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School Turnaround Leaders

6/5/17 to 6/9/17

Tuition: $3,500 per person

The 2017 cohort for School Turnaround Leaders is currently on a waitlist. For consideration if space becomes available, we encourage you to submit an application at your earliest convenience. 

What You Will Learn

Develop a theory of action for successfully turning around underperforming schools. Understand how to use an accelerated timeline to create learning environments that support high levels of achievement for all students and full engagement of all stakeholders.

Program Overview

Together with Harvard faculty, expert practitioners and a cohort of fellow turnaround leaders, you will analyze elements critical to your school’s turnaround plan. You will gain key leadership skills and learn strategies for successful implementation.

Specific topics include understanding the importance of high instructional quality and expectations, translating data into action, developing effective teams, leading a change effort, and creating meaningful engagement with community and external partners.

School turnaround efforts require highly effective leaders able to create the conditions for rapid and sustained change. To successfully impact student outcomes, leaders in turnaround contexts must drive a fundamental shift in school culture and instructional practice that results in early gains and ongoing high performance. The demands are great, but the need to improve the opportunities for our children in failing schools is even greater.

By the end of the program you will understand how to:

  • Transform school culture
  • Identify and achieve early success
  • Measure your results
  • Understand how to best align school-level efforts with district and state goals
  • Implement your new theory of action
Capstone Project: Theory of Action

The program’s capstone project is where you will develop a theory of action, specific to your school or district turnaround efforts. The plan will focus on establishing priorities to achieve rapid and meaningful improvement. Once drafted, you will present your plan and receive direct feedback from peers and faculty through a facilitated consultancy exercise. By the end of the program you will have a defined plan that you can put into action right away.

Program Objectives
  • Develop a theory of action—wherever you may be in the turnaround effort—focusing on establishing priorities to achieve rapid and meaningful improvement
  • Lead effective transformation of school culture
  • Understand how to use data effectively to set strategy and drive integrated decision-making at the classroom and school levels
  • Drive high-quality instruction and instructional leadership
  • Determine how best to track and assess progress and success
  • Learn strategies for communicating your vision to the press and stakeholders in the school and community
Who Should Attend
  • K-12 educators and change agents directly responsible for leading or overseeing school turnaround efforts
  • School-level teams composed of principals, assistant principals, educators in leadership roles, school administrators, instructional leaders, teacher leaders
  • Teams composed of school- and district-level leaders are also encouraged
  • Administrators at the state level and individual educators are also welcome to apply

Attending as a Team

Educators who attend as part of a team are able to increase the impact of their learning both while on campus and once they have returned home. Free from the usual distractions of the work setting, your team will benefit from additional opportunities to focus on your specific turnaround plan. Teams are able to collectively work on their theory of action, build a shared vision for moving forward, and be better prepared to implement the plan as soon as you return home.

What People Are Saying

“I want to bring a team with me next year so that we can gain insight on the instructional core and think about our strategy as a group.” —Judy Wright, Principal, Mueller Aerospace & Engineering Discovery Magnet, Wichita, KS

“At first the program was intimidating, but everyone quickly made me feel comfortable. The program really stretched me.  I felt empowered.” —Mario Mandlazi, Deputy Chief Education Specialist, Johannesburg Central District Office, Johannesburg, South Africa

"Wow. I feel like I now have a new place to start.” —Wendell Coleman, Principal, Oxon Hill Middle School, Ft. Washington, MD

“The consultancy session was wonderful. One of the highlights of the week! It was a great way to share issues, get feedback and hear suggestions from leaders who come from different states, districts and environments.” —Judy Wright, Principal, Mueller Aerospace and Engineering Discovery Magnet, Wichita, KS

“The program offered up-to-date tools that will help me connect the many components of my plan and empower staff, students and parents.” —Sonia Jaramillo, Principal/Head of School, Greenfield USD, Greenfield, CA

Faculty Chair

Katherine Merseth is Senior Lecturer on Education and Director of the Teacher Education Program at HGSE. Merseth has over 40 years of experience in instruction, administration and research in public education in the United States and internationally and was the founding Director of the School Leadership Program at HGSE. She brings an extensive knowledge of school organizations and instructional practice to the leadership of this program. Her academic work concentrates on K–12 school reform, teacher professional development, mathematics education and the case-method of instruction. Most recently she was the principal investigator for a study researching high-performing charter schools, the results of which are presented in the award-winning book Inside Urban Charter Schools: Promising Practices and Strategies in Five High-Performing Charter Schools. Merseth is also a recipient of the Morningstar Award, HGSE’s highest honor for teaching excellence.


Enrollment Instructions

School Turnaround Leaders is an application program. To maximize the learning experience, the program aims to bring together as diverse a group as possible. As the work of the program is team-based, it is highly encouraged that educators attend as a school-based or district-wide team. Both individuals and teams are welcome to apply. As the program fills quickly, early application is encouraged.

School-level teams may be composed of principals, assistant principals, educators in leadership roles, school administrators, instructional leaders and teacher leaders. Teams composed of school- and district-level leaders are also encouraged. Educators who attend as part of a team are able to increase the impact of their learning both while on campus, and once they have returned home.


Step One
You will be asked to provide your personal profile and organizational information.

Step Two
You will be asked to respond to the following questions:

  1. Explain how participation in the program will benefit your work and describe one or more significant challenges you would like to explore during the program. (250 word limit)
  2. In what ways do you expect your particular skills, experience and perspective to contribute to group discussions? (250 word limit)


Identify Your Team Coordinator

  • Before beginning the application process, you will need to identify a team coordinator.
  • The coordinator will be the primary point of contact during the application process and preparation for the program.
  • The coordinator does not need to attend the program and will have the opportunity to indicate if they will be attending during the application process.

Application Process

  1. A team application to be completed once by the coordinator.
  2. A team member application to be completed by each member of your team.
  • In order for your team to be considered for review by the admissions committee, each team member will need to complete the team member application. The coordinator will receive a link to the team member application once the team application is complete.
  • Once started, the team application must be completed in a single session. It should take 15–20 minutes to complete.
  • A list of required questions will be provided at the beginning of the team application.
  • When your coordinator is ready to complete the team application, it can be accessed by continuing to the next page.
Fees, Hotel Accommodations, and Policies

The comprehensive tuition includes all instructional materials and refreshments. Participants receive a certificate of participation and a letter confirming clock hours of instruction.

Payment or a purchase order must be received within thirty days of program acceptance and prior to the program start. Participants are responsible for their own travel expenses. While a purchase order confirms a reservation, an outstanding balance is maintained until payment is rendered.

Please click here for more information on hotel accommodations for on-campus programs.

Please click here for more information on our on-campus and online refund and withdrawal policies. If you have any additional questions or concerns about your ability to participate, please contact our admissions team at or 1-800-545-1849.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education reserves the right to change faculty or cancel programs at its discretion. In the unlikely event of program changes, the school is not responsible for non-refundable travel arrangements or other planning expenses incurred.

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