Collaboration is key to creating strong learning communities within and between schools. The Network for College Success (NCS), which brings together school leadership teams from 15 high schools in Chicago to look at each others’ data and share strategies, is a great example of this collaboration.

As part of NCS, school leaders have access to monthly professional development opportunities during which they meet with other schools. Together they identify where they need support and what changes they will implement to build their schools’ leadership capacity and solve problems. In breakout sessions, school teams develop plans to move forward.

For Tilden High School, a small neighborhood school that serves 250 high-poverty students, having these outside relationships has helped facilitate change and allowed teachers to be more effective.

“We’re able to develop creative solutions that provide a quality experience for kids,” says Principal Maurice Swinney of Tilden. “With many students in temporary living situations, Tilden has all the elements that would otherwise cause them to flounder. NCS has been an anchor for us to help our students succeed.”

As a data-driven network, NCS’ priorities are informed by findings from The UChicago Consortium on School Research, which conducts research on what matters most for student success and school improvement. The Consortium’s Freshman OnTrack data has steered the school network to focus on instruction, including equitable grading practices and systems, structures and targeted interventions for students such as mentoring to ensure ninth graders are on-track to graduation.

The results of this focus have been impressive: last year, NCS schools averaged an 87 percent on-track to graduation rate—higher than the average for all Chicago public schools. NCS schools that have been in the network for three or more years have an average rate of 92 percent. As NCS watches the metrics for student improvement rise across the network, data now points to GPA increases as their next priority.

Based on Consortium research, NCS schools share practices in how they’re using data to tackle their school-specific challenges. This approach recognizes that there is no one-size-fits all solution to school improvement and that principals and teacher leaders are in the best position to know how to support their students. For school leaders who need additional support, NCS provides one-on-one coaching.

Through consistent support and coaching, educators learn from the results of their work and shift approaches accordingly. NCS works with schools to put new systems in place and understands the challenges and experiences of teachers and students that walk the halls.

Hancock High School teacher leaders Heather Pavona and Erin Neidt credit the trusting relationships they have built with NCS staff. “They’ve made themselves very accessible. And, they push our thinking in a thoughtful, data-driven way, which is the impetus for schools that are involved with NCS.”

At Hancock, teams dedicated to different disciplines of school leadership, such as social and academic learning, curriculum mapping, postsecondary success, and instructional leadership, have access to topic-specific professional development. This teaming structure is unique and has been replicated at many NCS schools. Teachers from the various teams within the NCS network visit eachothers’ schools to observe classroom trends and make comparisons.

Pavona and Neidt believe they are fortunate to have administrators at Hancock who encourage them to prioritize professional learning opportunities. In her role as curriculum coordinator, Neidt says the support she’s received in her transition from teacher, to teacher leader, helped her implement change.

At Tilden, Principal Swinney celebrates how NCS’ professional development helped foster teacher leadership capacity.

“The reason I choose to partner with NCS is their support in helping to create mid-career teacher leaders,” says Swinney. “If adults master the art of learning from colleagues, we can more quickly move forward the work of helping all students achieve.”