Five District Case Studies: California’s Golden Opportunity

We are pleased to publish the district case studies are published by Michael Fullan, and supported by the Stuart Foundation. California is committed to improving it’s education performance statewide and we believe there are enough forces aligned to make this result a distinct possibility. The actions and coordinated efforts we are taking are practical and realistic.

The districts are:

  1. Corona Norco Unified School District
  2. Fresno Unified School District
  3. Long Beach Unified School District
  4. Twin Rivers Unified School District
  5. Whittier Unified School District

Corona Norco Unified School District

We conducted four main case studies as part of our Stuart Foundation Grant to examine the concept of Professional Capital in action: Fresno Unified, Long Beach Unified, Twin Rivers Unified, and Whittier Union High School district. As part of our wider Leadership from the Middle strategy of helping districts learn from each other we encountered other districts that make for interest cases to learn from. One such district was Corona Norco Unified School District. We decided to include it as a ‘mini case-study’. The study is based on a short visit to the district by two researchers of Michael Fullan’s team in November 2015. The data collected and reviewed to create this case study include an in depth interview with the district superintendent Michael Lin, a focus group with his entire executive cabinet, and a few dozen documents. Due to the shorter duration of the site visit and the smaller amount of interview data, the case study presented here is considerably shorter and less detailed than the other four major case studies.

As in the case of the other four major case studies, the improvement strategy of Corona Norco is examined through the lens of system coherence, professional capital and student success. Following a similar structure, it starts with an overview of the Corona Norco Unified School District and then moves on to describe its core strategies to create system coherence and cultivate professional capital as they relate to increased student success.

pdfDownload the PDF


Fresno Unified School District

In the past 10 years the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) has undergone a solid and steady transition from a dysfunctional, “broken and broke” system to a more coherent and energized one. Financially, the district was in very bad shape, at risk of running out of cash within a year and on the verge of bankruptcy and state takeover. Currently, Fresno is one of the most fiscally sound districts in the entire country and has achieved high student retention and graduation rates. This case study seeks to capture the approach and strategies through which FUSD has turned itself around.

The three concepts underpinning our analysis are professional capital, system coherence, and student success. Professional capital—comprised of human (the quality of the individual), social (the quality of interactions within a group), and decisional capital (the capacity to make good decisions based on professional judgment)—is the key asset that is invested, accumulated, and circulated to yield continuous growth and strong return in student and adult learning in an education system.[1] Where professional capital is the asset to be developed and circulated, system coherence is about the clarity of the key priorities and strategies in the minds, hearts, and hands of educators, staff or faculty at all levels of the system. While system alignment is about how structures and processes are organized and put into place to advance a system’s agenda, coherence is the development of shared mindsets across the system. Increasingly, we see student success, especially around deep learning and narrowing achievement gaps, as part and parcel of professional capital and coherence. They should be seen as a mutual feed that promotes deep learning on the part of adults and students in the system.

This short report begins with an overview of FUSD, identifying some of the key conditions and strategies that have allowed the district to cultivate professional capital and develop system coherence. It shares the findings from data collected in March and October 2015 which included a review of approximately 30 documents; interviews and focus groups with the superintendent and his executive cabinet, 5 instructional supervisors, and school principals of 9 schools (3 elementary, 3 middle and 3 high schools); observations in classrooms in 3 schools (1 elementary, 1 middle, and 1 high school), one principal council meeting, two professional learning sessions (one for teacher leaders and one for school principals), and one luncheon event where the superintendent reported on FUSD’s progress. It concludes with a series of key lessons and focused recommendations to further the development and circulation of professional capital in this district.

[1] Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: transforming teaching in every school. New York/Ontario: Teachers College Press/Ontario Principals’ Council.

pdfDownload the PDF


Long Beach Unified School District

The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) exemplifies high levels of professional capital in action. This case study captures how LBUSD has continuously improved student learning across the entire district, while providing ongoing support and professional enhancement to its teachers for over two decades. The three concepts underpinning our analysis are professional capital, system coherence, and student success for all. Professional capital—comprised of human, social, and decisional capital—is the key asset that has to be invested, accumulated, and circulated to yield continuous growth and strong return in student and adult learning in an education system.[1] Where professional capital is the asset to be developed and circulated, system coherence is about the clarity of the key priorities and strategies in the minds, hearts, and hands of educators, staff or faculty at all levels of the system. While system alignment is about how structures and processes are organized and put into place to advance a system’s agenda, coherence is the development of shared mindsets across the system. Increasingly, we see student success, especially around deep learning and closing achievement gaps, as part and parcel of professional capital and coherence. They should be seen as a mutual feed that promotes deep learning on the part of adults and students in the system.

