Policy: Board's Theory of Action for Change to Improve Student Achievement

For information about procedures related to specific policies, contact the Office of the Executive Director for Administration and Policy at 678-301-6005.

Board's Theory of Action for Change to Improve Student Behavior and Outcomes

Level: AccompanyingDescriptor Code:Rescinds
Policy B-School Board Operations
BAA  August 13, 2009
Descriptor Term:Effective Date:Last Reviewed Date:
Board's Theory of Action for Change to Improve Student Achievement May 18, 2023 May 18, 2023

The Board of Education of Gwinnett County Public Schools sets forth in policy its theory of action to effectuate the Board's stated Core Beliefs and Commitments; namely, to maintain and improve a district in which high-performing schools educate all children to high standards; eliminate the achievement gap; provide a quality instructional program that includes a rigorous curriculum, effective teaching, and ongoing assessment; and ensure that all students are taught in a safe and secure learning environment.

The Board's theory of action is managed performance/empowerment, a comprehensive theory of action that includes the alignment of adequate resources, effective management, highly qualified teachers, and a rigorous curriculum and assessment program. At its heart is the Board's belief that Gwinnett County Public Schools must manage for performance. This means that central office staff must accept responsibility for directly supporting and managing the district's core business--teaching and learning--within flexible parameters that balance accountability with empowerment, according to the needs and performance of individual schools. The Results-Based Evaluation System (RBES) is used to measure performance in the achievement of system goals and to define accountability at the district, division, school, and classroom levels. Flexibility will be provided to those schools that are achieving system goals to the highest levels and additional structure will be provided to those schools not achieving to their capabilities.

This theory of action provides a framework to align the system's vision, mission, goals, strategic plan, policies, budgets, and administrative actions. It builds on the Board's beliefs about how children learn; the conditions that best promote learning; the quality and rigor of Gwinnett's curriculum; and the policies, management systems, and culture that best promote the commitment and high performance of adults.

To clarify the intent and expectations of the Board's Theory of Action for Change to Improve Student Achievement, the Board expands its description of managed performance/empowerment under the following headings: Standards, Instructional Management, Flexibility, Accountability, Empowerment, and Capacity.

    Standards. Managed performance/empowerment begins with standards: academic content and performance standards, graduation and promotion standards, business process standards, safety standards, student conduct standards, ethical standards, and parent and community satisfaction standards. It is the Board's intent that Gwinnett County Public Schools set standards by Board policy or management directive as appropriate for all important goals and processes. Where higher standards will promote excellence, Gwinnett County Public Schools' standards will exceed federal and state requirements. This is evidenced by Gwinnett's unique Academic Knowledge and Skills (AKS) curriculum and Post-secondary Readiness Program.

    Instructional Management. Building on academic content and performance standards, Gwinnett County Public Schools must maintain a comprehensive instructional management system. Essential elements include a rigorous and aligned district curriculum (the AKS), professional development around the curriculum, a robust student information management system, formative and summative assessments, and high-quality instructional practices supported by carefully calibrated and appropriate interventions and extensions--by child, by teacher, by subject, and by school.

    Flexibility. The Board acknowledges that effective teaching is both an art and a science. Creativity and flexibility are desired in teachers as the professionals who have the greatest impact in helping students achieve. The Board, therefore, provides Gwinnett teachers maximum freedom to teach the AKS curriculum according to their preferred teaching styles, but within the parameters of best professional practices and research-based Quality-Plus Teaching Strategies that lead students to high levels of mastery of the AKS curriculum. Furthermore, it is also the Board's intent to give maximum freedom to schools, consistent with school performance as measured by the RBES.

    Accountability. Managed performance/empowerment requires accountability: holding all people in the organization responsible for meeting standards. Without accountability, standards are not really standards, but simply goals. Accountability means that the district has a system for schools and functional units that establishes desired outcomes that are identified in key performance indicators and that measures performance against standards, collects and distributes performance data, and applies appropriate consequences (both positive and negative). Accountability also means individual accountability for all district employees and students. Accountability implies consequences, both positive and negative, for without consequences there is no accountability.

    Acknowledging the difference between the roles of schools and central office support functions, the Board codifies accountability through its policies on Academic Accountability and Operational Accountability.

    Empowerment. Principals and teachers cannot, in fairness, be held accountable for student achievement if they do not have significant control over their work. Accountability, therefore, requires empowerment. Empowerment means placing decision-making authority at the lowest possible level consistent with effectiveness and efficiency. Some decisions belong in the central office, some in the principal's office, and some in the classroom. Some decisions belong with educators, and some with parents and students. Striking the right balance between accountability and empowerment is an on-going responsibility of the Board and Superintendent team. The goal is to provide principals and teachers maximum empowerment in the highest-achieving schools as measured by RBES, within the boundaries of effective and efficient operations; for empowerment builds ownership and stimulates innovation, and balanced with accountability for results, it creates a performance culture.

    Building on the foundation of an instructional management system, schools should be given more or less control over school operations and instruction, based on student needs and school performance as measured by the district's accountability system. The starting point for school empowerment is in the area of school operations. High-performing schools should be given wide latitude to manage budgets, procurement, hiring, the configuration of the workforce, schedules, student affairs, extracurricular activities, parent and community relations, etc. School empowerment does not mean that school communities or teachers assume responsibility for campus decision-making. Principals should listen to their customers and involve their employees, but because they are accountable for school performance, principals must exercise executive power and have the authority to hold others accountable.

    Capacity. Standards, accountability, and empowerment are not enough. They establish goals, provide incentives, and build ownership, but high performance also requires capacity. For Gwinnett County Public Schools, this means facilities, resources, management systems, technology, training, and professional development. In short, to meet high standards all involved in the teaching and learning enterprise need knowledge, skills, and tools appropriate to the task. Building this capacity is the responsibility of the Board and Superintendent team. The Board knows that high performance is not inexpensive. Therefore, broad public support for its core beliefs and commitments and theory of action will be required.
In summary, the Board believes that managed performance/empowerment combines the efficacy of an instructional management system with the dynamics of a performance culture. It balances performance with empowerment, but empowerment follows performance, and performance is not left to chance: it is managed. Striking the right balance between accountability and empowerment is an on-going responsibility of the Board and Superintendent team.

Change Management:

The Superintendent is responsible for maintaining and improving Gwinnett County Public Schools' managed performance/empowerment system. Pursuant to this, the Board expects the Superintendent to bring forward policy recommendations and budget proposals for Board consideration. Accordingly, effective change management leadership by the Superintendent, supported by a comprehensive internal and external communication system, is required.

The Board asserts that managed performance/empowerment, as a theory of action for change, provides a stable, long-term framework for improving student achievement in Gwinnett County Public Schools. From time to time, based on research and experience, this theory of action will need to be revised. The Board remains committed, however, to managed performance/empowerment as a broad path for improving student achievement, and pledges its best efforts to educate the workforce, the public, and new Board members so that subsequent Boards will hold constant to this vision.