Public School Insights h
What is Working in Our Public Schools
Stories and Interviews about go
Successful School Turnarounds April 2010
Contents Foreword ....................................................................................................................... 3 A Community School Makes the Grade, Thomas Edison Elementary, New York ................... 5 A Change in Direction, Cashman Middle School, Nevada .................................................. 10 A Different Turnaround Vision, Strategic Learning Initiative, Illinois ................................. 12 The Long Turnaround, Central Elementary School, Montana ............................................. 16 Motor City Miracle, Carstens Elementary School, Michigan ................................................ 19 Calling for Excellence with One Voice, Westwood High School, Tennessee ....................... 24 Transforming a School Step by Step, Lewisdale Elementary School, Maryland ................... 26 Finding the Keys to Success, Anna Booth Elementary School, Alabama ............................. 30 Success Breeds Success, Forest Grove High School, Oregon ............................................. 33 Creating a Learning Environment: Moving from Chaos to Achievement, Daytonâ€˜s Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary School, Minnesota......................................................... 38 Detracking Interlake High School, Interlake High School, Washington ............................. 40 Triumphs and Troubles in the Era of No Child Left Behind, Seaford Middle School, Delaware ....................................................................................................................... 43 Appendix: Principles for Measuring the Performance of Turnaround Schools ......................... 46
Foreword The stories and interviews in these pages show that schools can make a critical difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. They represent just a handful of the many schools across the country that are helping children succeed, even when
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the deck is stacked against them.
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
But these stories also remind us that there are no simple
American Association of School Administrators
solutions to complex problems: no overnight miracles, no magic pills, no cookie-cutter approaches. The schools featured in this short document all faced big challenges. They struggled with low performance or wide achievement gaps. But all of them recognized their weaknesses and devised their own diverse strategies for overcoming them.
American Association of School Personnel Administrators American Federation of Teachers American School Counselor Association
They created stronger bonds with their communities. They saw to children's need for proper health care and nutrition. They raised their standards while doing more to help students meet those standards. They built cultures of respect and achievement. They helped staff work together better to attend to children's individual learning needs. And they all have made an enormous difference in the lives of their students. As the nation focuses on the task of turning around struggling schools, stories like these provide important touchstones for policy and action. We hope they will inspire educators and communities to call for policies that will create the conditions for success in every public school and district across the country. For more stories about what is working in our public schools, see www.publicschoolinsights.org.
Association of School Business Officials International Council of Chief State School Officers National Association of Elementary School Principals National Association of Secondary School Principals National Association of State Boards of Education National Education Association National Middle School Association National PTA National School Boards Association National School Public Relations Association National Staff Development Council Phi Delta Kappa International
Copyright ÂŠ 2010 by the Learning First Alliance All rights reserved. ~3~
A Community School Makes the Grade Thomas Edison Elementary School, New York Thomas Edison Elementary School in Port Chester, New York, has earned its reputation as a success story. A decade ago, only 19% of Edison’s fourth graders were proficient in English language arts. Last year 75% were. Proficiency rates in math and social studies are even higher. Not bad for a school where over 80% of students live in poverty. If you ask the school’s principal, Dr. Eileen Santiago, the decision over ten years ago to turn Edison into a fullservice community school has played a key role in its transformation. Working with strong community partners, the school now offers on-site health care, education for parents, counseling for children and their families, and after-school enrichment. Add that community focus to a robust instructional program and close attention to data on how students are doing, and you get a stirring turnaround story.
Public School Insights: Tell me about your school.
better at addressing them. And if I understand it correctly, building stronger ties to your community had a lot to do with that success. Is that right?
Santiago: I have served as principal of this school for 14 years. And I have always felt fortunate that I came into a school with many, many caring people. I did not Santiago: Absolutely. For a while, when I first got walk into a school where the adults felt negatively here, the community was not a part of the school. Our about the children. parents did not feel welcome, often because they had language issues and were concerned about their documented status. So we worked really hard to form connections with the community and, on a whole other level, relationships with our community. Those relationships, over time, developed into support services for children, with leaders of the community helping us in the process. Therein lay the seeds of a community However, I was faced with other concerns. One of them was that the school had a pretty significant level school: Building community with the community in of poverty. We were at over 80% free lunch. We con- which your school is situated, and then turning that sense of community into real services and programs tinue to have that level of poverty today. for children that come from networks with community providers. So that was one thread of our transformaIn addition, Edison has always served an immigrant tion. population. The school was constructed in 1872, so you can imagine that the population has changed a lot over the years. Today the population is mostly multiethnic Hispanic, coming from different areas of the Hispanic world. And many of our children are undocumented immigrants. That in itself adds several levels of challenge: The stress that goes along with not only immigration but possibly being undocumented, of being separated from your family for a long time and of living in uncertain circumstances. Another thread was also really important and is very pertinent to the discussion that I think is occurring So this is the population that we serve. And once you nationwide: The notion that if you help children come understand that this is the population and these are to school healthy, well-fed and ready to learn, they the challenges, you begin to think, ―Well, let's look at are going to be in a better position. They are going to the glass as half-full.‖ We have wonderful diversity in be more receptive to and more engaged with classthis school. We have caring parents who just need to room teaching. feel connected to the school. So we have to cre a sense of community. In the past, education discussions have just been about how children performed on a test. Yet at Edison, That is what I can really share with you about our early on and out of necessity, we brought in discusschool. Challenges that existed 14 years ago still exist sions about children's health and wellness. We asked today. We just got better at addressing them. whether children had a safe place after school, if they were getting medical care, if they were well-fed when Public School Insights: It seems like you got a lot
―I came into a school with many, many caring people‖
―Challenges that existed 14 years ago still exist today. We just got better at addressing them‖
they came in the schoolhouse doors. We had those discussions—which are now taking center stage with the new administration—14 years ago, because we wanted to start taking away the barriers to learning. Today organizations like ASCD refer to this as ―whole child education.‖ We intuitively felt our way to the same conclusion.
―If you help children come to school healthy, well-fed and ready to learn, they are going to be in a better position‖ Public School Insights: But if we look at Edison's test scores, they are pretty stellar.
Also, out of about 440 children, we may suspend 10 a year. Our suspension rate is very, very low. Student discipline markedly improves when children feel connected to their schools. Those things are as exciting to me as the academic success we've achieved. Those things are absolutely as important as academics. Because of these successes, we have had people come from far and wide to see us. Last year we had a group of about 20 principals visit us from the Netherlands. They are looking to implement the community school model within their buildings. We have had people from other regions visit our district to learn about our support services as well as our academics.
I should clarify that in speaking about our support services I certainly do not mean to underplay our acaSantiago: Yes. And while I can cite a number of other demic program. There has been so much really good very, very important indicators that children are learn- research on effective literacy practice and what constiing, healthier and feel safer, certainly the discussion is tutes a comprehensive approach to literacy instrucalways about the academic growth that has taken tion. We put that research into practice in our building place here. through our balanced literacy initiative, and I'm very happy with that component of our school. We know that in 1999, when New York State first began to assess its children, 19% of our fourth graders But it is the other incidentals that I am really proud of, passed the state English language arts test. In 2009, because we are removing the barriers to learning. If 75% of fourth graders passed. And we are testing you have a rigorous academic curriculum, solid inmore students. We are testing special education stustructional practices that are supported by research— dents for whom, arguably, the tests may not be apand there is tons of research about how children learn propriate. We are testing English language learners to read and write and be literate—coupled with a supafter they have been in the U.S for a year and a day. port network of wraparound services for the whole So we are testing more children and they are perform- child, that is going to be the groundbreaking work that ing substantially better. makes a difference in school reform. In 2006, the state expanded the testing pool to include third and fifth grade children. Happily, we have consistently had 80% or more of these children passing ELA assessments. In mathematics, we have consistently had, in third, fourth and fifth grade, 85% to 90% or above passing. In social studies and science, our children have scored 90% or above. Our English language learners have consistently met annual performance targets for adequate yearly progress. So we do track performance over time. But there are other things that are just as important that I want to put out there. When we started our transformation process, 23% of our children had access to adequate healthcare. But 14 years later, we have over 94% of our children enrolled in a program that allows them to receive healthcare services right within our building. For example, we immunize children for H1N1 and for the regular flu. Parents do not have to leave work, which is important because many of our parents do not have ―sick days.‖ If they don‘t go to work, they don‘t get paid. So their children are immunized right within our building.
―If you have a rigorous academic curriculum...coupled with a support network of wraparound services for the whole child, that is going to be the groundbreaking work that makes a difference in school reform‖ Public School Insights: You have pointed to a lot of indicators of school success beyond test scores. That raises another question. As you know, nationally there is a real urgency to get some of our lowest-performing schools turned around. How can we be confident in the first couple of years of a turnaround that a school is on the right path? Is it a question of test scores, or is there more to it?
Santiago: I think schools have to look at all of the other indicators. Today there are wonderful technological supports to assist principals and school staff in looking at academic data. When I started this process, during the summers we would gather the troops and we would literally sit down with calculators to see how we had done and where we needed to be better. But nowadays, right at the computer, you can see how your school has performed compared to similar schools, or regionally. You can look at how your children from various subgroups, including special education and English language learners, scored. That data is at your fingertips. And [at Edison] we can also go right into our data warehouse—and I'm sure data warehouses and similar data systems are popping up across the country—and even connect a score to a specific test and to a specific test item. All of those tools are there, and they are the most visible means of accountability. I certainly encourage school teams to make use of this technology, but I always say to dig deeper. Know your children. Know your families. Know your community. You really have to look at the variables within your school and community that are directly or indirectly affecting student learning. And you have to be able to discern whether there is a need for childcare, a need for afterschool programming, a need for tutorials or a need for parent engagement. But people don't necessarily look at those sorts of things. In our building, for example, we track how many parents show up to our special events and our parent meetings. We probably get at least 75% turnout at our events, which are strategically spread out over the year and geared towards what parents want and need to know. The topics vary. Sometimes we talk about standards and supporting your child's literacy. We also cover topics relating to immigration, continuing education and obtaining a GED, and taking classes in English. And we can include information as basic as, when do I take my child to a doctor? You really have to assess the needs of your community almost as much or as much as you analyze the test data.
―You really have to assess the needs of your community almost as much or as much as you analyze the test data‖
of suspensions per year. That is all recorded. But there is a lot of other data. Some of it is soft, some of it is hard. Some of it is quantitative, some of it is qualitative. Leaders, whether they are teachers, principals or district administrators, need to uncover it. They need to unearth it, so they can plan accordingly.
―It is partnership work that really constitutes effective turnaround work‖ Public School Insights: Are there any questions I should have asked you but didn't? Santiago: You did not ask about our partnerships, which are a key component of our school. The work that we've done in this school really is turnaround work. And I think an important message to get out there is that it is partnership work that really constitutes effective turnaround work. There is no way that a school staff can, if you have the kind of population that we have at Edison, provide all things to all people. But sometimes not having enough resources forces you to go outside of the building to find what you need. We have forged some terrific partnerships with agencies that might not necessarily be part of a school setting, but that are serving our children. We have mental health agencies working with us, counseling kids who need it and providing collateral support for their families. We have a wonderful, outstanding partnership with a college that has brought us a tremendous amount of resources. It has brought us student teachers. It has brought us tutors for children in afterschool settings. It has allowed our children to go visit a college site so that they can see what the future holds for them. And, thanks in good deal to them, today Thomas Edison is not only a community school, but it is also a professional development school. So people who are coming into this profession are learning new ways to support children, and they are doing so at our school. These partnerships are integral to the work of a turnaround school. Teaching and leading schools are hard work. It is hard managing the building. It is hard leading the instructional initiatives. You need as much support as possible, but you have got to be willing to open your doors and let the supports in.
We have a collegial environment. Someone said something really great at a conference I recently attended. Public School Insights: That sounds like a much Collegial is more than congenial. I was very fortunate more involved kind of analysis. to walk into a school climate that had good congenial relationships. But now we have high-level, profesSantiago: It is an analysis, and it cannot come out of sional, collegial relationships that allow us to train oththe data warehouse. We can get at the percent of free ers coming into the profession. That allow us to be lunch students. We can certainly ascertain the number presenters at conferences. That allow our teachers ~7~
and even the principal to take a stab at writing an ar- together and we talk about the work that has to be ticle. And our relationships kind of up the ante on pro- done. It is the rev-up time for the year ahead. And fessional performance. certainly we look at data. Every single time a piece of data is available to us, we analyze it. But just the idea of bringing staff together…Teambuilding is important. This relates to leadership as well. Our school leaderWhen we are in the building, there is very little time ship sets the direction for our school. But then we alfor anything but tending to the children and teaching low leadership to emerge at all levels, even among the children. So carving out time in the year to meet our partners. Marty Blank, of the Coalition for Comand reflect is really important. Whatever your apmunity Schools, talks about it as ―cross-boundary proach to the turnaround school is, you have got to leadership.‖ That is a very, very, very important part build in time for systematic reflection, time when you of the community school that should be part of all can look at and reflect on all kinds of data before schools. making your plans for the year. And coming together… We don't do enough of that. Public School Insights: That raises another question for me. You say that when you came in 14 years ago, you had the kind of climate you could work with. But very often we hear how you have to get rid of the principal and you really should replace most of the staff or you are not going to have the kind of success you need to have. Is that an experience you had to go through?
―Whatever your approach to the turnaround school is, you have got to build in time for systematic reflection‖
Santiago: No, but that does not mean that if you do not have the elements that I had that you cannot try to create them. And certainly there is value to moving some people to other buildings, because sometimes the match isn't good. Teachers in a specific culture, principals in a specific culture, and superintendents in a specific culture sometimes do require it.
