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Identifying Three Focus Priorities to Direct Improvement Efforts

Concentrating central office efforts on highest impact levers


District leaders at Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) needed to quickly assess progress and challenges during the pandemic in Spring 2020 to develop a plan for return to school in the fall. Given planning and staffing challenges associated with reopening, the team needed to pare down to a clear set of priorities to guide the district's work.

"We all had to get to the same three agreements. I gave my boss, the deputy, a lot of credit for really having hard conversations and getting us the three priority areas which I outlined in our work. This last month has been, well, what's the three things we're taking through the window with this next year? What's going to be our priorities? You can't do it all. [...], so I think it helped us think about, ‘What is really the most high leverage thing?’,but you can't can't do them all. It’s forced us to work as one big team." - John Rice, Executive Director, Teaching and Learning at Cedar Rapids Community School District


In order to effectively respond during the pandemic, CRCSD leaders articulated three clear focus priorities to support students:

  1. Family engagement through structured, ongoing teacher check-ins

  2. Social-emotional learning time, every day, at all campuses

  3. Prioritized instructional standards to guide teacher planning

By setting these three goals, leaders were able to focus work over the course of the summer prior to reopening and cut programs that were "nice to have" but not essential during the crisis, as well as set metrics.

In the coming year, CRSCD leaders will again focus on three core priorities, this time connected to the first three levels of the "High Reliability Schools" framework:

  1. Support collaborative teacher professional learning communities

  2. Utilize common assessment data tied to priority standards

  3. Improve teacher coaching are instructional improvement cycles

This strategy is a part of TLA's Hop, Skip, Leapfrog release, which explores the concrete ways in which schools and systems pursued student-centered innovation during COVID-19. Explore the full guide to find additional strategies, insights, and resources.