FHI 360 School Development Approach
FHI 360 and its partner schools acknowledge that the design, implementation and continuous improvement of schools require evidence-based instructional, operational and assessment strategies, as well as distributed school leadership and the creativity, innovation, accountability and collegial support of the entire school community.
The FHI 360 School Development approach includes seven essential features, which every new FHI 360 school is expected to adopt or adapt, and which guide the assistance and support from FHI 360. FHI 360 works with new school planning teams and school leaders to align these essential features with every school’s theme and priorities. Schools are expected to implement practices that provide evidence of all seven features, although they may differ in their implementation strategies and time-frames. Together, FHI 360 and school leaders use a comprehensive set of rubrics and measures to assess (1) a school’s fidelity to the essential features, (2) its progress in implementation, and (3) related student outcomes.
For work that is supported with external funds, FHI 360‘s financial assistance to each school is tied directly to the school’s success in achieving benchmarks associated with the implementation of the essential features. FHI 360 uses research and evaluation to assess the progress of schools and the success of the FHI 360 School Development program, as well as to support continuous learning and to address emerging challenges.
FHI 360 Schools – Essential Features
The FHI 360 School Development program’s seven essential features are derived from recent research and practice related to middle-grades and high school reform, as well as from FHI 360 evaluations and programs that (1) improve middle-grades and high school education, postsecondary access and success, conditions for educational leadership, service-learning and youth engagement, transition from school to careers, and adolescent and community health; and (2) eliminate inequities based on race/ethnicity, family income, gender, and disability.
The seven features are as follows:
1. Academic Rigor. The central focus of an FHI 360 school is student learning and
achievement. The school aligns a rich curriculum with best instructional practices and authentic assessments, and ensures that every student will achieve proficiency. Guaranteeing access to high-level coursework is not enough; a FHI 360 school creates student supports, promotes teachers’ professional development, and protects the time and space needed for learning and achievement.
2. Small Learning Communities. A FHI 360 school has small learning communities with interdisciplinary, grade-level teams as well as content area teams, which meet during common planning times. The teams set instructional priorities, review student work, communicate with students’ families, create additional supports for students, and guide their own professional development. Complementing the professional learning teams of teachers are additional personalization strategies, such as academies and advisories, which help to ensure that every student is known well by at least one school staff member who is his/her unswerving advocate.
3. College Readiness. Preparation for postsecondary education or training begins in the middle grades and is ensured through high school completion and access to higher education. A FHI 360 school demonstrates a “college-going culture” characterized by high expectations, strong academics, partnerships with students’ families, community organizations and higher education institutions, and clear guidance for college awareness, preparation and enrollment.
4. Youth Engagement. A FHI 360 school cultivates the constructive engagement of students in their own learning and development and in the ongoing improvement of the school community. With the guidance of adults, every student develops individual learning plans, contributes to the school and community through service-learning, and develops the knowledge and skills associated with “the five pathways” of civic engagement. The school promotes youth voice and agency through advisory programs, an annual student survey, youth leadership in school behavior committees and service activities, and representation in school-wide decision making teams.
5. Health and Wellness. Recognizing that physical and mental health and well being are critical for a student’s learning, development and engagement, a FHI 360 school establishes a comprehensive school health program and assesses its effectiveness annually. The school maintains partnerships with families, health institutions, and other community service organizations to accomplish the objectives of the school health program.
6. Equity and Inclusion. A FHI 360 school demonstrates its support of all students and capitalizes on student, staff, and community diversity with respect to race/ethnicity, family income, gender, and disability. The school staff seeks to eliminate inequities and to provide the safest and most inclusive environments for students with learning differences, limited English proficiency, interrupted schooling, and other factors that may have affected a student’s prior achievement and development.
7. Reflective Review and Self-assessment. A FHI 360 school engages in collaborative, ongoing inquiry into teaching and learning, healthy development and student engagement, using internal and external reviews of students’ work and other sources of data, including grades, test scores, attendance and other behavior information, health/wellness indicators, and indicators of student engagement. Review and reflection result in planning and differentiation of instruction and student supports, teachers’ professional development, and the strengthening of school operations to support teaching and learning.
