Middle Leadership Academy Kicks Off

By Thad Nodine, Senior Fellow, Education Insights Center

December 2017

Over three days in November, teams of faculty, staff, and students from nine CSU campuses gathered at Lake Arrowhead to consider strategies for reforming developmental mathematics at their campus. The teams were part of the first Middle Leadership Academy, a structured, year-long, professional learning experience designed to support efforts to improve student learning, engagement, progression, and completion in the CSU.

The curriculum for the first gathering provided teams with time, space, and support to address the challenges and identify potential solutions related to implementing the Chancellor’s Office Executive Order calling for an overhaul of remedial education across the CSU system. Most of the faculty in attendance represented math departments, and many of the students were math tutors or peer mentors. “The Academy got our team realizing that reforming remedial math instruction is truly a campus-wide event,” said Bianca Mothé, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies at CSU San Marcos. “It really moved our team forward.”

For many participants, this was their first meeting across academic and student affairs divisions to address remediation challenges. Team members also said they appreciated consulting with other campuses, and learning from presenters about remediation strategies in other higher education systems and states. “Bouncing plans and ideas off each other was incredibly insightful,” wrote one participant in an evaluation for the event. “We are not alone,” noted another. “Other states are doing this too,” wrote a third.

Midway through the weekend meeting, a few presenters shared a range of strategies that other states and higher education systems have found effective in reforming remediation, but the bulk of time was spent with each team analyzing their own campus needs and strategies—and consulting with other teams about their ideas and practices.

Some of the most interesting findings shared with participants came from a study of student outcomes at Cuyamaca College before and after it redesigned its math placement model (to include high school GPA, prior math coursework, and a student’s own academic goals) and its entry-level math courses (to include additional supports for underprepared students). The college’s completion rates for transfer-level math increased significantly for underprepared students.

For a deeper look at these reforms and outcomes, see “Math Presentations at the Academy.”

While this year’s Academy is supporting faculty and staff in developing math reforms, the overall purpose is broader: to support and empower “middle leaders” on CSU campuses in addressing and improving student learning and success—to gain knowledge, skills, and relationships that can help people lead from where they “sit” in the system. The concept is drawn from similar efforts in higher education that engage those who are working with students—faculty, department chairs, student services staff, and institutional researchers—in taking on informal leadership roles that have a disproportionate impact on student success.

The Academy provides participants with access to tools and strategies for implementing change, such as defining challenges, accessing data, communicating effectively, and building teams and coalitions. But the major benefit is providing the space and time for busy professionals to consult with each other. According to Susan Baxter, Executive Director of CSU’s Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology, “Being part of this middle leadership program is an invitation to engage.”

Robert Gabriner, professor at San Francisco State University and lead facilitator at the Academy, agreed with this approach. “The smarts are already in the room,” he said. “As facilitators, our job is to bring these leaders together, engage them in authentic conversations, and support them as they agree on a plan and work to implement it.”

The Academy is managed by the CSU Student Success Network, an independent community of practice for faculty, staff, and administrators at CSU working together to improve student learning, retention, and completion, including increasing four- and six-year graduation rates. Besides offering the year-long Academy, the Network conducts research on the state’s largest four-year university system and organizes one-day convenings on topics related to student success open to campus teams of faculty and staff.

For more information about the Student Success Network or to learn how to get involved in the Middle Leadership Academy, contact studentsuccessnetwork@edinsightscenter.org.