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Center Ideas: An Unexpected Benefit—The Virginia Networked Improvement Community

The Region 5 Comprehensive Center (R5CC) created a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) to help identify and solve problems of practice using improvement science—a problem-solving approach centered on continuous inquiry and learning. With the help of the Virginia Office of School Quality, R5CC created an eight-step model for the NIC to help education leaders build capacity to improve practices over three years.

"I am very proud of the Networked Improvement Community, it has all of the pieces of improvement science and implementation science and it gives our stakeholders a vehicle to make all of these frameworks operational!"  - Dr. April Kiser-Edwards

During the first year, participants realized that the advantage they were gaining, beyond the eight steps, was newfound partnerships that would not have existed otherwise. The divisions were not using the model in isolation but forming teams and coming together across the state to learn, apply, reflect, and collaborate. Darnella Sims from Chesterfield County noted that she was intrigued by the NIC invitation because it married with the continuous improvement process already being used in Virginia to develop school improvement plans. Once connected, she learned that reflection and collaboration were thoughtfully integrated into every step. Now, she has access to a greater breadth of resources, knowledge, and experiences.

[It’s] that feeling you get when you know we’re all in the same boat, and we are all pushing and moving toward greatness for our kids and greatness for our school divisions. And to me, it’s just a really nice place to be able to talk about challenges with someone outside of [our] division, getting input from them or maybe resources or practices or initiatives that they have going that we can also learn from. –Darnella Sims, Director of School Improvement, Chesterfield County Public Schools

At any stage of the NIC journey, the school divisions participating in the communities can request extra meetings for brainstorming or feedback from their peers, the Office of School Quality’s Implementation and Communication Coordinator (Dr. April Kiser-Edwards), or the R5CC team.  The school divisions participating in the communities are gaining strategies to differentiate problems from symptoms, conduct root cause analyses, and sustain an improvement culture. As Lori Vandeborne, R5CC Virginia Co-Lead, explained, “These [problems of practice] are not small fires that we’re putting out, and they’re not easy to solve. The problem takes a team effort to address…and galvanizes collective action toward a common accomplishment.”

As the work with the NIC evolves, Ann Webber, R5CC Regional Co-Lead, anticipates opportunities to apply the process at different levels, benefitting states, divisions, and schools and increasing the ripple effect of capacity building and positive change.

Darnella has shared her enthusiasm for the NIC with her division, state, and at a nationwide conference. She believes, “This process [permeates] all aspects of your work. The more you know, the better you do.”

R5CC is breaking down silos and connecting educators to incredible resources—most notably, each other—to ultimately offer the best outcomes for students. If you’re interested in learning more about the NIC, visit the R5CC NIC website to access information about the eight steps as well as establishing a team, developing a theory of improvement, and using disciplined inquiry to drive improvement.