Changing Mental Frameworks: One High School's Success through a Triad Partnership


The challenge for schools is to develop and implement practices that enable all students to learn and thrive in school. It used to be that students had to change to fit the school, but now more and more schools are changing to fit the student (Lawton, Leithwood, Batcher, Donaldson, and Stewart, 1988). In the call for school restructuring, educators question the assumptions underlying our educational system and contemplate totally different school structures. They also promote revamping the school culture and altering the relationships among students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community.

In January 1992 the Texas Education Agency (the state department of education in Texas) selected 83 schools to participate in its Partnership Schools Initiative. The goals of this initiative are to improve outcomes for students and to close the performance gaps that currently exist among various student groups. While the goals are fixed, the selected schools are allowed flexibility in the process they use to achieve these goals. The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) selected one of the partnership schools in spring 1992 for a case study of school reform. This school near the Mexican border, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) High School, used a three-pronged approach with staff, students, and parents to alter the attitudes and mental frameworks that guide their actions. The story of this school highlights the value of setting a goal that addresses mental frameworks and using a three-pronged approach to "reculture" the school (Fullan & Miles, 1992). In addition, the unique relationship that the Partnership Schools Initiative engendered between the school and the agencies that oversee it offer valuable lessons in systemic reform.

Formation of the Triad Partnership

In the Partnership Schools Initiative (PSI), each selected school, its regional education service center, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are seen as partners working toward the same goals. In the south Texas area known as Region One, five participating schools work with a PSI coordinator at the regional education service center. They receive logistical support from the PSI coordinator and financial support from TEA. The initiative infuses dollars not otherwise available to the partnership schools; special funds, for example, made it possible for the principals from all five schools to attend leadership training arranged by the PSI coordinator. Acting as an external facilitator, the PSI coordinator also assists each school on an individual basis. For PSJA, for example, she has helped to plan and conduct a series of monthly staff development sessions.

This initiative allows partnership schools greater flexibility. Placing relative emphasis on outcomes, TEA has de-emphasized state control of the process for achieving desired outcomes. It has made the waiver application process easier for selected schools, so that they can more readily obtain waivers of rules and regulations. For PSJA, the limit on days devoted to staff development was increased from six to 10. This is one way that TEA has promoted more flexibility in policies and procedures that govern school operations.

Next Page: Brief Description of the School

Published in Issues ...about Change Volume 3, Number 2, Changing Mental Frameworks: One High School's Success through a Triad Partnership (1994)