Schools are faced with tough decisions all the time: if and when to advance a struggling student, what to do with the somewhat gifted, how to arrange teachers' schedules to accommodate teacher needs and still serve student learning needs at the same time. I've worked with lots of school districts, and few of them take the time to sit down and really, concretely look inward.
I have been leading schools through this process -- one I call a strategic-planning X ray. We take a look at multiple views of the school -- teacher attitudes, parent and student perceptions, school data, professional development, and teacher interests and expertise. We then get some informal observations from the school community at large by asking such questions as "What do you think works best in this school?" "In what areas should we be most proud?" and "What ongoing issues do you feel should be, but haven't been, addressed?" We spend a few faculty meetings mapping out these issues, prioritizing concerns and strengths, talking frankly about what our particular students need, and analyzing what's working best and why.
We use this information to prepare some simple, concrete, and achievable goals in the form of a basic school-improvement grid. This is the workbook version of a larger school-improvement plan, a document designed to be easily usable, with some basic data-tracking templates, and so on. It's an extensive process, but not a laborious or bewildering one, like some school-improvement studies are.
The definition of overall school improvement I suggest using is one that deals not only with student data but also with school perceptions and the "health" of the school environment. By creating some short-term, concrete goals, the school is able to quickly see schoolwide achievement, which helps foster a sense of commitment to reach the longer-term goals.
I've included a sample school-improvement-plan grid here as a PDF (School Improvement X-Ray). We tweak it all the time, depending on the needs of a school or district, so feel free to download it and modify it for your own needs. Let me know what you think! All feedback is welcome.