Jumpstart School Transformation with a 100-Day Plan

Engaging the entire school community in deep conversations before writing goals will often reveal to you the real challenges a school faces. Together, you can create an entry plan that can energize a school transformation.

Topics: School Management

Entering a school as a new principal is a daunting task, whether a seasoned veteran or a novice principal. Entry plans are a common requirement upon being hired. A 100-day entry plan with input by all constituents can be the answer. Ultimately, it is not just creating a plan that will help. Instead, engaging the entire school community in deep conversations before writing goals will often reveal to you the real challenges a school faces. Together, you can create an entry plan that can quick-start a school transformation.

I am a 21-year veteran Pre-K-4 elementary principal in the Tiverton Public Schools, a small rural district along the Rhode Island shoreline. I was principal for 20 years of Fort Barton Elementary School, a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, a National Healthier Schools winner, and numerous other statewide commendations.

Right down the road was Pocasset Elementary School, the same school I attended as a young child. Pocasset was known as a great school with dedicated teachers and high achievement. But recently, Pocasset was struggling. In the past 10 years, there were four principals, and student achievement plummeted, with some grade levels scoring single digits on statewide achievement tests. In addition, trust between stakeholders was at an all-time low while discipline referrals were at record level highs.

I transferred to Pocasset July 1, 2020, during the height of the pandemic, to help restart and transform the school. This is how we created our 100-day plan:

  1. Let all voices be heard. I wanted to hear from all constituents about Pocasset–the real Pocasset, not rumors. I conducted virtual, confidential, optional interviews and focus groups with teachers, staff, the district superintendent, parents, and students to gather information.
  2. Use a limited number of open-ended questions. I asked each group the same three questions: What is one thing you love about Pocasset? Next, what is a Pocasset tradition or celebration you would like to keep? Finally, what is one thing you’d like to change about Pocasset? The first two questions allowed people to focus on Pocasset’s positive traits and informed me about essential traditions and celebrations we should keep. The last question allowed people to share their hope of what Pocasset could become.
  3. Look for commonalities among the data to create goals. Once I analyzed the responses, I was able to identify three overall goals: improve culture and climate, improve communication, and improve communication. Everyone started taking ownership because they felt connected to the process.
  4. Accountability to all constituents. In September, I took the 100-day entry plan on the road. I shared it with all our parents, the superintendent, teachers, staff, students, a Principal Advisory Committee, a PBIS Committee, and a School Improvement Team. In addition, I presented at a School Committee Meeting, which is livestreamed on YouTube for community members. I wanted to be held accountable for the entry plan because these were the goals our school community identified. Keeping all constituents informed monthly about each goal’s progress was vital. It was a permanent agenda item on every school-based committee and staff meeting. Our school community learned that during Morning Music (arrival) and Dancing Dismissals, our SEL team/nurse/principal greet all students, then immediately meet and triage students’ emotional and physical needs each day. Twice daily classroom visits were divided into instructional walks and Wellness Walks. I would check in daily with every teacher and staff member to support them, especially since we were in-person learning throughout the 2020-2021 school year.
  5. Involve everyone. We worked closely with our PTO and purchased enough COVID-safe playground equipment for all students to play. Instead of a big Halloween party, we repurposed our gym into an indoor pumpkin patch, and each class was able to pick and decorate a pumpkin COVID-safely. In addition, we began Monday Motivations as a way to re-engage our families with local community groups and businesses. Each Monday, a local business or community group like the police or fire department comes and hands out a cup of complimentary coffee to all our families at Monday arrival. In return, we allow the business or group to advertise with a sign. It was so popular that we needed to get a traffic cop to help us safely manage Monday traffic, and student attendance on Mondays soared.
  6. Share your successes. After the 100-day mark, I circled back with each constituent and reported our successes, along with the next steps. I presented again at our School Committee Meeting at each school-based meeting and sent parents a short video detailing our accomplishments.

Our 100-day plan became the foundation for our school’s transformation story. Teachers, staff, and students alike believed in our school again. Parents were again proud to be Pocasset families. We even created a school cheer and our building’s new hashtag #PocassetProud. So let your 100-day plan jumpstart your school’s transformation efforts.

Suzette Wordell is principal at Pocasset Elementary School in Rhode Island.