The first year of high school is a critical juncture for many students, and a long-standing focus of high school reforms and dropout-prevention initiatives. Research indicates that academic success in ninth grade strongly predicts high school graduation, and that implementing forms of academic and social support in ninth grade can put more students on the graduation path. Less is understood, however, about how to improve schools’ and school systems’ ability to implement that support routinely and effectively.
This brief describes how Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) addressed this issue through a community of practice (CoP) approach. A CoP is an organized group of practitioners of a specific trade or craft who are concerned with improving the way they do their work. Using grant funds from the Institute for Education Sciences, BCPS administrators, teachers, and counselors from seven schools formed a CoP that met regularly over a two-and-a-half-year period to improve the support for ninth-graders in their schools and, ultimately, the district as a whole.
Drawing on interviews with district- and school-based staff members, reviews of documents, and observations of participants, this brief recounts how the CoP was developed and operated, and how it provided a professional forum where participating schools could innovate, share, and learn. It also describes how the CoP strengthened communications between school and district staff members, providing the district with real-time insight into the kinds of assistance schools needed from the central office to implement new practices. The conclusion summarizes some of the brief’s major lessons.
The information in this brief is intended for district and school leaders considering a cross-school CoP approach to developing and spreading promising practices, as well as for those specifically focused on improving educators’ ability to keep ninth-graders engaged and on track to graduate.