An outline of other practices associated with these features is included in our companion document, FHI 360 Schools: Essential Features and Practices.
Assistance and Support to New Schools: FHI 360 Experience and Capacity
FHI 360’s assistance and support for the planning, implementation, and continuous improvement of new schools will guide schools in the adoption or adaptation of the essential features and their corresponding practices. Assistance and support includes workshops and study sessions for individual schools and clusters of schools; school-site coaching and consulting; school network management; brokering and monitoring of other professional development; and documentation and evaluation. These activities are both directive and responsive: FHI 360 introduces the schools to evidence-based practices and requires an assessment of their impact on teaching and learning, and also helps the school community to build its own capacity to review data, improve teaching and learning, and align the essential features with its own themes and priorities.
FHI 360 has honed this directive-responsive approach during the last 25 years of programs and evaluations, some focused particularly on small secondary schools and preparation for postsecondary education. Programs include Middle Start and Schools for a New Society, both of which guided the development of small schools or small learning communities; and the High School Redirection and High School Academies initiatives, through which FHI 360 provided technical assistance and disseminated information about successful structures and practices to schools adapting promising secondary education models. FHI 360’s Partnerships for College Access and Success initiative assisted consortia of secondary schools, postsecondary institutions, and student support programs in ensuring that vulnerable groups of students would receive preparation and support to enter and achieve in postsecondary education or training. FHI 360’s Bridge to Employment program ensures a similarly successful transition from high school to work and careers.
FHI 360 evaluations that have informed this work include those of the Institute for Student Achievement, Expeditionary Learning Outward Board, Middle College High School Consortium, and Milwaukee Partnership Schools.
FHI 360’s support for school development is informed by substantial work in youth development and youth civic participation, through which FHI 360 has provided schools and other organizations with the knowledge and tools they need to help young people develop their leadership, responsibility for their education, and engagement in their communities. FHI 360 developed and manages the Youth Innovation Fund, the purpose of which is to support young people in addressing public issues and problems through service-learning.
FHI 360 has also worked extensively with youth-serving community-based agencies to help foster programming that plays to youth’s strengths. This includes evaluations of the Young Adult Capacity-Building Initiative, which focuses on the needs of under-served youth; the Community Leadership Initiative, which strengthened youth participation in civic, educational and economic life; and Engaging Latino Students in Education, a program involving five CUNY colleges.
Other FHI 360 work with youth-development programs include an extensive study of the New York City Beacons Initiative, an ambitious model of school-community-family partnerships.
Adolescent health has been a focus of considerable FHI 360 research and technical assistance in schools and other youth-serving organizations. Work has included studies of Bronx Family Planning, Emergency Contraception and Adolescents, and Bright Futures, which focused on prevention of teenage pregnancy; and the New Jersey School-Based Youth Services Program, which provided comprehensive health, mental health, substance-abuse prevention, and other support services to young people and their families. In addition, FHI 360 evaluated HIV/AIDS education programs in middle schools and high schools in New Jersey and New York City.
FHI 360’s focus on equity and inclusion is part of all the work noted above, and has been strengthened through the work of the Educational Equity Center at FHI 360, a leading force in addressing inequities related to race/ethnicity, family income, gender, and disability. Programs include those like Quit it! which prevents teasing and bullying; After-School Science for Girls; Playtime is Science for Students with Disabilities; and ground-breaking work to spur the achievement of boys.
The FHI 360 School Development program will be uniquely informed by FHI 360’s half-century experience as a nonprofit organization committed to solving critical social problems and building the capacity of individuals, communities, and institutions to become more self-sufficient in all the major areas of human development, with a focus on improving education, health, civil society, and economic opportunities for the least advantaged in the United States and developing countries throughout the world. The new FHI 360 schools will benefit from the work of the following FHI 360 centers of excellence: Center for School and Community Services, Center for Youth Development, Disabilities Studies and Services Center, and National Institute for Work and Learning.