If you talk to a lot of teachers, they feel so pressured. Something that we sometimes lose is the joy of teaching and learning. We can lose that in the frenzy of trying to have our children do well. So our retreats are also a time to rediscover why we came into this profession. They are a time to rediscover the craft. We talk about craft knowledge. We talk about what we have to offer the profession. These types of things But the kind of change I think is the deepest and most make people feel happier to come to work, more valmeaningful is building capacity among your own staff. ued, supported and that they have been given the Creating leaders among your own staff. Teambuilding appropriate resources. with your own staff. I am fortunate to be in a district where we can have very powerful retreat days. We go off-site to our partner college, which gives us the opportunity to be in their beautiful campus setting. And at that time we can reflect on achievement scores and on accomplishments. What do need to get us there, if we are not? What do we need to help us to continue to grow professionally? What do we need in order to have our children continue to grow academically and as happy, healthy children? We have our partners come to the retreats and share the work that they are doing. We have had parents come talk on a panel about parenting, what school was like where they went to school and what their expectations are for us.
Public School Insights: This pressure that teachers and educators feel—is there a way in which national policymakers can make it a little more productive and a little less destructive? Santiago: I think so. It is not appropriate to be testing children every single year. For example, in June I will have to test third, fourth and fifth graders in the course of about one week. That means I will have to assess all children, including my ELL children who get extended time and special locations, and my special needs children. It is all pushed into one week. So something as simple as rethinking the testing timeline [would help relieve pressure on educators].
―The kind of change I think is the deepest and most meaningful is building capacity among your own staff‖
In general right now, policy-wise, I think that we are doing the right thing. We are looking to support partnerships; we are looking at a broader view of children. That is really the right track. But I think what also has to happen is that we have to step back at the policy level, nationally and statewide, to think about what is developmentally appropriate for children.
We follow up our retreats with strategic planning in the summer. We bring the teachers and specialists
I had a child here I will never forget. I had to advocate for her to be taken off the test roster. She had a ~8~
non-malignant brain tumor that would have her going into seizures to such a degree that she had a one-onone just to monitor her movements. I have no problem with testing if it‘s developmentally appropriate, but is this test appropriate for her?
Public School Insights: And I would add that they need to ask, what actually happens in the school buildings? What are the implications, and what is the impact, of their best intentioned policies?
―Right now, policy-wise, I think that we are doing the right thing...We are looking at a broader view of children‖ I understand that the intent of this testing regimen was really good. Certainly I would not argue against the importance of monitoring children's progress, and testing was a way to close the achievement gap and make sure minority children had access to a rigorous standards-based curriculum. And in many ways, we've done that. So let‘s step back and ask, what is developmentally appropriate for children? The pendulum went one way. We are not asking that it go the other way, but let's find a middle ground. Let's start asking the experts. Talk to the Linda Darling-Hammonds. Talk to the Pedro Nogueras. Talk to the people who understand teaching and learning. Talk to the people who are experts with English language learners. No one is going to argue for this intense, over-tested calendar year that puts children in precarious positions. I have to test children who have been in this country a year and a day. A year and a day. Plus, in New York those English language learners have to take an English language learners acquisition test. That test takes a month to administer if you have the number of ELL children that I have, which is about 40% of the school. And those children have to take that test even if they pass the state ELA test. Now, you might argue that they are different kinds of tests. However, if a child passes the English language arts test that I take as an English dominant student, that in itself should be enough to exempt her from the English acquisition test that takes four days to administer. The newest policy piece [to add stress], from our point of view, is RTI—Response To Intervention. Again, the intent of this whole initiative is good— making sure children have their progress monitored and are given the right amount of support, and that they are given special help outside of the classroom when needed but are given the appropriate level of support within the classroom as well. That is a wonderful idea. But adding a requirement that an intervention block be established when there are only so many hours in a day presents significant logistical
challenges to school personnel. These are moments when the policymakers have to stand back and ask, what is reasonable, what is doable, what is developmentally appropriate for kids?
Santiago: Yes, and to recognize that the poorest schools often get hit the hardest—for example, when I have to go through the rigor of putting students through a testing regimen and then have to put them through another one because they are second language learners. And now we have progress monitoring for DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills)—we monitor student progress at the beginning of the year and in the middle in intervals, as well as at the end. It makes a lot of sense, except that it means stopping instruction. So you have to weigh the pros and cons. The bottom line is [that we must] count the minutes of teaching and learning, and determine how many are subtracted when we focus on all this testing.
―Policymakers have to stand back and ask, what is reasonable, what is doable, what is developmentally appropriate for kids?‖ And I think the time to do it is now. I think there are some really, really good discussions that are coming down from the national level about how to support kids. These conversations are different from what I'd been hearing before. So now is the time to seek the reasonable ground. I think there's going to be receptivity to it.
View this interview online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/visionaries/ EileenSantiago Read more about this school at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/full-service-schoolfulfills-its-promise Published online February 5, 2010.
A Change of Direction James Cashman Middle School, Nevada Results: • In 2009, 63.6% of 6th graders met or exceeded state reading standards and 70.8% did so in math, up from 27% and 38%, respectively, in 2006 • Between 2006 and 2009, 8th grade reading proficiency increased over 30% and 8th grade math proficiency increased over 14% (statewide proficiency increased 10% and 5%, respectively, over that time)
School improvement demands focus. Staff members at James Cashman Middle School in Las Vegas (where 100% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch) believe that student achievement comes from challenging every student and ensuring that no student is overlooked. Adopting this belief couldn't have come at a better time for the school. Cashman's students were struggling. The school was in the third year of school improvement, about to be taken over by the state. Teachers had been trained in a myriad of improvement programs, yet progress was excruciatingly slow.
Student achievement comes from challenging every student
• Simplifying the master schedule • Creating grade-level teams with common planning time • Adjusting Monday start time to make time for planning • Changing the teacher evaluation process to a coaching model in which the principal and assistant principal observe and conference together • Designing an in-school mentoring program for new teachers • Creating a teacher-designed professional development program in which teachers share expertise with, model for, and train one another • Establishing strategic partnerships with external organizations • Seeking teachers' input regarding student placement • Involving parents in the leadership equation and school improvement plan development
Most important was the elimination of duplicate programs and competing strategies that had yielded marA new administrative team arrived in January 2007 ginal results. No longer would a student in need of and began to use the structure of Breaking Ranks in the Middle (BRIM), the National Association of Secon- reading remediation participate in three different dary School Principals' landmark report, to analyze the types of support programs during the school day. status quo and plan for change. "BRIM works if you believe in the students and the three core areas as an Staff members also felt that it was important to estaborganizing principle," said Cashman Principal Misti Ta- lish strong connections with families in an effort to support students. They began serving dinner at family ton. "While what is done for school improvement will look different in every setting, BRIM puts the pieces of nights, attracting more than 800 people to math night. They worked to provide access to English lesthe puzzle together and gives you a starting point for analysis." In her first week at Cashman, Taton, who is sons and computer labs for parents. Counselors now address various concerns during home visits, and paralso a BRIM trainer, introduced the entire staff to ents can access up-to-date information about their BRIM in a two-day workshop to identify areas of conchild's attendance, academic progress, daily homecern. work assignments, and relevant teacher notes through the Intouch system.
Administrators and staff members disaggregated all the school data and examined patterns, leading them to agree on some immediate modifications. An expanded school improvement planning team that represented every content area and grade level was created to coordinate efforts.
Once empowered, teachers assumed responsibility for a culture change
After the new school improvement planning team analyzed the data, they presented it to the entire staff. After reviewing the data (to which most had never been privy), staff members voted on all school improvement changes, including:
Personalization Part of Cashman's strategy is ensuring that no child slips through the cracks. The academic core teams, each with its own identity, bear primary responsibility for addressing the specific academic and personal
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needs of students. "Interdisciplinary teaming not only ensures a safety net for our students," Taton said, "it also ensures common and consistent academic and behavior expectations. The teachers and counselor on the team have a common prep period to ensure coordination of instruction, review of student data, and planning of student interventions." Three times a year, counselors review transcripts with each student to set individual academic goals, review grades and test scores, clarify expectations, and design a personal plan that prepares him or her for high school and beyond.
Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Cashman's focus on academic rigor and relevance has prompted an increase in the number of accelerated classes and the number of students enrolled in those classes. For example, 40% of 8th grade students are now enrolled in algebra, and next year Cashman will have a math, science, and engineering magnet component to provide neighborhood students with greater access to accelerated classes. To ensure that standards are addressed and align with those at the feeder schools and the high school, Cashman staff members engage in curriculum mapping and regularly visit nearby schools. To help students become proficient in their knowledge and use of the standards, the school offers a content and test-taking strategies program, Cougar Camp, and uses common assessments as often as possible.
inspired to make progress," one teacher commented. "We were ready for change and to feel that we could make a difference." And they did. Once empowered, teachers assumed responsibility for a culture change that helped students make so much progress on spring assessments that Cashman made AYP, one of only nine (of 57) middle schools in the county that did so.
Cashman‘s success is due to the value of shared leadership that is designed to simplify, focus and direct instruction In addition to improving test scores, the culture and achievement shift made a tangible and significant difference in the lives of many students. For example, last year 180 students were accepted to magnet schools, whereas in the previous three years combined only 5 students had been accepted. "Students are resilient and will reach to the expectations that are set for them," says Taton. "Don't ever sell a child short." Preliminary results indicate that those words are not just a slogan for Taton and her Cashman team, but a reality.
UPDATE: According to Nevada's Annual Reports of Accountability, Cashman is continuing its turnA culture of collaboration has also allowed interdisciaround. In 2009, 60.2% of 8th graders met or explinary team members to build content connections ceeded state reading standards, up from 27% in 2006 and reinforce common vocabulary across the curricu(statewide, proficiency increased 10% over that lum. To increase fluency and improve writing scores, time). On 2009 state math assessments, 47.5% of Cashman has selected "no excuse" spelling words at 8th graders met or exceeded standards, up from 33% all grade levels. Every teacher grades students on the in 2006 (statewide, proficiency increased less than proper usage of these words on every assignment. 5%). The school has also seen significant improvement in 6th grade proficiency rates. In 2009 63.6% Creating a climate for learning is an important compo- of 6th graders met or exceeded state reading stannent of Cashman's efforts. To boost student skills and dards and 70.8% did so in math, compared to 27% eliminate distractions, 7th and 8th grade nonand 38%, respectively, in 2006 (2006 state-level data accelerated English and math classes are single sex. are not available for these tests). These proficiency More subtle attempts to maintain a consistent focus rates exceeded those of the state, which are 62.3% on learning and the importance of each minute of the and 66.9%, respectively. learning day are reinforced by relatively simple modifications, such as starting each class with a hands-on activity to encourage every student to respect the Story adapted from: value of academic time and the importance of arriving James A. Rourke and Marlene Hartzman, ―A Change in Direcon time. tion.‖ NASSP‘s Principal Leadership, Special Edition June 2008.
Simplify by Sharing Leadership Cashman's success is due to the value of shared leadership that is designed to simplify, focus and direct instruction. The staff at Cashman used BRIM as a guide to changing the school's culture. Once leadership was opened to the teachers, the school began to thrive. "We were
Copyright © 2008 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Adapted with permission. View this story online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/change-direction Published online June 2008. Results updated August 2009.
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A Different Turnaround Vision Strategic Learning Initiative, Illinois We're hearing a lot about Chicago's efforts to turn around struggling schools. Read the papers, and you'll get the impression that a handful of charter schools are the only bright stars in a dark firmament. But that impression is wrong. At least one other set of schools has been posting big gains. Eight schools working with a Chicago non-profit called Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI) have made large strides in student performance in the past few years. And their model is quite different from the turnaround models that get the most press. They do not fire teachers. Their principals don't get the axe. But they do use concrete strategies to change what happens in their classrooms. Researchers from the American Institutes for Research reviewed SLI's results and called on policy makers to take note: Well before decisions are made to reconstitute schools under the mandates of NCLB, school districts would be wise to consider far less drastic, but clearly powerful, interventions such as [SLI's] Focused Instruction Process. As school closings and charter takeovers capture the popular imagination, we are apt to ignore other options. SLI President John Simmons recently told us about the success of his approach in Chicago. Public School Insights: There is a lot of talk right now about turning around struggling schools. The model that is most mentioned, and that has been enshrined in federal policy, is reconstitution, which involves firing the principal and replacing at the least half the teachers at a school. The thinking is that this process is required to create the conditions needed for success. Does your experience bear that out? Simmons: We think that there's a better way. Reconstitution can work. You can get results. But our experience, which includes not only the last almost four years with our most recent network of schools but also the last 15 years using a similar model in schools in the lowest income neighborhoods in Chicago, shows that our model is getting better results than the reconstitution model. And it is lower cost and faster.
―We call it a ‗process‘ and not a ‗program‘ because teachers and principals have an opportunity to modify and improve it on a regular basis‖ We are seeing that schools are able to improve their weekly assessments pretty quickly after starting our process, typically after the first six weeks. Children often start out scoring zero of six on these quizzes. Then they move up to one out of six and two out of six. And then they get excited and the teachers get excited, and motivation takes off from there.
Public School Insights: What kinds of results have you been getting?
On end-of-year state assessments, over their first three years working with us, our schools had an average of four times the rate of improvement they had in Simmons: [Part of our process is weekly assessments the three years prior to starting with us. That is very of student achievement.] By the way, we call it a significant, and some schools had up to eight to nine ―process‖ and not a ―program‖ because teachers and times the improvement. We have a couple schools that principals have an opportunity to modify and improve it were among the most improved of all of the 473 eleon a regular basis. mentary schools in the city—one in the first year they started with us and another in their second year with us.
―Our model is getting better results than the reconstitution model. And it is lower cost and faster‖
No one has seen these kinds of results before. And these schools were on the list to be closed or reconstituted the year they started with us. Public School Insights: My sense is that people look to reconstitution because they say that at least it is a change. Historically when we have talked about turning
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around schools, we have not always done much to actually change those schools. How do you deal with that issue?
principals and the leadership teams to talk about it. If there are not leadership teams, the principal needs to take it directly to the teachers. Then we ask them for an 80% vote—a secret vote—of the faculty before we Simmons: We look at the research. Starting back 15 will even go to the building and talk to them anymore. years ago, we found that there is a series of five things So immediately the principal is responsible for leading that schools have to do to rapidly improve their end-of- the change process, not the outside partners. the-year test scores. They are called the ―Essential Supports‖ and were developed by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.
