You Have Set Your Course; Is That Enough?


In my first two pieces as guest contributor, we focused on the urgency of what some refer to as the “twin pandemics,” social unrest and COVID 19, causing us to need access to high quality data to ensure we are framing the issues unique to each school system during these tumultuous times. In addition to having high quality data to frame clear problems of practice, it is essential each school organization consistently measure and build high-quality culture, as absent high-quality culture, little work benefitting children gets done.


A strong relational culture enables outlier schools to truly outperform their demographic expectations. It has never been more important to serve children from marginalized groups well, and thanks to high quality research emerging from Washington State, we are learning more about how outlier schools change the course of the students they serve.


The Positive Outlier Study identified schools serving American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN), Black, Latino/a, and students experiencing poverty that were most successful on academic and student engagement indicators over five-year period. In reviewing data for approximately 2200 schools, fortysix schools were identified as outlier performers.


So, what were the common conditions of these schools? Surprisingly, many of the outlier schools were once in the bottom 5% of Washington State schools. Their upward trajectory began with a catalyst that sparked momentum and often included: (1) new leadership; (2) an emotional charge; and (3) a strong commitment to the community to begin the demanding work of transformation.


Outlier school teams made a deliberate decision to improve. They made a commitment to the community and intentionally turned to the knowledge of people who have lived experience or have studied issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and racism. Rather than dismiss an insight, school teams chose to learn from the voices in their community and experts and challenge conditions identified as barriers to high performing students.


We know more than ever about the few key actions needed by school teams to improve the educational outcomes for our students who need us more than ever, and the stakes have never been higher. Our role in changing educational outcomes can indeed lead to better life outcomes and stronger communities.


As the great Thurgood Marshall once shared, “Unless our children begin to learn together, then there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.” Armed with this emerging research, we can lead the way! To learn more about the Characteristics of Positive Outlier Schools in Washington State, please visit:

About the Author

Erich Bolz, MA. Ed.

Erich Bolz, MA. Ed.

Vice President, Research and District Engagement

The Center for Educational Effectiveness

(425) 947-5239


Experience: Erich’s educational career spans over 25-year in public education as a remedial reading teacher, pre-K12 principal, central office administrator (small, large, and Educational Service District levels), Adjunct Professor at Heritage University and 2013 recipient of the Violet Lumley Rau Alumni Outstanding Alumnus Award. Board Member at Communities In Schools of Benton-Franklin, WA and Partners for Early Learning serving Tri-Cities, WA. Leading educational transformation:

• Implementing building and district MTSS Systems

• Informing and executing strategic planning

• Grant writing expert

• Veteran Special Education Administrator

• Facilitating process improvement discussions using Compression Planning methodology

• Authoring and publishing on systemic change in education

• TEDx, keynote and conference breakout speaking at a local and national level on MTSS, education, literacy, the importance of early learning, educator care, and community building

• Published author

• Most recent education experience as Assistant Superintendent of 19,000 student school district overseeing 16 elementary principals and the district’s executive team for teaching and learning services including, curriculum, instruction, special programs, and Special Education.

• BA, Central Washington University, Teaching Certificate, Washington State University, Master’s Education Administration and P-12 Principal Certificate, Heritage University, Superintendent Certificate, Washington State University