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Donald Fraynd PhD’04

The decades-long debate on school reform drags on, but Donald Fraynd has developed some bold solutions that work. Using research begun in his UW PhD program in educational administration, Fraynd led an award-winning Chicago high school as a principal and now leads a visionary effort for the entire Chicago Public School (CPS) district called the Office of School Improvement.

March 01, 2012
Donald Fraynd PhD'04

2012 Forward under 40 Award Honoree

UW Major: Educational Administration
Age: 39 | Chicago
Chief School Improvement Officer
Office of School Improvement at Chicago Public Schools

The decades-long debate on school reform drags on, but Donald Fraynd has developed some bold solutions that work. Using research begun in his UW PhD program in educational administration, Fraynd led an award-winning Chicago high school as a principal and now leads a visionary effort for the entire Chicago Public School (CPS) district called the Office of School Improvement.

Fraynd's model focuses initially on decreasing misconduct, increasing attendance, involving parents more, and changing the school's culture and climate.

The model has been controversial, but Fraynd points to results at Harper High School in Chicago. After one year's effort, student attendance increased from 54.4 percent to 70.1 percent, serious misconduct dropped from 1,100 to 226 incidents, and the percent of freshmen on track to graduate rose from 53 percent to 79 percent.

With a bachelor's and master's from Creighton University in Omaha, the North Dakota native starts the improvement process by asking teachers to re-apply for their jobs and then realigns strategy and tactics at schools that need a fresh start. Teachers are given coaching and extensive technical assistance.

Fraynd aims for quick change for broken schools in which students have a short window for success before dropping out. High schools are the district's key target, and the revolutionary approach used in more than a dozen schools shows promise. Enhanced test-score results will be next, Fraynd predicts.

"We have achieved great success for some of the nation's most vulnerable students," he says.

Fraynd and his team are now regarded as national pioneers, heralded by experts in publications such as the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. Department of Education used the CPS model for its multi-billion-dollar school-improvement grant program.

"I would not have known how to create a reform model for the toughest schools had the UW not trained my mind," Fraynd says. "And I would not have been able to implement and lead the effort without the UW influence on my communication and people skills."

In his own words

What do you miss most about campus?

I miss the camaraderie of the learning community. Graduate school at the UW was like a three-year retreat, where I had the time to explore new ideas, read, write, work out and discuss big ideas with friends. The culture of learning and inquiry at the UW is something I really miss.

What advice would you offer to graduating seniors?

Your preparation at the UW has given you stellar skills. Do not settle for just any opportunity. Cast your net wide and look at interesting possibilities across the country and world. You will get tons of rejections, but remember you need to put out about 10 applications for every one "yes." Once you have a short list of possibilities, go visit those places and get a feel for what is the best fit and for where you can make the most difference.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Don't build your self-esteem on the affections of people who do not truly know you. As a gay man, I spent many years closeted and ashamed. Once I became comfortable with myself and attracted strong and healthy people around me who know and appreciate who I am, my life really launched.

What's next for you? What do you see happening or hope will happen in the next five years?

My Office of School Improvement in the Chicago Public Schools is in its fourth year. It was designed to turn around the worst schools in Chicago. Within five years, I hope that my office becomes so effective at breathing new life into schools that the office will no longer be necessary. In five years, I hope the office is beginning to phase out because all schools in Chicago will be growing and thriving.

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