[School improvement] is like baking a cake. If you include all of the essential supports, you get a great cake. But if you leave out one ingredient, like the salt or the eggs, you are not going to get anything that tastes like a cake. That is what we found as we put together the best strategies from education research and the best strategies from high-performance systems research. So now we have a systemic approach to school improvement. But it is not a silver bullet. Public School Insights: So what are the ingredients of this cake? Simmons: They are very common-sense. The first is shared leadership in the building—that is a crucial place to start. Then there is the instructional process that occurs in every classroom. There is improving the professional capacity of the teachers and principal. There is engaging parents in what is happening at school. For example, our parents learn the Illinois standards so when their children come home with lessons around these standards they are prepared to help with homework. And the final of the essential supports is of course the climate for learning. These schools have to have a culture and climate where people increasingly trust each other and are able to work together to create these rapid increases in results.
―The principal is responsible for leading the change process, not the outside partners‖ This strategy, we find, kicks off the process in a remarkable way. Three and four years later the teachers are still talking about it—―Oh my goodness, you asked us for a vote. We had a chance to think about it. How different from being mandated as to what we are supposed to do, as we have been for the past 10 years, and from being treated like the children we are teaching. You respected us.‖ Public School Insights: But you mentioned some teachers will decide that this is not for them. Do you find that is a large number? Simmons: It is not. And once the program begins, those teachers who did not vote ―yes‖ on the process are not penalized. They are encouraged to come along. They see what their colleagues are doing. They are part of the school leadership team or their grade level team. So they see the results, and if their students are not seeing significant improvements on the weekly assessments they start to wonder, ―Maybe I am doing something that I should look at more carefully.‖ But the power is always in their hands. Public School Insights: Let's move to some of the other ingredients of this cake. You mentioned instructional focus and increasing professional capacity. To me, it seems these are related issues. How does one increase professional capacity, especially in a school that has so many hurdles to clear?
―Shared leadership in the building—that is a crucial place to start‖ Public School Insights: Let's start with the first of these ingredients—shared leadership in the school building. Many people argue that in a struggling school staff become demoralized and have trouble going along with change. How do you ensure that staff really buy in to the process and share leadership? And do you find that some staff decide this is just not for them? Simmons: Yes, some staff do decide that, and I will speak to that in a second. To answer the first question, to ensure staff buy-in, what we do is ask the staff: Do they like this model? Would they be interested in seeing other schools that have used it? Do they think it fits their vision of how to get to great learning in the classroom? We ask the
Simmons: Again, we ask the teachers what they'd like and what would help them move ahead with their specific children. They've got ideas and, guess what, those ideas are exactly what a lot of people are talking about—differentiated instruction, professional learning communities, critical thinking, looking at student work. They are interested in all these things. So we say, ―Alright, where should we start?‖ Then we do on-site workshops with the teachers, encouraging them to help lead trainings so they learn how to do it. And we also do in-classroom coaching and modeling. For example, if they have a problem teaching author's purpose, which is one of the Illinois standards, we will go in there and model a lesson on author‘s purpose with their kids. We have somebody at least a day a week in each
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school, depending upon the issues in the school. That person—we call them a coach— is a very experienced classroom teacher and is there to help teachers. But the teachers have to ask us for help. The principal cannot send us to a classroom and say, ―Fix Mary Jane.‖ Public School Insights: You also mentioned climate for learning. In talking about school turnarounds, we always hear about schools that are out of control. How do you address that? Simmons: Classroom management is just one more set of strategies and tools. If we find a building where it is a problem, we ask the teachers and principal, ―Would you like some coaching around classroom management?‖ And we work with those who say yes. They very quickly get their classrooms under control, and then they are able to do the important academic work.
―In some buildings we get up to 50, 60, 70% of families attending workshops. That is unheard of in these neighborhoods, where the average turnout for this kind of thing is 7%‖ say, ―I don‘t want my parents to get involved—I want people with master‘s degrees to lead this training.‖ But then we say, ―We could do that, but it is too expensive. We wouldn't be able to scale it up and you wouldn‘t be able to sustain it.‖ And six months later someone who did not even finish grade school is leading a two-hour workshop, without notes, for a group of 30 parents.
Public School Insights: I take it you are coming into these schools with a set of strategies based in research and a sense of the structures you have to apply to Public School Insights: That brings us to the quesmake things better. Is that right? tions of price and scalability. You mentioned that what you are doing is less expensive than reconstitution. A Simmons: Yes. The five factors I mentioned to you are related question is, how do you do this on a large part of a 20-year research effort by the Consortium on scale, so it is not just a small handful of schools that Chicago School Research. In fact, they just came out see the benefit? with a new book that reviewed the work they published in 1998 that showed these five essential supports. Simmons: There are really two models for doing this They have reaffirmed them and gotten even better re- sort of school improvement work in Chicago—one sults. Schools that apply this research get 10 times the where we keep the principals and the teachers and one improvement in standardized test scores as schools where we remove them. that do not use any of these factors. Think of the kind of improvement you can get just by applying the reOn the question of the costs, we do not have to do the search. intensive yearlong training for the new teachers and principal that is one of the standard practices in reconPublic School Insights: Let‘s also talk about parent stitution. We do not have to engage in an expensive engagement. You mentioned some of the strategies recruiting process across the country. So we are saving you use to draw parents in. Do you have any specific a lot of money. We are saving the taxpayer a lot of measures of parent engagement that you generally money. We are able to do this work at 20% of the anuse? nual cost of the other model. Simmons: The most important measure really is, do they come to the workshops? Does that attendance increase? Do parents take more interest in their children's education, show up in the classrooms, ask questions? On all those indicators, the answer is yes.
―Think of the kind of improvement you can get just by applying the research‖
And scalability…We have found that after a year or 18 months the teachers and principals in these buildings really get it—it does not take very long to train people in the process. Then they can come and join our team. In fact, we did that with one building principal who wanted to retire after the first year that we worked with her. She joined our consulting team, and she has been just outstanding.
Our process makes a lot of sense. John Dewey—who spent a great deal of his life in Chicago—said that learning by seeing and doing is so powerful, and so ignored in the teaching profession. But that is how we We have won three national awards for our parent en- train our people. All of the people we have on our staff gagement program. In some buildings we get up to 50, have been through the program, and they know ex60, 70% of families attending workshops. That is unactly what to do. So scaling up is not a problem. heard of in these neighborhoods, where the average turnout for this kind of thing is 7%. And our principals and teachers are saying, ―You must get this out to other buildings across the country.‖ So It is all because we train parents from the neighborright now we are developing a national training center hood to lead our workshops. Initially some principals ~ 14 ~
―We are saving the taxpayer a lot of money‖ that will use the schools here in Chicago as a laboratory that people can visit. And anybody is welcome to come now. People are coming from around the country and from as far away as Brazil. Public School Insights: You mentioned earlier that reconstitution can work. Do you think there are schools out there that are under such a burden that reconstitution really is the only way—that maybe even the power of your work would not turn them around? Simmons: I prefer to see it in terms of the leadership of the building. Replacing a principal for whatever kind of incompetence is clearly necessary sometimes. The question is, how do you figure out when? We did not know, when we started working with the 10 schools the superintendent gave us four years ago, if some of those principals were really going to make the grade. We just asked them to get the vote of their teachers. And 75% of the 100 buildings that had the chance to vote did. That says something about those principals. The other 25 principals did not want to hold the vote, for all kinds of reasons: They were new to the building, they had an illness, they had a mother-in-law who was sick they had to worry about...They had some good reasons. So it is very hard to describe [how to know when to replace a principal]. It fits with my private sector management consulting business, going back 30 years, where it was very difficult to see whether or not a CEO could really lead a company into the highperformance future. Someone might just know all the right things to say. But what we did there was take six months to get acquainted with them and show them other companies that were doing the same thing. And that is what we do now, too. People come to see the schools. Then some people say, ―Yeah, we can do this‖ and some people say, ―Well, we are not sure.‖ Public School Insights: In trying to figure out if people and schools are on the right track and building the capacity to succeed…You mentioned earlier assessments in the schools on which people can measure progress. Are there other interim indicators for your turnaround schools, particularly in the early stages, that give you a sense they are on the right track? Simmons: Yes. The leadership teams start to meet and get productive. The teachers on the grade level teams are saying, ―This is no longer a gripe session. We are accomplishing important stuff here.‖ That's the first thing that shows up—the teachers and principal start to say, ―There's something happening here.‖ And when children start to chart their weekly assessments—that is a huge motivator. These are no-stakes assessments—they do not even go into gradebooks. They are purely evaluative, formative assessments.
Public School Insights: Are there any questions I should have asked you but didn't? Simmons: What we have discovered is that there is a huge reservoir of teachers and principals out there who are called ―failing‖ but in fact have great potential for improving and no one realized it. So a huge problem on our part was that our expectations were too low of these people and these buildings. Public School Insights: So you would set high expectations for teachers as well as students. Simmons: Absolutely. We guaranteed going into this that all of our schools would see significant improvements in their end-of-year scores on standardized tests, and they did. We were confident—we have used this model for 15 years—that we could get the results if they implemented the process. But just imagine—10 schools, all on the list to be closed. And eight of the 10 turned around—three in the first year, three in the second and two in the third. They did not believe that they could do it, but slowly, over the course of the first year, they got more and more confident as their weekly assessments started to improve. The psychology and the capacity of these schools in undertaking transformative change are really interesting. Public School Insights: Another lesson the education community could draw is that transformative change means real, substantive, concrete change. You cannot just embroider around the edges and expect things to get better.
―There is a huge reservoir of teachers and principals out there who are called ‗failing‘ but in fact have great potential for improving‖ Simmons: That is right. In fact, we have two dimensions for measuring the change. One is obviously test scores—schools have to show substantial improvements on those. The other is climate, which we get from the principals and the teachers. The principals start to say, some at the end of the first year, ―We have turned around.‖
View this interview online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/visionaries/JohnSimmons Published online January 29, 2010.
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The Long Turnaround Central Elementary School, Montana Results: • Math proficiency grew from nearly 20 percentage points below the state average to the state average in three years • Reading proficiency grew over 15 percentage points between 2004 and 2009, remaining consistently above the state average despite serving a much more disadvantaged population According to the numbers, Central Elementary School the end, it‘s less important what you call Central Elein Roundup, Montana, seems to fit the currently fashmentary, and more important how it got here. ionable definition of a ―turnaround‖ school. After many years of below-average test scores, the school recently made double-digit gains in the number of its students meeting proficiency on the statewide assessment. In true turnaround fashion, that improvement appears to have happened in a very short period of time. As recently as the 2005–2006 school year, for example, Central‘s math score was nearly 20 percentage points below the state average. In the following school year that proficiency rate went up by 16 percent, and by 2007–2008 the school was six points higher than the state average in math. Meanwhile, the school‘s reading score, while consistently above the state average, also rose by nearly 20 percentage points between 2003–2004 and 2007–2008. This fall the school received a National Title I Distinguished School award, based on ―exceptional student performance for two or more consecutive years.‖ Ask current principal Vicki Begin about the school‘s success, however, and she‘ll insist that it‘s been anything but a quick turnaround. In fact, Begin (pronounced BEIGE–en), who is in her second year at Central, gives much of the credit not only to the school‘s veteran teaching staff, which averages 23 years of experience, but also to her predecessor, Joe Ingalls, who guided the school from 1994–1995 to 2006–2007. Obviously, this is not a case of overnight success or of cleaning house and starting over.
Roundup‘s only K-6 elementary school has turned things around gradually, without a major influx of funds, resources, new personnel, or outside technical assistance A Hard Look in the Mirror In the mid-1990s Joe Ingalls was a first-time principal still in the process of earning his doctorate via extension classes. A lot of the reading and discussion in those classes focused on the nuts and bolts of curriculum and instruction, and inevitably that information began to color the way Ingalls viewed the day-to-day operations at his school. ―The research I was immersed in really indicated those things that needed to be in place for students to be successful,‖ says Ingalls. ―And I could see that they were not in place at our school.‖
Due to the school‘s below-average achievement scores, Ingalls initiated a committee-based school improvement process, long before such a process would be required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Each staff member served on at least one committee, such as reading, math, school safety, population/ In fact, there would seem to be little in common bedemographics, or the overall school improvement tween Central Elementary and the handful of schools steering committee. Although many of Central‘s staff that have gained national media attention for their dra- members had already been teaching for a decade or matic turnarounds and the drastic measures, such as more, primarily within the Roundup School District, the total reconstitution, they have occasionally taken. As a committee approach gave them an opportunity to colsmall, rural school in a perpetually cash-strapped lectively evaluate and compare their instructional pracstate, Roundup‘s only K–6 elementary school has tices in a way they had never done before. turned things around gradually, without a major influx of funds, resources, new personnel, or outside techniAnita Burch, a kindergarten teacher at Central, rememcal assistance. bers how surprised the staff members were at what While that may make the label ―turnaround school‖ an uncomfortable fit, it also makes Central representative of the hundreds of other schools around the country— including many in the predominantly rural West—that have been working hard for many years to put all the right pieces in place, often with minimal resources. In
they discovered. ―It was the first time we really sat down together and said: What are we actually teaching, at every grade level?‖ she says. ―And one of the things we found is that we had big holes in our curriculum. There was an assumption that at third grade this was being taught and so fourth grade could just start
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from there. When in actuality that skill hadn‘t been taught in third grade. And so, we had to go back and say: How do we fill those holes?‖
ment strategy. Several assessments were in place, but the fragmented curriculum made them ineffective, especially for tracking a student‘s progress over time. In addition, teachers were not adequately trained in how to use assessment data to drive their instruction.
