when we create a strategic plan, we have the personnel to implement the vision. High teacher retention is also cost effective. We don’t spend time and energy on hiring and re-training teachers.

With this autonomy, we constructed a school that places student empowerment at the center. We created a collaborative community that models democracy for students daily. Students are trusted to initiate self-directed projects, mediate conflicts, solve problems, and create new rules for Avalon through the Student Congress.

It is also important to note that many students at Avalon were either persistently truant, behind in credit, or suffered from a hardship that impacted their ability to attend school regularly in their previous schools. The majority of our students also have a diagnosed disability. Yet, there is strong evidence that Avalon’s framework for governance helps students acquire positive learning skills. For example, Avalon has a significantly higher percentage of students who are proficient on math and reading state tests then the St. Paul Public Schools. Consistently, over 80 percent of our graduates attend post-secondary education following graduation.

Avalon is a powerful learning community because power is shared and nurtured. All members of the school community are involved in the decision-making and students are given a real voice in the school. Check out Avalon School in Deeper Learning: How Eight Innovative Public Schools Are Transforming Education in the Twenty-First Century by Monica Martinez and Dennis McGrath (Jun 17, 2014). Do teacher powered schools provide a framework for school improvement? Yes! We provide students with meaningful learning opportunities while creating great working conditions for teachers.

Carrie Bakken was hired with a team of teachers to open Avalon School in St. Paul, Minn., in 2001, where she is now a program coordinator and teacher. In 2012, she started and recently completed a two-year Aspen Institute Teacher Fellowship and won an Outstanding Educator in Ethics Education Award sponsored by the WEM Foundation. She is also a member of the CTQ Collaboratory. Her email is carrie@avalonschool.org.

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