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  • Writer's pictureLaura Tavares

Reflections on Leading Innovation: A Conversation with Superintendent Stephen Zrike

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

WPS’s Middle School Pilot in Salem, MA is designed to reshape how local students experience school, and also to inform and inspire innovation beyond the district. To that end, we recently collaborated with the Essex Country Learning Collaborative to bring school leaders from across the North Shore to visit the pilot. Dr. Steve Zrike joined the group to share his reflections on centering student and teacher voice in the transformation process, in conversation with WPS Executive Director Laura Tavares.

Q: The Middle School pilot is now in its second year, serving nearly 90 students in grades 7 and 8. What have you learned from the pilot so far?

[One thing] I've learned is we've got to listen to kids and teachers more than we do. I'm trying to get better at that. [They] have a lot of solutions for what can work in schools. When I spoke to kids about their experiences… you don't get middle school kids to fake it. I mean, they'll tell you exactly what they think, right? And they were so brutally honest about how much better this pilot experience was for them. And so I've learned, the importance of that. And our teachers, I mean, we have veteran teachers now who are banging on the doors to get into a pilot. That shocked me at first, but then it made sense because it was more of a liberating way for them to be educators. They're not brand new teachers. They've been around in the system a long time. And the fact that they wanted to teach in the pilot, to me, was eye opening; ‘Okay, well we've got to reshape what the experience looks like here for our educators as well.’”

Q: What else has shifted in your thinking?

We are very fixated on outcomes, and no one's more outcomes driven than I am; I've worked in turnaround schools most of my career. But, I now think that's a little misplaced...[I see the need to place more] importance on student experiences, which will eventually lead to outcomes. And so, [I’m] really trying to get the experience right for kids. The outcomes will follow. We're not quite there yet with the outcomes here, but I do believe some of the leading indicators of success, which is kids attending school, the [Leaps Student Voice] survey data, the perceptions of teachers, the feedback from parents, the discipline rates—are all signs of health and more functionality that will lead to improved outcomes for kids.

LEARN MORE: Transcend Education recently published this case study spotlighting how Salem Public Schools, together with WPS, used the Leaps Student Voice Survey to better understand student experience.


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