Although Vicki Begin was a teacher in nearby Lewistown at the time, she relates to how difficult, exposing, and ultimately rewarding that kind of schoolwide look The final problem was the lack of a common vision and in the mirror can be. Often, she says, the problem is a common language. The latter situation was somewrongly diagnosed as bad teaching. times literal. Even when a concept was being taught in the right sequence, for example, something might be ―Teachers are the experts in learning,‖ she says. ―They lost in the translation between two teachers or two really are. They know what works for kids. And so, for grade levels. As an example, Barbara Crosby, another example here [at Central], each of them would do exveteran teacher, says: ―When I taught third grade I actly what they thought worked for kids, but the kids used the term ‗statement‘ to describe a certain kind of were having trouble connecting the pieces. It wasn‘t sentence. It wasn‘t until I moved up to teach fourth that any one teacher wasn‘t doing that important part grade that I realized they were using the term of teaching, and it wasn‘t that kids weren‘t learning. ‗declarative‘ to describe the same kind of sentence. It‘s just that none of the pieces stacked together.‖ That might sound like a small matter, but it puts all the pressure on the student to make the connection and to build on the concept.‖
The ―pieces‖ of the school‘s approach to curriculum and instruction were not coming together to make unified whole During the improvement process Ingalls and the staff came to the same conclusion: The ―pieces‖ of the school‘s approach to curriculum and instruction were not coming together to make a unified whole.
Of course, Ingalls and the Central teaching staff did not come to a clear recognition of all these problems at once. The actual process of identifying them, facing up to them, and coming together as an entire school to address them was gradual and not entirely painless. ―But the biggest key,‖ says Ingalls, ―was that we had staff buy-in right away. That was essential.‖
The Sum and the Parts
It was not by chance that Ingalls chose a committeebased school improvement process. As Begin says, The problem revealed itself in several ways, all of them ―Joe and the staff developed a vision of where they interrelated. First, although the school had a core cur- wanted to be and that was part of the vision—the riculum for both reading and math, neither was being teachers had to be involved. Everyone had to take a used with fidelity by the entire K–6 staff. This was the piece of it and communicate with each other and share main cause of the ―big holes‖ in the curriculum that ownership.‖ Burch and her fellow teachers noticed. ―Generally, what happens with a curriculum that is inadequate or poorly aligned is that it starts to splinter,‖ says Ingalls. ―People begin to pick and choose what they want to use, and maybe what they don‘t feel is as important goes by the wayside. That might work fine for an individual teacher, but ultimately it doesn‘t work for kids.‖
If there is a single theme that runs through Central Elementary‘s decade-plus of hard work, it is that unity of vision. After looking their underachievement in the eye, the school made a collective decision that can be summarized as follows: We are no longer going to teach as individuals; from now on, we are a team. We will throw open the doors of our classrooms, speak a common language, and work for a common cause. And that cause will be one thing: the academic progress of each and every student in our school.
The second problem also related to a lack of alignment in the curriculum, in this case alignment to state standards. The school had only aligned its curriculum to them in the most general way. The problem showed up most clearly when Ingalls asked each grade-level team a question. ―For example,‖ says Ingalls, ―if I sat down with a grade-level team and asked them: ‗Where should we be with number sense by the end of the year?‘ the teachers weren‘t able to verbalize [the answer]. It was a real challenge to know what the teachers expected of the students. And in most cases, their Without that vision, everything that followed would expectations were much lower than they should have have been so many pieces and parts. With that in been or would later come to be.‖ mind, here are some of the specific steps the school took to address its problems. The third major problem was an inadequate assess-
If there is a single theme that runs through Central Elementary‘s decade-plus of hard work, it is that unity of vision.
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First, Ingalls and a staff committee spent a year, including one summer, on the ―foundational piece‖ of identifying the essential learning skills embedded in the state standards and then aligning them to their core reading and math curricula. No longer would teachers be unable to identify what students should know and be able to do in a given skill area at the end of a grade level. Or as Roberta Hagstrom, a member of that committee and the school‘s current Title I director, says, ―We always want to know exactly what we‘re teaching, at what point we‘re teaching it, and why.‖
including the school‘s invaluable paraeducators, who were named paraeducator staff of the year in 2007– 2008 by the Montana Comprehensive System of professional Development. As with the recognition of problems, this synopsis may give the illusion that all these actions happened smoothly and in a short period of time. In reality, although each piece of the puzzle was implemented logically, carefully, and with an eye toward research, it is worth reiterating that it has taken 15 years of hard work to get to this point.
In the process of identifying those essential learning skills, they realized that even if the current reading and math curricula were taught with fidelity, they would not Each piece of the puzzle was be sufficient to the school‘s needs. Eventually, they implemented logically, carewould replace both the core reading and the math profully, and with an eye toward grams, implement 6+1 Trait® Writing in all grades, and add ReadWell® as an intervention reading proresearch gram in primary grades. Intense staff training accompanied each curriculum adoption, often in partnership with their regional educational cooperative or the AlliA Constant Process ance for Curriculum Enhancement (ACE) Consortium, When Joe Ingalls took a job at an elementary school in both of which allow the school to pool its resources for Wyoming in 2007, he left Central Elementary much professional development and other purposes. better than he found it. Still, he says, ―It was difficult to leave, knowing that there were things that still Each new curriculum was also mapped to the essential needed our attention and needed more work.‖ learning skills and aligned ―horizontally and vertically‖—or within and between grade levels. The math The hiring of Begin made his exit easier. ―Vicki was the program, in particular, is also deliberately ―spiraling,‖ a right person at the right time,‖ he says. ―She came in concept similar to but distinct from vertical alignment. and was able to see the vision we had and the direction The end result is Central‘s curriculum is now logical, that we were headed. She picked it up and ran with it sequenced, and transparent to all, while still allowing and has done an incredible job.‖ teachers some flexibility to personalize a given lesson. Another significant step the school took was updating its assessment system. Early on they chose an assessment from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which met Ingalls‘s goal of tracking student achievement over time. With the implementation of ReadWell they also began using the DIBELS assessment to monitor students‘ progress more frequently. DIBELS has since been expanded schoolwide—all students take diagnostic tests at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. With this combination of assessments the school is no longer caught off guard by holes in the curriculum. Holes still show up, but they are caught and addressed almost immediately. A final important strategy, what Begin calls ―achievement-oriented teacher collaboration,‖ is almost synonymous with the school vision. Teachers are now in constant dialogue about student data, instructional strategies, interventions, curriculum, and everything else going on in each other‘s classrooms. ―For those of us who have been teaching for a very long time, it‘s a much different type of teaching than we were brought in on,‖ says Begin. ―The majority of our staff has 25plus years of teaching experience. They had to learn to adapt and they have.‖
The school‘s national recognition as a distinguished school is an acknowledgment of its continued progress. And the school continues to push ahead. In the past year and a half they have established a full-day kindergarten program, started implementing response to intervention, and focused professional development on improving teacher‘s use of data to differentiate instruction. In Roundup, turning things around may have taken awhile, but it also never stops. UPDATE: Central continues to succeed. Despite serving a population more disadvantaged than the state as a whole, in 2009 84% of students met or exceeded proficiency standards in reading, better than the state average. 63% of students met or exceeded proficiency standards in math, right at the state average.
Story reprinted from: Bracken Reed, ―The Long Turnaround.‖ Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory‘s Northwest Education, Spring-Summer 2009, Vol. 14, No. 3, p. 25-27. Copyright © 2009, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. View this story online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/long-turnaround
At Central this collaboration includes all staff members, Published online August 2009. Results updated April 2010. ~ 18 ~
Motor City Miracle Carstens Elementary School, Michigan When Principal Theresa Mattison came to Carstens Elementary in 1997, “achievement was zero.” Student behavior was a problem. Some staff seemed uncommitted. As parent liaison Abby Phelps puts it, “This school was in the middle of chaos.” Today Carstens is a beacon of light for the surrounding community. It is one of the top-performing schools in Detroit. In 2009, third graders at this school—where 98% of students are from high poverty homes—outscored the state as a whole on all tested subjects. How did the school turn itself around? School staff point to the leadership of Dr. Mattison. Dr. Mattison points back to her incredible staff. And everyone recognizes the importance of meeting more than just the academic needs of students. Members of the Carstens community told us the school’s story. In on the conversation were Principal Theresa Mattison, parent liaison Abby Phelps, school social worker Gail Nawrock, and teachers Barbara Haug, Vannessa Jones, Rebecca Kelly and Violet Kiricovski.
ment like back in the 1990s?
Public School Insights: How would you describe Carstens Elementary? Violet Kiricovski: Carstens shares the Comer philosophy. And we all work together. Teamwork really is our strong point. Rebecca Kelly: The way I would describe Carstens is that it is actually more than a school. I just saw a presentation in which they described it as a ―beacon of light.‖ And the parents, the families, the students and the businesses are all working together.
―Carstens is...actually more than a school. … They described it as a ‗beacon of light‘‖
Theresa Mattison: Achievement was zero…We had people who did not care and it was very, very, very hard. But it is not hard anymore, because everyone cares and everyone shares leadership and responsibility. Abby Phelps: Having been affiliated with Carstens before Dr. Mattison got here, I can tell you that this school was in the middle of chaos. And I am not exaggerating. I have been here since 1989. The capacity of the teachers and their concern and compassion for the students were very questionable. And the previous administration was not very open. We were fortunate to have secured Dr. Mattison as our leader in 1997. And let me tell you something— write this down for the record—this institution has never been the same. We were able to transition from a failing school to a school beyond all degrees of expectations. And this is a testimony from someone who has been here and knows the truth.
Abby Phelps: Carstens incorporates a city philosophy. We offer all services. We have it all.
Public School Insights: How is the school performing now?
Public School Insights: What kind of a population does the school serve? Barbara Haug: We serve a deserving population. Statistically, they are considered high poverty—98% of them come from high poverty homes. And our population is about 98% African-American. But we do not think that statistics describe somebody‘s potential. They just describe the situation that needs to be considered when you look at the needs of the individual child or the children. What it boils down to is that they are children who deserve a good education. Public School Insights: What was student achieve-
Theresa Mattison: I am sure you are aware of AYP. We are fortunate to have consistently made AYP over the past several years. But when I say ―made AYP‖… For example, we had excellent academics last year, but under No Child Left Behind one of the components of making AYP is 90% attendance. Last year, unfortunately, we had 89% attendance. So we did not make AYP. But we have continued to succeed. Public School Insights: What were the biggest factors in turning the school around?
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Gail Nawrock: I am the school social worker. I've been here full-time since about 1999, and I actually requested to be assigned here. I think that one of the keys really has been the leadership of Dr. Mattison. It is the philosophy that she embraces and that all of us buy into, that Comer philosophy of collaboration, consensus, and no-fault. Everyone works under that philosophy.
serve all of the children in the school as if they are our own children. She has led professional development. She has instilled school pride through citizenship and responsibility. And most of all, she has encouraged parent accountability, because she feels that education should not be optional. As a result, here at Carstens children are first. Everyone is accountable. We have shared leadership. We use data-based decision-making, and we have some very involved parents.
We have support. The school works together. And we really do have an open-door philosophy with parents. They are welcome. They are made to feel welcome. We also work to meet the non-academic needs of stu- Public School Insights: What do you mean by dents. Sometimes all a child needs is a little bit of ex- ―shared leadership‖? tra breakfast. We help with transportation issues, such as when our kids have to walk down streets where the streetlights are not working. And we have a go-to staff person when we need to help kids get here. Rebecca Kelly: When you're talking about achievement and how it has improved here at Carstens…I have just been here two years. I came from a school that closed in Detroit. I am an experienced teacher, and I was amazed when I came to Carstens at what they do for achievement. We have a resourcecoordinating team that meets once a week to discuss every child in the building who is having either an academic problem or a behavior issue. A social worker, administrator, teacher, school psychologist and speech therapist sit around a table in the library and discuss each child. Parents are invited. Decisions are made— all sorts of decisions. It could be a decision to have the child tested, or a decision to get the child a warmer coat.
―We all have different strengths, and [our principal] brings those strengths out and allows us to exercise them‖ Vannessa Jones: Shared leadership means that everyone takes part in making the school work and making us become better, whether that part is leading a school program, making sure that our fire drills and other such things are taken care of, working in the lunchroom or improving children‘s behavior.
Rebecca Kelly: I feel our principal‘s biggest strength as a leader is that she allows us to have shared leadership. We all have different strengths, and she brings Also, this school does something I've never seen bethose strengths out and allows us to exercise them. fore. The whole school goes on a monthly field trip. It And shared leadership is not just ―We have a say.‖ is amazing the type of information that the children While there is a strong feeling here that we have gather, the background information that they need to rights as teachers professionally, we also recognize understand their world. It addresses academics, but in that with those rights and the ability to make decia really global way. sions without her hovering over us, we have responsibility.
―Once basic needs are met, the academics are not that difficult‖ And all students‘ basic needs are met. We have a businessman who brings sleeping bags for every child, so they can be warm when they sleep. We have people who bring healthy, fresh food to school every day. Once basic needs are met, the academics are not that difficult. Vannessa Jones: I came to Carstens three years ago. I left, and then I decided that I needed to return. I returned because I enjoy working at Carstens under the leadership of Dr. Mattison. Dr. Mattison has redirected the school‘s climate and culture. She has raised teacher expectations. She believes that we should
Abby Phelps: I agree. We all have strengths that we bring to the table, and Dr. Mattison does not try to smother those strengths. She knew my strength as a parent and community leader. She was not intimidated by my strength. She utilized my strength and my capacity to bring parents into the school and to incorporate community partnerships. I think that is one aspect that we have not really elaborated—being able to utilize the strengths of others without feeling intimidated. Dr. Mattison is one of the very rare people that I have seen do this. Gail Nawrock: What I see with shared leadership is as Ms. Jones said. We all know what our jobs are here. In my role as a school social worker, I have a different set of expectations, but I am part of the team.