This short report begins with an overview of LBUSD, and then identifies some of the key conditions and strategies that underlie its success. Its findings are based on interviews and focus groups with staff members from across all levels of the system (i.e., district office to schools to classrooms), observation data collected from site visits (14 classrooms in 3 high schools), a district-wide professional learning session and one school-level professional learning meeting conducted over two site visits in February and November 2015, and from analyses of over 50 documents collected during these visits and from the district’s website. It concludes with some key lessons and focused recommendations that we view as essential points of action in order for LBUSD to continue on its upward trajectory of student success.

[1] Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: transforming teaching in every school. New York/Ontario: Teachers College Press/Ontario Principals’ Council.

pdfDownload the PDF


Twin Rivers Unified School District

In 2013, the Twin Rivers Unified School District (TRUSD) was in bad shape. Years of political turmoil and system dysfunction had created a toxic culture of favoritism, bullying in the workplace, school neglect, and disengagement system. Three years later, the district has gone through a series of important organizational changes that have turned around the entire system: creating a new improvement-focused culture of collaboration, systems thinking and organizational learning, and enhancing the morale of district and school staff. This case study seeks to capture the approach and strategies through which TRUSD has revamped its organizational culture and set the foundations to enhance the teaching profession and continuously improve student learning across the district.

The three concepts underpinning our analysis are professional capital, system coherence, and student success. Professional capital—comprised of human, social, and decisional capital—is the key asset that has to be invested, accumulated, and circulated to yield continuous growth and strong return in student and adult learning in an education system.[1] System coherence is about the clarity of the key priorities and strategies in the minds, hearts, and hands of educators, staff or faculty at all levels of the system. Coherence is the development of shared mindsets across the system. Increasingly, we see student success, especially around deep learning and closing achievement gaps, as part and parcel of professional capital and coherence. They should be seen as a mutual feed that promotes deep learning on the part of adults and students in the system.

This short report begins with an overview of TRUSD, identifying some of the key strategies used to turn around the organizational culture in a relatively short period of time. It shares the findings from data collected from two site visits in March 2015 and May 2016, including a review of over 80 documents and videos; interviews and focus groups with staff members from across all levels of the system (i.e., district office to schools to classrooms); observation data collected from school site visits (2 elementary, 1 middle and 1 high school), a principals’ meeting held at the district headquarters, from systems thinking training sessions for classified staff and school leadership teams, and in an induction meeting for new hires for the district. It concludes with a series of key lessons from Twin Rivers and focused recommendations to further the development and circulation of professional capital in a district at the initial stages of its improvement journey.

[1] Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: transforming teaching in every school. New York/Ontario: Teachers College Press/Ontario Principals’ Council.

pdfDownload the PDF


Whittier Unified School District

The Whittier Union High School District (WUHSD) offers an illustrative example of high levels of professional capital in motion. A relatively small district with most students living in conditions of high poverty, Whittier has shown sustained improvements in student performance every year at every school on multiple indicators over the past 15 years. These improvements are more remarkable taking into account that Whittier poverty rates have climbed during the same period. This case study seeks to capture the approach and strategies through which WUHSD has continuously improved student learning every year across the entire district, while providing ongoing support and professional enhancement to its teachers.

The three key concepts underpinning our analysis are professional capital, system coherence, and student success. Professional capital—comprised of human, social, and decisional capital—is the key asset that is invested, accumulated, and circulated to yield continuous growth and strong return in student and adult learning in an education system.[1] System coherence is about how clear the key priorities and strategies of an educational system are in the minds, hearts and hands of educators, staff or faculty at all levels of the system, especially about student success and the pathways to accomplish it. Whittier is an exemplar of a strong, coherent system that leverages professional capital to ensure that every student succeeds.

This short report begins with an overview of WUHSD, identifying some of the key conditions and strategies that underlie its success. It shares key findings from data collected in February 2015, including an analysis of over 120 documents; focus groups with the superintendent and three senior district leaders, the president of the teacher’s association, the district new teacher advisor, four curriculum assessment coaches, the superintendents of the five K-8 districts that serve the feeder schools for Whittier high schools, and the principals of all five schools in Whittier; and observations in 12 classrooms in two high schools and in 6 sessions of cross-school course teams (teams from all schools but all teaching same subject). It concludes with a series of key lessons from Whittier and focused recommendations to further the development and circulation of professional capital in this high-performing district.

[1] Andy Hargreaves & Michael Fullan (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. New York/Ontario: Teachers College Press/Ontario Principals Council.

pdfDownload the PDF

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.