In 2008, the Kansas Commissioner of Education wanted to strengthen technical assistance to districts and schools struggling to demonstrate adequate yearly progress (AYP). In order to accomplish this, the Kansas State Department of Education partnered with Cross & Joftus to work with districts on improvement, corrective action, or in restructuring to make the difficult changes that result in higher overall student achievement and a narrowing of achievement gaps. The partners recruited five school districts on improvement in 2008 to pilot the Kansas Learning Network.

Over the next four years, C&J continued to partner with KSDE to serve all schools and districts that were in corrective action, and annual evaluations demonstrated that student outcomes in these schools and districts increased significantly and that administrators attributed much of their success to participation in the Kansas Learning Network.

Based on the success of this work, the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) in 2014 contracted with C&J to implement the Learning Network in Washington, DC. Serving seven DCPS and one charter school that were on priority status for three or more years, an evaluation once again noted the efficacy of the model (called the Learning Support Network in Washington, DC). As a result, OSSE contracted once again with C&J for the 2015-16 school year, this time to serve 21 schools.

The Learning Network is not a prescriptive model. It uses needs analysis and/or root-cause analysis to identify the strengths and challenges of the school or school system. Based on the analysis, a highly effective coach works collaboratively with the school or district administrators to develop a clear action plan for improvement. The coach then works with the administrators and educators to implement the plan and—importantly—to carefully track progress and make changes as necessary. In addition, administrators meet together three times a year in a professional learning community to support one another through an action-oriented protocol.

If there is a “secret sauce” to the Learning Network, it is C&J’s outstanding coaches who have years of experience in school and district turnaround settings. While all contexts differ, they have had success in similar settings and understand how to provide the “critical-friend” and performance-management support that is so important in the change process.