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One of the things I have learned here is that things get delegated. For example, one of the things that school social workers do in Detroit is coordinate a ―See to Achieve‖ program—a free eye exam and glasses program through the LensCrafters Corporation. My first year we were told at a meeting to go back and talk to our principals and get permission to participate. And at that time I learned that if I think it is a good idea, I do not need to come back and get permission. Obviously I let Dr. Mattison know, but there have been times when I have come back and she would say, ―Didn't you sign us up?‖ Because she respects what I do and that I know what is going to be good for the students of Carstens. So for me, that is part of the shared leadership. We understand what is needed here, and there is the respect and understanding that what we do is really in the best interest of our school. It is not about one person.
―[Our principal] respects what I do and that I know what is going to be good for the students of Carstens‖
come here and assist us. The sociological needs of feeling accepted and recognized….This is why the Junior Achievement program exists. This is why the Junior League is here. This is why Communities in Schools is here. We offer parents the opportunity to go back to school to enhance their lives. And we let them know that they have someone on their side. There have been instances in which I have gone to court and represented parents with the Department of Human Services when they cannot even get their family members to go with them. So we go above and beyond all levels of expectations of what an educational establishment is supposed to be. And we go into the community to enhance, reach and transform lives. This is what the Village in Motion is. Public School Insights: How do you form all of these partnerships? Violet Kiricovski: We have people coming to us constantly. They hear about Carstens and all the good things here, and they want to work with our children.
Public School Insights: I have read about Carstens‘ Village in Motion initiative. What is that? Theresa Mattison: When we say the ―Village‖…For example, we are three blocks from Grosse Pointe, which is one of the richest cities in the United States. At least three days a week residents come here to read to the children. We have a library up the street whose staff will come and do different activities with the children. We have our own nurse that comes in. We help with the dental needs and the hygiene of our students. Today is Wednesday. What does that mean? The lawyer will be here if our parents need services. On Mondays one of the editors of the Free Press—one of the largest newspapers in Detroit—comes to talk to the children about writing. It goes on and on. We have so many people that come to our school. That is what we mean when we say, ―The Village.‖ Abby Phelps: The Village in Motion is based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. We know that if a child is in a home environment that is not well structured and if the necessary provisions are not there, that child is not going to come to school happy. So if a child is hungry and needs extra food, we can administer to the needs of the child and then to the needs of the parent by supplying extra food for that family. To help meet the psychological needs, the selfperception needs, the self-esteem needs of the child, we have a whole staff, including the social worker and specialist community organizations that just want to
Gail Nawrock: For example, there are no longer any Catholic schools in Detroit. But one of the parishes used to have scholarships for kids in the Catholic schools to go to a summer camp. One man [associated with that program] went to Carstens in elementary school, and he thought about us. So he came and asked Dr. Mattison, and we sent about 80 kids over two years to camp. It is amazing the number of people who come back to us because they went here as students. Another example…The Junior League was looking for a school to partner with. They had called around to a couple of schools and did not get much of a response. And Dr. Mattison said to come on by. It is that kind of thing. A lot our partners just come and they ask, and we say to come on over. We do not put up a lot of roadblocks. There is not a lot of red tape, and we fit them in as well as we can. And one partnership leads to another. Barbara Haug: What I see happening is that all of these things are coming to our students. Our students are seen as high-need or at-risk and people want to be a part of the solution. And I see the students observing this and emulating this. Recently we did a fundraiser, so to speak—not funds but canned goods. And my 30 students, who all come from high poverty homes, brought in about 150 cans to give to the poor. They do not necessarily know that they are the poor in other people's eyes. They see people giving gifts, and so… One of the things that I've done, and that other teach-
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ers here also have done, is use Donors Choose, an organization that helps people donate to classrooms. My kids have learned to write thank you notes for those projects, and in their letters write, ―When I grow up, I want to help other people just like you.‖ But I can tell them, ―You do not have to grow up to do that. You are already doing that when you bring in canned goods.‖ And when the earthquake happened in Haiti, kids brought in money so fast. We ended up with a check for $164. While $164 might not be a lot, it was a sacrifice for our children, and they readily did it, because they have learned to think outside themselves.
Abby Phelps: Also, we have an open door policy. If any of our parents has a crisis, we have a parent resource center and the door is always open. If need be, we will make emergency provisions for parents to get utilities back on. If they need housing information or emergency food, we can provide it in the parent center. And the parents have my home number. If something happens, they always have access to me. If I can't get them a critical service, generally I can point them in the direction of where they can get it. That is one thing most schools do not have—an emergency unit for parents in the midst of crisis.
Public School Insights: What does Carstens do to engage parents in their children's education?
And parents are involved in every aspect of the school, including the site-based management team, the PTA, and just giving input as to how we can deliver our services better. Everybody is somebody here at Carstens Elementary School. That is the whole philosophy about parent involvement.
Theresa Mattison: One thing is that we have a parent university in the summer. Along with their children, the parents go to school from 8am to 12pm for six weeks. Also, I tell the staff that we have parent conferences every morning. School starts at 7:30. It is dark. So 90% of Carstens parents are here every day, and we can take advantage of that. If something needs to be signed, if we need to get a group together—we can do that every morning.
Theresa Mattison: I also wanted to talk about a parent this summer who wanted her child to attend summer school. The mother took him to his September through June school, and the principal said they were not servicing special ed. She heard about Carstens, walked in the door, and said, ―My child is emotionally impaired.‖ I had to say to her that we did not serve emotionally impaired, we serve other learning disabilities, including cognitive disabilities...She said, ―Please, just give me a chance.‖
Every week we offer legal help. And we have medical help. All of that is in the building—it is not is like they have to go somewhere else. So when you ask, ―What are we doing for the parents?‖ it is probably ―What are It worked out so well that she did not go back to her we not doing for the parents?‖ that we need to find neighborhood school. Her child is here now. Someout, so that we can do it. times he might challenge us, but at his last school, at least every other week he was at home. Here, out of the first 100 days, he only had one day at home. This mother is now downtown petitioning for Carstens to become a middle school, because she feels that she has found the answer for her child. I'm trying to help her find a middle school, because we love being K to fifth grade. But if the transformation to a middle school happens, we welcome it.
―So when you ask, ‗What are we doing for the parents?‘ it is probably ‗What are we not doing for the parents?‘ that we need to find out, so that we can do it‖
When we take our children down to the county building or on other field trips, our parents are right there. In fact, I hate to say it, but sometimes we have to limit the parents who can come. These field trips are funded by Title I and all educational. And parents want to be there. They want to learn right along with their students. Most of our parents are rather young— 20 to 30, and their children are five to ten, so some of them had kids as teenagers. I feel sometimes when I watch them that they want the experience too. They will walk into the school after picking collard greens— yes, we go to the farm and we pick greens—and they are excited. ―Look at my bag of apples. Look at my carrots…I didn't know we could do this.‖ And they just go on and on…
Rebecca Kelly: The thing that I notice with the parents…I myself can remember being a young parent going to my first parent-teacher conference and feeling very vulnerable and intimidated. Our parents don't feel that way. That is not the spirit of this school. They are part of the team. We need them and they need us, and that is so well understood. I think that is why we have such high parent involvement. We do not have a teacher's lounge, but we have a parent lounge and a parent room. That is because we need them, and we try to get that message across. Public School Insights: Earlier we touched on Carstens‘ role in meeting both the non-academic and academic needs of students. Does anyone have anything to add on that? Theresa Mattison: If a child has an academic need— or any type of need—we make sure that we service
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that right away. We will stop what we are doing. Gail Nawrock: Some of the nonacademic needs we touched on with all of the different people who come in, whether it is the nurse or the mobile dentist. We help kids get glasses, clothing, underwear, coats. All those kinds of things. If someone comes in late to school and is hungry we are going to find him breakfast, because we really have learned that it does not make any sense for him to sit there hungry. Better to get him a bowl of cereal.
―I would just like to say again…it‘s all about the leadership‖ Teachers can work out arrangements with other teachers to help support students. For example, last year one of our fourth graders was just struggling. He was getting extra resource room help, but he still struggled. He would go down to the first grade classroom and read with them. He saw his role as being a helper to that teacher, but in the meantime he was also strengthening his reading skills. It gave him a bit of a break, and he was less frustrated. Or teachers will let a kid go to the office and someone will just sit and talk with him or her. I think within our building we are all able to engage with the children. And all the children are able to engage with at least one of us, whether it is our custodian or Dr. Mattison. We all do what we can to help that child calm down, settle down and stay so that she can learn.
Public School Insights: I have a broad question to finish. Are there are any questions I should have asked but did not? Anything we have not touched on that is vital in telling Carstens‘ story? Rebecca Kelly: We did touch on this, but I would like to just say again—and our principal just left the room so I feel a lot freer saying this—it‘s all about the leadership. I was shocked when I first came here. I went looking for the principal, and she was subbing. I had never seen that before in all of my years of teaching. If a child gets sick at school and does not have a phone, she drives them home. It is all about the leadership when it comes to setting the culture of the school. And that we have shared leadership is important, definitely. That is our strength. It truly is. Vannessa Jones: And I do not know if we mentioned it or not, but we do use data to inform our instructional program. We use assessment data to form individual learning plans, or student profiles, and to improve our instructional program. That is very important, so that we know where we are as a school, where we have been, and where we are going. Theresa Mattison: Just for the record, even if it is not totally academically, we have added value to our students. We can see that by their smiles. When they attend a field trip, if we talk about that particular subject, they remember it. We have taught them to become great citizens. To say ―Yes, ma'am‖ and ―No, sir.‖ And those things will help you—people want to be around people who care and who have knowledge of what is right and wrong. It is not necessarily all academics.
―Sometimes what gets lost in the discussion about public schools are the positives‖
I probably have close to 40 kids on my caseload, which is actually a lot for the number of kids in our school, but the referrals are proactive and preventative. A parent will say that they‘d like their child to see me. It is not ever seen as punitive, but as what we can do to help this child. And that builds into, what do we need to do to help with their nonacademic needs? Gail Nawrock: I think sometimes what gets lost in the discussion about public schools are the positives. I wanted to touch on attendance, because that is an You see all the negatives in the media. But while they issue for some students. If a child misses three days focus on ―There was no toilet paper,‖ whatever we or develops a pattern, we have a system. A teacher need here, we get. And a lot of us—or I could probanotes it and an identified staff member follows up with bly say 100% of us here at Carstens—do not see all attendance officers. We do what we can to help get the negatives. We see the strengths. that student back in school. Due to underenrollment and financial pressures in DePublic School Insights: Your school is located in troit Public Schools, Carstens Elementary will be closDetroit, which is struggling right now. Have the city‘s ing in June 2010. It will merge with a nearby middle economic challenges impacted your school? school. Theresa Mattison: We have been extra blessed. Only one of our partners has had to scale back somewhat. View this interview online at: But I think everyone knows the problems in Detroit http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/motor-city-miracleand in Detroit Public Schools, so we've had more than conversation-carstens-elementary-school-community other schools, which is a blessing. Published online March 17, 2010.
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Calling for Excellence with One Voice Westwood High School, Tennessee Results: • Now one of the top high schools in Memphis, outperforming the district as a whole on nearly all End-ofCourse exams in 2009 • In 2009, 99% of students met or exceeded state proficiency standards in reading and 95% of students did so in math, outperforming the state as a whole despite serving a more disadvantaged population What does shared leadership look like? At Westwood High School in Memphis, Tennessee, it is evident when teachers and staff members talk with students in the halls between classes; when students demonstrate pride in themselves and their school by being fully engaged in their classes; when parents participate in their children's school life; and when community members are regular partners in the school.
Everyone agreed that the first priority was restoring order This picture of collaboration and purpose was not present four years ago when Westwood was ranked at the bottom of high schools in Memphis and was about to be taken over by the state. Students were angry and had no respect for authority. Staff members describe being overwhelmed and demoralized. Students remember the fights and chaos. Enter Tommie McCarter, appointed to her first principalship. The first thing McCarter did was meet with staff members to stress the need for collaboration; to emphasize her belief that they were the instructional experts; and most importantly, to ask them to prioritize what they would do to change the school. Everyone agreed that the first priority was restoring order. The students needed structure and discipline before instruction could begin—no new rules, just consistency in implementing what already existed.
herence to collaboration and teamwork—two principles emphasized in Breaking Ranks, the National Association of Secondary School Principals' seminal guide to school improvement—as reasons the school made adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years. To address various pressing concerns, including discipline, attendance, mentoring, safety, and leadership, McCarter set in motion a process that led to the development of focused staff teams. For example, the disciplinary team faced the concern that discipline had historically been meted out unevenly and unfairly, and they helped develop and implement policies and procedures to provide consistency, awareness, and transparency to discipline. The team charged with addressing attendance and truancy works with parents to improve attendance and has developed a no-exceptions policy regarding student tardiness to school and class. Structured monitoring of attendance ensures consistent follow-up with parents and allows for creative ways to reward exemplary attendance. The creation of teams and the accompanying feeling of empowerment also kindled an interest in fostering teachers' leadership abilities and developing professional learning communities. That interest became reality when teachers who shared a common planning period began to get together once or twice a month to share new strategies and techniques for teaching and leading or to engage in small-group professional development on a specific topic.
To maintain momentum requires a commitment to collaboration
Given staff priorities, McCarter mandated teacherparent conferences for behavior and academic issues as well as tutoring for students in need of academic support. Parents and students quickly came to understand that behavior that was tolerated in the past was Personalization no longer acceptable. Student achievement began to Staff members decided to tackle behavior and responimprove rapidly. sibility early in students‘ high school careers. Because they knew how vulnerable incoming freshmen can Collaborative Leadership feel, staff members volunteered to create ninth-grade Change may start with a good leader, but a good mentoring programs that teach and model proper, leader also knows that going it alone is fruitless. To responsible, and respectful behavior and help prepare maintain momentum requires a commitment to colstudents to become leaders in their school and comlaboration. McCarter and the staff point to their admunity. Selected students in grades 10-12 also help ~ 24 ~
aid the transition for underclassmen by serving as peer counselors and role models.
pare for the state exit exams.
