A Guide for Planning Transitions to Secondary (Grades 6-12) School

Who Should Use This Guide? This transition planning guide helps secondary school leaders work with district and school teams to develop a data-informed transition plan that supports the engagement of students and families who lost out on significant learning opportunities due to Covid-19, so that students are more likely to attend or participate. The plan will also address longstanding disparities in access to educational resources.

Planning for the fall and subsequently a year-long transition is an opportunity to build back better.

Why a Secondary School Approach? Our planning guide for secondary schools focuses on the nuances, strengths, challenges, and opportunities unique to middle and high school communities. This year’s plan should include more attention to student and family voice and leadership. Middle and high schools will need to implement a school-wide strategy to maximize youth voice, leverage peer-to-peer learning and engage students who are usually under-represented in decision-making processes. This includes students who have experienced the most severe levels of learning loss as a result of school building closures and distance learning.

In addition, middle and high school teams should also target students in transitioning grades (6th, 9th) with preventive and early intervention strategies and supports. Research about students transitioning from elementary to middle school (6th graders) and from middle to high school (9th graders) shows that the new school culture, changes in educational experiences, and expectations and practices can be a complicated adjustment for students. Be sure to offer the necessary transitional support to give your 6th and 9th grade students a sense of connectedness and belonging that will promote a successful start to the new school year.

Similarly, students in the class of 2021 are likely to experience anxiety and worry as they ponder what the last year of their high school experience will be and how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect post-secondary plans. Be sure to create multiple opportunities for seniors and their families to be heard and supported throughout the school year.

Now, like never before, middle and high school communities are able to redefine what engagement means and how it looks, what school leadership means and who will be the leaders in their school communities, and how innovative, fun and student-centered learning can be enjoyable and empowering for both staff and students whether learning in person or remotely.

How Should This Guide Be Used? This guide offers a process for using our Five Ingredients of Systemic Change to take stock of your situation and create a tailored plan that builds on the strengths and realities in your community. We recommend the following steps.

Four Transition Steps
  • Convene A Transition Team This can be an existing, new or reconfigured team. The team membership should be cross-functional and include school staff that often work in silos. Membership should represent all segments of your school community – parent leaders, health providers and community partners – and represent the demographics of your school’s student population. Be sure the team includes teachers with expertise in special education services, English Language Learners and general education.

  • Review the Five Ingredients of Systemic Change Ask team members to first review the description of each key ingredient in the guide so they understand how each ingredient needs to be adapted to the Covid-19 era. Click on the key ingredients below to learn more.

    1. Capacity building
    2. Actionable data
    3. Positive engagement
    4. Strategic partnerships
    5. Shared accountability
  • Complete the School Transition Planning Worksheet To assist schools responding to the often overwhelming challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, we developed a Transition Planning Worksheet. This worksheet can be used to address urgent issues and other factors that need to be considered as you revise, adapt and develop a plan for the fall semester and a year-long transition plan. Review the results as a team. It's not meant to be an in-depth analysis of a district’s system.

    For a more intensive analysis, consider piloting the Secondary School Transition Attendance Analysis Tool (SSTAAT). Used together, the guide and the SSTAAT enable your team to set priorities based upon an analysis of your particular strengths, realities and challenges. 

  • Communicate Your Plans with Your School Community Share your capacity building priorities and activities with the entire school community so everyone can understand how the school is responding to current realities and participate. See this resource page for tips.