In addition to these mentoring opportunities, teacher Elizabeth Syriac says that "every student has an adult they feel comfortable with; and every teacher can call that person immediately—during class if needed—for assistance with the student." Every student participates in a club or on an athletic team, further fostering the student-teacher relationship.
The staff at Westwood is on a mission. They demonstrate that putting in the effort, working together, modeling the behavior, and demonstrating the expectations with one voice all the time reaps rewards. They are proud of their students and proud of themselves for what they have accomplished during the last three years. There are no fights at school, every student is in class on time, and the school is now in good standing, ranking near the top of high schools in Tennessee. The school was honored by the district in September 2007, when it received the Blue Ribbon School of the Year award in recognition of its improvement.
Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Westwood's mission is to offer students a diverse curriculum designed to prepare them to become effective communicators, critical thinkers, proficient problem solvers, and responsible citizens after graduation. All regular education students are enrolled in a collegepreparatory curriculum, and teachers encourage all of their students to enroll in challenging courses, with honors and AP level courses open to all students who are up to the challenge. Teachers at Westwood use data to drive instruction. In fact, with one data-gathering instrument, the Classroom Performance System (CPS), teachers receive immediate feedback on student comprehension. CPS is a computerized system that enables teachers to assign each student an individual handheld remote control unit. Students use these remotes to submit answers to in-class assessments. Upon completion, the teacher can instantly run reports that detail exactly which objectives individual students mastered and which objectives need more work. This immediate feedback not only saves the teacher valuable instruction time but also aids in individualizing instruction.
Consistency Reaps Rewards
The key school change is to build leadership As McCarter advises, the key to school change is to build leadership. She is adamant that this strategy is possible: "Kids are kids.... The adults must meet their needs.... One just must have the heart and mind to do it. Start with the staff and listen." UPDATE: Westwood continued strong academic performance in 2009, as evidenced by the Tennessee Department of Education Report Card. The school, where 92.4% of students are considered economically disadvantaged (compared to 57.8% of students in the state as a whole), outperformed the state on the tests that determine adequate yearly progress. 99% of Westwood students met or exceeded proficiency standards in reading, compared to 94% statewide. 95% of students met or exceeded proficiency standards in math, compared to 89% statewide.
"I have seen technology further the learning of students by keeping them interested," says McCarter. "Technology like the CPS handhelds mimic the gaming technology the students enjoy using. We have seen Westwood also remained one of the top schools in our math scores soar since the adoption of the ClassMemphis, outperforming the district as a whole on room Performance System." nearly all End-Of-Course exams. The school did particularly well in English and writing, with 90.8% of students tested meeting or exceeding proficiency standards in English I, 95.5% doing so in English II and 97.3% doing so in writing.
Teachers encourage all of their students to enroll in challenging courses
After-school and weekend tutoring is available for struggling students—and mandatory for students performing below standard. Students and parents are given a choice: four days of Saturday attendance or four weeks of three-day-a-week after-school sessions. In addition, once every six weeks on a Saturday, the ZAP (Zeroes Aren't Permitted) program allows students to make up zeroes, failing grades, and missed work without penalty. Another standards-related initiative, the Gateway Boot Camp, helps students pre-
Story adapted from: James A. Rourke and Marlene Hartzman, ―Calling for Excellence with One Voice.‖ NASSP‘s Principal Leadership, Special Edition June 2008. Copyright © 2008 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Adapted with permission. View this story online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/calling-excellence-one-voice Published online September 2008. Results updated April 2010.
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Transforming a School Step by Step Lewisdale Elementary School, Maryland When Melissa Glee-Woodard became principal of Maryland’s Lewisdale Elementary School four years ago, it was struggling. The school was in the dreaded “school improvement” process because of the performance of multiple subgroups of students, and it needed change. Change is what it got. But not the dramatic “fire-all-teachers” change that has been making the papers. Rather, Glee-Woodard inspired teachers, parents and students with a new vision. The staff began focusing on student data in a meaningful way. Targeted professional development addressed areas of weakness in the instructional program. And new summer programs ensured that students kept their academic success going even when school was not technically in session. As a result, Lewisdale has made AYP every year Glee-Woodard has been principal. The National Association of Elementary School Principals recently honored her for her transformational leadership. She joined us for a conversation about the school and its journey. Public School Insights: How would you describe Lewisdale? Glee-Woodard: Lewisdale Elementary School is located in an urban setting in Prince George's County, Maryland. We are in the backyard of the University of Maryland, College Park. It is a working-class neighborhood. 80% of our students are Hispanic. 17% are African-American. All of our students walk to school each and every day; we are a neighborhood school. Our parents are very actively involved. Anytime that you are outside in the morning, you will see a lot of parents either walking their children to school or dropping their children off in cars.
Public School Insights: I understand that since you came to Lewisdale, the school has greatly improved, with a big shift in culture. What was the school like when you arrived?
―The shift in culture had to do with the vision...and changing the mindset‖ Glee-Woodard: The shift in culture had to do with the vision that I brought to the school and changing the mindset of 1) students, 2) parents and 3) teachers.
I can distinctly remember at one of my first staff meetings someone saying that, ―Well, our kids speak Lewisdale is also a Title I school. 84% of our students English as a second language, and our kids come from qualify for free or reduced meals. And 54% of our stupoverty.‖ And just changing the mindset to one of, dents speak English as their second language. So that ―No matter the type of background that our kids come gives you a general idea of the demographics and the from, we can help them achieve academically.‖ Also, type of community that we serve here at Lewisdale. imparting this vision to the parents and letting them know that we think that their child can succeed, no We also have a very good teaching staff. 98% of matter what the obstacles are. And letting the stuteachers stay at Lewisdale Elementary School. We do dents know that, too. I constantly tell the students, not have a high turnover rate. So we have a lot of ―You are going to college.‖ Many of them do not have veteran teachers who have a lot of skills and talents to that kind of encouragement at home, so I feel that at bring to our school. We also have very, very active the school we have to provide it to them. community partnerships that provide resources for our students. We have a very strong partnership with the There was also a shift in looking at data. Before, data University of Maryland, and one with Kaiser Permanente. So we try to bring as many resources as possi- were not made public. They were not shared openly. But now we have data charts across the school and in ble to the students of Lewisdale. the cafeteria. We have individual student data conferences with parents from pre-K all the way up to fifth grade—―This is your child's reading level. This is the number of kindergarten words that your child knows. This is your child's math assessment score. This is where they are and this is where they need to be.‖
―We have a lot of veteran teachers who have a lot of skills and talents to bring‖
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And when we have our staff meetings, the cafeteria workers, the custodians and everyone else knows where we are and where we need to go as a school.
We just had to fine-tune instruction. But there were some teachers here who did not meet the standards that I felt should be met, and those are the ones who are no longer with us.
Public School Insights: What was student achievement like? Glee-Woodard: Lewisdale was in school improvement, which means that the school had not made AYP for multiple years. The school had missed making their AMOs [annual measurable objectives] in several different subgroups. But we have made AYP each year that I have been at Lewisdale. The kids have not changed. The teachers have not changed. But the way that we teach and the way that we look at data have changed.
―The kids have not changed. The teachers have not changed. But the way that we teach and the way that we look at data have changed‖
―We had, and continue to have great teachers. We just had to fine-tune instruction‖ Public School Insights: And speaking of that teacher retention rate…It seems from the demographics of your school that it would typically be described in national policy discussions as ―hard-to-staff.‖ But you have retained most of your teachers. What do you think are some of the factors that make teachers stay? Glee-Woodard: I think one of the biggest factors is the camaraderie among the staff. I have worked at all levels—high school, middle school and elementary school. I have never seen a group of individuals who work so well together. And whenever we have a new staff member come on board, they are always willing to assist in any manner that they can. I think that helps with retaining teachers, because there's a sense of family within the building.
I think that the biggest piece in moving the school forward was providing professional development that looked at some of the areas of weakness within our instructional program, and then being able to finetune them. And also getting everybody on board and looking at, how can we help each child achieve? And when they don't know what we want them to know, what are we going to do to ensure that they learn it, so they can be successful?
Also, as a building administrator, you have to constantly be the cheerleader for your staff. You have to constantly recognize small accomplishments as well as large accomplishments. So during the afternoon announcements I say ―Today I was in so-and-so's classroom and I saw kids doing XYZ and that is great. We want all of our kids to do that.‖ I just publicly let the staff know that I appreciate what they do.
Public School Insights: That raises a couple of questions for me. At the national level there is a lot of talk right now about how, when schools are not performing well, the best thing to do may be to clean house and get rid of the existing staff. But that does not sound like it was the case at your school.
Public School Insights: Getting back to some of the ways Lewisdale has changed over the past few years, you have talked about a new vision and improving instruction using student data. Do you think there were other major components to the school‘s turnaround?
Glee-Woodard: No, not at all. But I'll be honest with you. When I came into the building, there were certain teachers about whom I said, ―They cannot teach here.‖ They were not delivering quality instruction. And that is when as an administrator, you have to have those courageous conversations. And so when I told you about the 98% that are here and the 2% that are not, the 2% are the ones that I had those courageous conversations with. I stated to them, ―You are not delivering the best instruction,‖ and I gave them the tools to improve. When they did not improve, I had to have another courageous conversation. Those individuals have moved on to do other things. But like I said, we had, and continue to have, great teachers.
Glee-Woodard: Yes. One thing is that instead of giving teachers staff development kind of randomly, I started giving them a needs assessment and asking them, ―Where do you see your staff development needs?‖ And I actually went into classrooms and observed teachers to find out where our staff development needs were. Another big component was that I started providing a half-day of collaborative planning each month for teachers during the school day. That is a time for them to really look at student work, to do long-range planning and to look at data. They were already sort of doing the data thing, having a quarterly ―data utili-
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out twice a week to work with our fourth grade students on math skills. At the end of the program our students actually get to spend a day at the University of Maryland. That is exposure to the college campus that I feel is really critical for students here.
―In the very beginning, we just glazed over data, but now we are looking deeper into it to see how we can really help our students‖ Zation meeting.‖ But now we take a different look. We have developed a template that the teachers actually fill out to become more accountable for individual student data. In the very beginning, we just glazed over data, but now we are looking deeper into it to see how we can really help our students. Also, prior to my tenure here, Lewisdale only had summer programs for students in pre-K through second grade. Since I have been here, I have pushed to make sure that we have a summer school program for all students in our building. Each year I've been at Lewisdale, we've had three summer school programs. I think that is a critical, key component of our success. Some of our students, realistically, do not get that support during the summer. And my first year here we literally had school every single day of the week except for Sunday. We had an afterschool ELL program, a Saturday ELL program and a student learning opportunity program. Public School Insights: Earlier you mentioned some of your community partners, including the University of Maryland, College Park and Kaiser Permanente. What are some of the services that those partnerships provide, and how did you form those partnerships? Glee-Woodard: I formed a partnership with the University of Maryland as an alumnus. They have a Maryland Day every year in the spring. They have booths all across the campus. I went to the education booth and told them that I am an alumnus and wanted to start a partnership. They gave me someone to call, and then the next year we developed a partnership with their Department of Education. We have Maryland students who come in to shadow our teachers as a part of one of the courses for education majors. And we're trying to become a school that will host student teachers for the University of Maryland. We also have a partnership with ―Partners in Print.‖ University of Maryland students come out and do evening programs with our primary school parents. They talk about strategies parents can use to help their children learn to read, and our students leave with a free book to help build up their home library. We also have a program called ―Math Counts‖ through the University of Maryland. Maryland students come
The Kaiser Permanente partnership was here before I came to Lewisdale. They provide nutritional information to our parents and students. They also provide staff development on nutritional information. Public School Insights: You have mentioned a few ways that you get parents involved here at Lewisdale—the reading program, the nutritional information. Are there other things that you do to help parents connect to the school? Glee-Woodard: I am very visible as a principal. And so I know my parents. I talk to my parents. I think that you have to build those relationships. I think that is the biggest piece, and I've been told by parents that the school has really changed since I've been here. We do callouts whenever we have afterschool activities. We have reading night, math night, science night. And these nights are standing room only. Our parents come out. I think it is because of the community feeling and knowing that we are all on the same page to help our kids. And they leave with so many resources that our teachers give them, from ―Make and Take‖ to strategies on how to work with their child on reading or math. The information is very valuable, so the parents know that if they come out they are going to receive information that can really help them. I think it is also critical that I am able to provide translators. And if we do breakout sessions in classrooms, each classroom has a translator to ensure that parents understand what is being said. Public School Insights: What would you say are the major challenges you face at Lewisdale? Glee-Woodard: One of the biggest challenges would be—and I still have this challenge, this is my own personal challenge—trying to get all students to believe that they can achieve. I look at my African-American subgroup in comparison to my English language learners, and I have to admit that they are still not performing as well as I feel they should be. So looking at
―I know that we have quality instruction. I know that we look at data. But I still believe that motivation is half the battle‖
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particular subgroups and asking, ―How can I get this group on board? Why isn't this particular subgroup performing as well as another subgroup?‖ I know that we have quality instruction. I know that we look at data. But I still believe that motivation is half the battle. If you can get your kids motivated to learn, they will achieve. So we do all kinds of crazy things at Lewisdale to try to get our kids motivated. And I think that works as well as providing quality instruction for our students. So I guess one of the biggest challenges would be just trying to figure out how to help particular subgroups. Another challenge is getting my primary teachers examining rigor. Some teachers think, ―Oh, MSA [Maryland State Assessment] is a third through fifth grade thing.‖ No, MSA is a pre-K-through fifth grade thing. And even still this year I am thinking of ways that I can help my kindergarten teachers increase rigor and let them know that the basic foundation they provide is going to help those kids when they take the MSA—that it starts with them and not just with the intermediate teachers. Public School Insights: I am also interested in hearing a little more about the strategies that Lewisdale uses with its English language learners. You have mentioned summer school, afterschool and parental involvement programs. Are there any other strategies that you use when focusing on that group in particular? Glee-Woodard: We have changed the way that we deliver instruction to our English language learners in two ways. First, there used to be a lot of pullout sessions, where the English language learners were pulled out for ESOL instruction. Now we do more coteaching, and we have found that to be very, very successful. We have also implemented the Comprehension Toolkit, which is a reading instructional program where kids actually do a lot more dialoguing with their peers—what is called ―Turn and Talk.‖ This allows them to express themselves much more than in traditional instruction. And between the Comprehension Toolkit and the fact that we do not pull kids out in isolation as much we used to, we have seen a great increase in scores, especially in fifth-grade reading.
zation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind. Are there any changes that you would like to see made to that law that would help it better support the work that you are doing at Lewisdale? Or are there any components that you think are essential and should be maintained as is? Glee-Woodard: That is a difficult question. I firmly believe that all kids should obtain 100% proficiency. But there is not a level playing field. There really isn't. That is my personal belief. Even within our own county…A large percentage of my kids do not have Internet access at home. Their parents may not take them to the local library or to a museum. And I truly believe that exposure has a big correlation to academic achievement, so to compare Lewisdale to another school in a different part of the county that has different economic status...It is not an even playing field. I do think that all kids should achieve, but we are not all on the same playing field. And I think that more resources need to be given to schools that may not have the same sort of economic background as other schools.
―More resources need to be given to schools that may not have the same sort of economic background as other schools‖ I just find it so interesting. When I've gone to conventions and conferences I have talked to principals who are complaining because now they have 40 English language learners, and what are they going to do? And I'm saying, ―Look at Lewisdale. Look at how many we have and the challenges we have.‖ But we still make AYP.
View this interview online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/transforming-schoolstep-step-conversation-principal-melissa-glee-woodard Published online April 7, 2010.
Public School Insights: As I'm sure you're aware, the Obama administration has called for the reauthori-
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Finding the Keys to Success Anna Booth Elementary, Alabama Results: • In 2009, 85% of third, fourth and fifth graders scored proficient or higher on state accountability tests in reading and math, outperforming the state as a whole on each test at each grade level while serving a significantly higher proportion of students in poverty • Received a 2007 National School of Change Award and a 2008 National Title I Distinguished School Award
Walking into Anna Booth Elementary early in the morning is like gulping a double shot of espresso. The new school building buzzes with energy. Every classroom is a hive of activity, and there‘s a palpable intensity in the air. The faculty and 530 students are ready to begin a jam-packed day of instruction, intervention and powerful learning. The school, which serves Bayou La Batre (a small fishing community in southern Mobile County), has undergone important changes in recent years, including a name change from Peter F. Alba (19th century landowner) to Anna Booth (esteemed Bayou La Batre teacher and principal). Two years ago, the faculty and students moved from a worn-out facility with multiple portables in Bayou La Batre to a new brick building in Irvington, a 15-minute drive north. ―It was a seamless change supported by the community with no negative impact,‖ says veteran principal Lisa Williams.
students were left homeless. Yet despite the devastation, teachers did not once express concern that the lingering impact of the storm would affect achievement. They were confident the hurricane‘s aftermath would not destroy the foundation they had built. Staff members supported relief efforts to meet students‘ basic needs and, at the end of that difficult year, student achievement continued to rise.
Hurricane Katrina devastated Bayou la Batre. More than 70% of students were left homeless…[but] student achievement continued to rise So how did the faculty and staff move Anna Booth from academic under-performer to national awardwinner? Williams, a reflective and experienced school leader, has identified several key factors that contribute to the school‘s success—factors she believes are easily replicated in any school with the resolve to do whatever it takes to improve teaching and learning.
The new building is great, but Anna Booth‘s actual metamorphosis began years before the move. The result has been a total shift in culture, from benevolent low expectations for struggling students to very high expectations and soaring achievement—in a school where 18% of students are English Language Learners and 83% meet federal poverty guidelines.
Implementing ARFI with fidelity
From benevolent low expectations...to high expectations and soaring achievement
Williams gives the Alabama Reading First Initiative (ARFI) credit for most of Booth‘s progress. ―We were told we would receive unprecedented funding and support, and that as a result of that, we should expect unprecedented results. We found that to be true.‖
The change has been so complete, in fact, that Anna Booth has been named an Alabama Torchbearer School four years in a row (2006-09), and was one of six schools to receive the National School Change Award in 2007.
In the face of a challenge This transformation becomes even more remarkable when considering another challenge that this school has recently faced: On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated Bayou la Batre. More than 70% of
For six years ARFI, a K-3 initiative, provided funds for a comprehensive reading program (Open Court in the first five years and Reading Street in 2008-09), plus ongoing professional development for teachers and two reading coaches for grades K-3 (this year, that decreased to one). The changes at the school have been phenomenal. On the 2007-08 state accountability tests, 95% of third, fourth and fifth graders scored proficient or higher in reading and math. ―Faithful grant implementation, determination, and relentless efforts have ensured that absolutely every
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child has progressed to the greatest extent possible during the last six years,‖ says Williams. ―The teachers implemented the grant with full fidelity, and they see the grant as a gift, a response to a national crisis.‖ Two key components of the school‘s implementation of ARFI have been the research-based comprehensive reading program and a strategic, effective schedule that allows for an intensive intervention plan with targeted small-group instruction.
―Our SAE plan embodies that,‖ she explains. ―We fervently believe in it and we act vigorously on it every day. It‘s a very methodical course of action based on a comprehensive needs assessment. Our SAE plan articulates our direction while ensuring we maintain our vision and mission.‖
The faculty shares their leader‘s total commitment to the SAE plan, in part because they are all involved in creating it. ―Our SAE is a working, living, breathing Teachers received intensive training and jobdocument,‖ explains Salmons. ―We are the SAE; it‘s embedded support for Open Court, which helped them not just some words on a piece of paper.‖ implement it to the full benefit of their students. There was very little resistance—the faculty embraced the The staff meets quarterly to review the SAE and make highly structured reading program as a powerful tool sure they‘re on target. Then they conduct a comprefor boosting student achievement. When the system hensive needs assessment based on student data durshifted to Reading Street, Booth‘s faculty and students ing the summer, analyzing all of the standardized test had a learning routine in place and found the switch scores, DIBELS and in-class assessments. The focus fairly easy. for the next year grows out of that analysis and becomes the new SAE framework. ―Implementing a program with fidelity doesn‘t mean that you‘re a robot, and that you don‘t consider other Creating an engaging school factors going on around you,‖ says Julie Salmons, the During the initial implementation of the change, six reading coach for second and third grades. years ago, one of the greatest challenges was to ―We see Open Court and now Reading Street as research-based tools. They work. We know that,‖ Salmons says. ―Good practices are good practices, and good teaching is good teaching. And that good teaching can still continue on without skipping a beat while implementing a program.‖ ARFI also introduced the practice of regular, formal data meetings. ―We needed a process for analyzing student achievement data to drive instruction and plan for professional development,‖ explains Williams. Monthly grade-level data meetings allow teachers to study data as a group and discuss the strengths and challenges of every student in the grade. Where challenges are identified, instruction is tailored to fit the student‘s needs. ―They are an integral part of our success,‖ she says. At the end of Booth‘s first ARFI year, it became apparent that the framework was going to have a tremendous impact on student success. The school expanded its comprehensive reading program to the fourth and fifth grades, implementing every aspect of ARFI that didn‘t require additional funding—the daily reading block, the intervention period, teacher collaboration, and grade-level data meetings. As a result, student achievement in the higher grades is keeping pace with K-3.
Maintaining constancy of focus Every MCPSS school must create and carry out a School Action for Excellence (SAE) plan. One of Williams‘ favorite quotes is from basketball coach Steve Brennan: ―Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.‖
change the culture of the school. ―We had to engage our staff in ‗courageous conversations‘ about our core beliefs. Do we believe every child can learn? Do we believe and understand that poverty, home language, culture, and migrant status are not and should never be considered correlates to poor academic performance?‖ In a few short years, Williams says, she‘s watched the faculty completely change their outlook on student achievement. ―They‘ve moved from an attitude of ‗It is impossible, it‘s out of our control,‘ to an attitude of ‗It is a reality. By collaborating, we‘ll succeed.‘‖
One of the greatest challenges was to change the culture of the school In the first few years of tremendous school change, some teachers chose to go elsewhere. However, in the last four years, there‘s been very little faculty turnover. ―The staff members are not competitive, and there is no evidence of divisive cliques or professional jealousy. They work in unison. Each grade level teacher accepts responsibility for every child in that grade.‖ First grade teacher Dayle Alidor has only been at Anna Booth for two years. She came from a large school with a completely different climate. She now drives 100 miles round-trip to work. She says the professional learning community at Booth makes the trip worth it.
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She now drives 100 miles round-trip to work. She says that professional learning community at Booth makes the trip worth it ―I don‘t think any one of us has a child in our classroom for whom we don‘t have high expectations,‖ she says. ―And they know that. Their parents know that and we all know that. There are a lot of schools with all these excuses about why students can‘t achieve. But it doesn‘t matter where they live or who they live with—it‘s about their brain and what they‘re capable of doing.‖
Job-embedded professional learning None of the significant improvements in teaching and learning at Anna Booth could have happened without focused, ongoing professional development. Student and teacher data help ensure professional development is relevant and timely. ―We focus on the National Staff Development Council‘s results-driven vision,‖ Williams explains. ―We look at what our students need to know, what we need to know and be able to do to ensure their success, and what training we need to get us there.‖ Workshops, book studies and other activities are always researchbased. We make sure we know how to translate our learning into daily practice, and that our practice impacts student learning.‖
from high school and can compete—not just with other kids in the district or in the state—but globally.‖ With national funding for Reading First eliminated for 2009-10, Alabama will have to discontinue most of the funding and support given to ARFI schools. As a result, Williams and her faculty face a real challenge— sustaining the momentum and intensity they‘ve achieved. Williams isn‘t worried. ―Absolutely not. We have the keys to success, and we are going to sustain our success. It‘s too important to these students and to this community.‖ ―I‘ve learned a great lesson,‖ she says. ―Real success is accurate information sustained over time. It‘s sustainable when it‘s taken for granted. And that‘s what‘s happened here. Our culture, the intensity, it‘s all internalized now. We just do it.‖
―It‘s sustainable when it‘s taken for granted. And that‘s what‘s happened here. Our culture, the intensity…We just do it‖
UPDATE: According to Alabama's Accountability Reporting System, Anna Booth Elementary is continuing outstanding performance. In 2009, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students at the school outperformed the state as a whole on all reading and math tests, despite serving a significantly higher percentage of students in Peer coaching has been the most effective jobpoverty. More than 85% of students scored proficient embedded professional development, says Williams. The reading coaches actively support teachers by pro- or higher in all categories, with more than 92% of students scoring proficient or higher in 3rd grade reading viding demonstration lessons. This has helped dramatically with the implementation of both comprehen- and math, 4th grade reading and 5th grade reading and math. sive reading programs. ―We were well prepared [for Reading Street],‖ says Donna Melton, a second-grade teacher. ―But there were still times I started teaching a new unit and said to myself, ‗Wait a minute, this Story adapted from: isn‘t flowing right.‘ We were lucky to have our reading Jennifer Pyron, "Anna Booth Elementary: ‗We Have Found the Keys to Success.‘‖ In the Fall 2009 issue of Working Tocoaches available to come straight down the hall and wards Excellence: the Journal of the Alabama Best Practices model lessons or call Reading Street consultants to Center, Volume 9 Number 1. get answers for us.‖
Maintaining a sense of urgency Every day at Anna Booth Elementary, there is an intensity and sense of urgency. It‘s the glue that holds everything together, Williams says.
Copyright © 2009 by the Alabama Best Practices Center. Adapted with permission.
View this story online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/finding-keys-success
―At every meeting, we engage in conversations about the challenges of preparing our students for today‘s global economy. We examine our role as elementary Published online October 2009. Results updated March 2010. school teachers in ensuring that our students graduate
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―Success Breeds Success‖ Forest Grove High School, Oregon Principal John O'Neill has earned his chops as a turnaround expert. In the past ten years, he has helped turn around two schools in two different states--no mean feat for a man who himself struggled in school. As principal of Forest Grove High School in Oregon, he has presided over a dramatic surge in test scores and graduation rates. In addition, many more low-income students have been signing up for challenging AP courses since O'Neill arrived in 2002. O'Neill recently told us about his school's journey from mediocrity to distinction. Some big lessons emerge from his story of school turnaround: Create a climate of personal attention to student needs. Do not remediate. Accelerate. Build broad commitment to change. Go for early, visible successes. Create reforms for the long haul.
Public School Insights: There has been a lot of talk recently about school turnarounds. I understand you have actually turned around two different schools. Is there some kind of a broad prescription, do you think, for a successful turnaround strategy?
―You need to have a clear plan of action and clear targets‖ O‘Neill: I think you need to have a clear plan of action and clear targets that you want to impact. For myself, in the two schools I was at, it was definitely clearly outlined for me what needed to be done in terms of reading and math student achievement.
A New Culture of Personal Attention Public School Insights: Let‘s talk a bit about the kind of school Forest Grove was when you first arrived. It was, by all accounts, not really succeeding. O‘Neill: Academically, yes. What was often prevalent was [the attitude], ―Well, we are good enough for the students we serve at Forest Grove.‖ So there was definitely a culture change that needed to happen. We needed to establish higher expectations for student learning and skill level development, with the goal of greater opportunities [for students once they graduate]. We wanted them better prepared to pursue vocational or academic endeavors after school.
Public School Insights: Did the culture include any sort of discipline or behavioral problems that got in the way of student learning? O‘Neill: No, actually we have a pretty good group of kids. Tardies were an issue. We instituted hall sweeps, with the expectation that kids need to be in class. But other than that, our student population is a pretty great group of kids. They did feel, however, that they were a number. [Student population was] over 1500. Before I was hired, one of the questions the superintendent had asked parents and students was, what are the existing challenges that students face at Forest Grove High School that we would like to address with the hiring of a new principal? One of [the responses] was that students felt like a number…that [Forest Grove] was getting too large, that they were falling through the cracks, that nobody cared whether they came to school or not. So we instituted quite a few personalization efforts to actively engage and connect kids to the school and at least one meaningful adult.
―There was definitely a culture change that needed to happen‖ Approximately 47% of our dropouts were true freshman that did not make [a successful] transition to high school. We implemented the LINKS transition program, which is a national program that pairs a peer mentor—a junior or senior—with an incoming student.
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[The mentors] make phone calls [to the in-coming 9th graders]. They welcome them to Forest Grove High School and explain, ―I am your peer mentor. I am here to help. If you have any questions, here is my phone number, e-mail‖—that sort of thing.
―We instituted quite a few personalization efforts to actively engage and connect kids to school‖ That greatly enhanced our student population. The very first day [of each school year] we hold a ―Frosh Camp‖ that only freshman and other students new to Forest Grove High School attend. We saw the immediate impact [of the LINKS program], with 100% of 9th graders showing up that day. Before we‘d have 15% not show up. We also instituted an advisory program that pairs up students, in groups of 25, with a teacher on campus for all four years of their tenure here at Forest Grove High School. That has been very powerful. They meet biweekly for 30 minutes at a time. They do their forecasting [select their coursework for the next year], they plan and profile, they look at their ACT and SAT results. We do the ACT Explore for 9th graders and the PSAT for 10th graders. They look at their results, immediately prior to forecasting for the next year, to make sure they are on track to meet their goals. If they want to attend a four-year university, they make sure their course selections line up with that. We also provide instructional teams, or houses, at the 9th and 10th grade levels, which pair up social studies, science and English teachers with a common planning period. At first [these houses each] had 103 students, but we were able to reduce that to 75 students per team. These teachers track the academic progress of those students throughout the year. They meet weekly and discuss not only curriculum integration but also individual student progress, and they provide intervention support [to students] as needed and as quickly as possible. In the 11th and 12th grades we implemented career pathways, or academies. That has been pretty powerful for the students who chose to participate in that opportunity.
Acceleration, Not Remediation for Struggling Students Public School Insights: What are other strategies you have used in the turnaround process?
O‘Neill: [When starting the turnaround process at my previous school,] we looked for different successful models. We looked at Brazosport, Texas, and then also at some research from Larry Lezotte—Effective Schools, Doug Reeves, Mike Schmoker—Results (especially chapter 4) and Robert Marzano—What Works in Schools, and their work in fostering accelerated student learning. Particularly of interest [to me is] the high school level. I was intrigued by the double blocking effort—giving additional time for individual students to practice their skills in math and reading in areas where they need remediation, not necessarily dependent upon classwide instruction. More an integrated approach than the traditional English or traditional math approach. We looked at different approaches [of how to do that]. One was Accelerated Reader, which we implemented and used at my last three schools—two high schools and a middle school—with a lot of success. [That] allows students to read at their instructional level, not their frustrational level, but not too easy reading. We saw rapid results with that. [When double blocking,] we identify students coming in from the middle school who [fell short of or barely] met the state standard in 8th grade. We prescribe the math and reading workshop [as a required elective] when they enroll, their very first semester, and as students pass the state assessment, they are allowed to transfer to an elective of their choice the following semester. Public School Insights: It sounds like you are keeping these kids with the mainstream while giving them extra help. Is that right? O‘Neill: Absolutely. We want to make sure they still have [exposure and access to the traditional curriculum]. Yet we also give them that double dose at their own instructional level with the goal of rapidly accelerating their skill acquisition in reading and math so that they can catch up and achieve the 10th grade reading and math standards as quickly as possible.
―We want to make sure they still have [exposure and access to the traditional curriculum]. Yet we also give them that double dose at their own instructional level‖ There‘s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel for the kids. The external motivation for them is to pass
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the state assessment. [If they do,] they receive a pass right then—because our state test is on-line—from their teacher to go to the counselor to change their schedule for the following semester. Other students see that and it motivates them. Also, we don‘t collapse sections as the enrollment numbers decrease from one semester to the next. So there is some external motivation for the teachers to have as many students as possible achieve that level of learning by the end of first semester. They will have smaller class sizes during the second semester and a lot more individualized impact on those learners still in those elective courses.
The success that they had that first year with our 9th grade students…The turnaround that we had with 9th graders, almost catching our 10th graders in terms of academic performance, really spurred the school board and superintendent to provide an additional teaching allocation to fund10th grade intervention. Once we did that, we saw scores dramatically increase for those students who needed two years worth of intervention.
―Success breeds success, and support‖
Success breeds success, and support. So we enjoyed greater support. For instance, our school board asked, what other ways can we help support the school improvement efforts at the high school? So we added a team [of teachers], and we reduced class size from Public School Insights: You mentioned earlier that one of the big things you had to change when you first 103 students to 75 students per house, which provided a more personalized learning environment and arrived at Forest Grove in 2002 was climate and exgreater support for those students in the early formapectations. Did this mean that you had to make a tive years of high school—the 9th and 10th grade clean sweep of teachers? How did you actually begin years. that work?
Building Broad Commitment to Change
O‘Neill: It was kind of a coalition of the willing. First of all, I had outstanding support from our district superintendent, Mr. Jack Musser. He hired me to bring about higher academic success for our student population. He saw the strides we made down at my former school and he wanted those replicated if at all possible. So I had a lot of support in these efforts not only from the school board but also from the superintendent.
―I had outstanding support from our district superintendent‖
Public School Insights: You mentioned the coalition of the willing…Was it a strong coalition that helped begin the work of the turnaround? O‘Neill: We had to make a case that change was needed. For some, it has always been ―good enough‖—this is just Forest Grove and we do well enough for the kids that want to go on to college. In the past, there wasn‘t the disaggregation of data or the analysis of student achievement across the board in all subgroups. Once we provided that data, it was a call to action for several of our teachers.
We have biannual school improvement retreats. We tried during the first year to hold school improvement meetings either during our leadership team meeting, When we put out the reading and math workshop idea which is an hour and fifteen minutes before school during year one, we [had to identify] who the workstarts, or after-school. We would never get [far in the shop teachers were going to be. We were able to look process], because people were rather territorial refor characteristics that would support the program, garding their programs and departments. ideally teachers who believe that all students can learn and be successful. Teachers who take personal acSo what we did was use a smaller learning communicountability for those students and their growth in ties grant—we received $50,000 that first year—to go learning and skill acquisition. Teachers who are eteraway from the high school. We went over to the Orenal optimists who, again, believe all kids can learn and gon coast and spent two days there. We brought all given the right support can be successful, and that it‘s our department chairs; our local school committee their individual job to find out what support that enmembers—those are elected parents; our building site tails and provide it to the students. counsel representatives, who are in charge of looking at our professional development endeavors year to I was fortunate and I had two teachers, one reading year and who include parent, teacher and classified and one math teacher, on campus who really restaff representatives; two school board members; a sponded well to this opportunity when I broached it district office administrator; and the entire school site with the staff. They voiced interest in being the read- administrative team. ing workshop and math workshop teacher. ~ 35 ~
―Once we provided [disaggregated] data, it was a call to action for several of our teachers‖ [At these retreats,] we take a look at current school data—everything from attendance rate to drop out rate to reading and math performance to annual yearly progress by subgroup. Then we do a programby-program review of all our school improvement programs. We identify any gaps that programs don‘t necessarily address, and then we outline our school improvement goals on how to fill those gaps.
but it‘s the board‘s expectations. They did it for us immediately. So again, success breeds success and support. And it‘s very important to get those quick wins and build off them, and to have a vision of where you need to go next to impact more students. Public School Insights: There is some debate about whether a school looking to turnaround has to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch with an entirely new staff, or whether it‘s possible to build a community of supporters from the existing staff who buy-in and can move a vision forward.
O‘Neill: I think that each school is unique. I definitely had a handful of teachers who were close to retirement and set in their ways and did not see the need We can get through that entire process in two full to change. In all fairness to them, these are dedicated days. And, most importantly, we build the buy-in and people who put 20, 30 years into the school site, and support necessary [to achieve these goals]. Our last, they truly cared about it. But they did not see the call culminating activity is to review the school improveto action. The paradigm had shifted under them, in ment goals that the retreat generates and to reinforce terms of mastery for all learners, and it caught a few [attendees‘] role as our school‘s stakeholder represenoff guard. tatives in supporting those goals and building consensus with the people that they represent. That has been extremely effective in moving forward rapidly. Public School Insights: You have representatives of parents and other community members involved in this process. Have you found it challenging to get the level of community buy-in you need in the turnaround process? O‘Neill: It was a little challenging at first, but looking back on it I would say that [only] 1% of parents were concerned about students taking the mandatory elective classes, the workshops. The vast majority of parents want the best education possible for their kids and saw the value of their students reading, writing and math problem-solving, so there wasn‘t much backlash from the community about establishing higher expectations. The superintendent and I would meet with those parents who were concerned. But we held fast, saying that these are the expectations and no, you cannot opt out of them. Again, we had a very supportive school board that said, ―You know what? We expect this for all our kids, and we want a literate community of learners to graduate from the high school.‖ So they held fast. Three or four years after that, the board asked again, is there anything you need in terms of support? I [asked for the Board to establish policy on these expectations]. So it‘s not just that the principal and the superintendent say you have to take these classes, or you have to attain these higher levels of expectations,
―It‘s very important to get those quick wins and build off them‖
But I truly believe that all teachers want success for their students, and when their students are successful, there is a lot of pride in that success. They want that level of success.
Sustaining Success Public School Insights: How do you sustain the work? I am sure you‘ve encountered, like anyone else, turnarounds that five years down the road are a little less impressive than they were when they started. O‘Neill: Absolutely. That is a challenge. With our math and reading workshops, our two stars who started out for us…One retired and one moved back to his hometown in eastern Oregon. So the challenge for us is continuing that level of excellence in those programs and the fidelity of those programs in terms of delivery—that‘s key. It is a constant professional development endeavor, and you just have to remain focused on the end result—students gaining the skills they need to be successful. I have a running tally. I am looking at it right now in my office on my chalkboard, which overlooks my desk. It shows how many students are in the workshop
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classes, how many got out, what percent that is, how many seats are impacted for first semester. Anybody walking into my office knows that is a priority for us. People respect what you inspect, and if you let up on that at all…I could see some slippage occurring.
―People respect what you inspect‖ Public School Insights: Do you think that there is enough of a culture in the school now that those who have worked with you could sustain the vision if you left? O‘Neill: I have been asked that question before, and I would say yes, at this school. Yes. I have an outstanding school administrative team—some very, very capable assistant principals. One in particular definitely has the full vision. She has been my curriculum/ instruction person for the last six years, and she could easily continue this if she were selected as principal to follow up. However, if you bring in someone from the outside who has different experiences—I‘m not sure. It would be a challenge. My former school site did slip back when I left, and that was disappointing. And they‘re continuing to struggle. So I don‘t know. My desire is yes, absolutely, it will continue. I know that‘s the real telling feature of a good leader—that it does continue after you leave. So that is the goal.
changes you were able to make? We know every school is different. O‘Neill: I am thoroughly convinced that the school improvement efforts we have taken on at my former school and at my current school are replicable at just about any site. I didn‘t invent these strategies, I borrowed these strategies from effective schools elsewhere. So my belief is yes, this is definitely replicable. And we have had a number of high schools within Oregon that have implemented programs similar to what we have done that have met AYP and had significant growth. I think the key is, at the very highest level, a superintendent and school board members that want the very best for their students and their community, and are willing to take a potential backlash in establishing a commitment to higher levels of expectations for all students. If you have that firmly in place, I think that is half the battle.
―I didn‘t invent these strategies, I borrowed these strategies from effective schools elsewhere‖
View this interview online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/visionaries/JohnONeill Read more about the school at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/world-opportunity
Public School Insights: I have one final question for you. You are in the rather unique position of presiding Published online August 27, 2009. over two turnaround stories—two schools that have actually changed their cultures and worked much better. Does this give you insight into how people all around the country can make the same kinds of
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Creating a Learning Environment – Moving From Chaos to Achievement Dayton‘s Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary School, Minnesota Results: • 64.1% of students met or exceeded state math standards in 2009—better than the state as a whole, despite serving a significantly higher proportion of students in poverty • 67.7% of students met or exceeded state reading standards, close to the state average
How could Dayton's Bluff Achievement Plus Elemen-
and adults. At the beginning of the day, "morning
tary School, a school so troubled that children rode
meetings" allow children to share experiences and
their bikes in the hallways, become a beacon of
form strong bonds both with each other and with
achievement and learning? The transformation took
their teachers. In the ten minutes before lunch, chil-
leadership, vision, and a willingness to turn a chaotic dren participate in a "walking and talking" session place into a nurturing learning environment.
set to upbeat music in the gymnasium. The session gives staff an opportunity to speak with the children,
Dayton‘s Bluff was by all accounts out of control. … Nine out of 10 students could not read at grade level
praise them for good behavior, ask them about their classes, or just see how they're doing. Such time for informal interactions allows staff to identify and address the out-of-school factors—such as health or housing concerns—that so often influence children's learning. Staff send children with health concerns to the on-site nurse practitioner or dentist. They also arrange meetings with social ser-
A K-6 urban school that draws almost 90% of its
vice providers for children who face other challenges.
students from low-income families, Dayton's Bluff
Class sizes are small—often 15 to 20 students—
was by all accounts out of control. Overall discipline
which minimizes classroom management problems
was inconsistent and the learning environment was
and helps teachers address individual students'
in shambles. Nine out of 10 students could not read
at grade level. Teacher morale was low and the turnover rate was high. It was labeled the worst school in the city. With district support and new leadership, however, the school was dramatically transformed into a safe and supportive place to learn. The teachers began using a common, structured protocol for addressing student behavior problems, with punishments ranging from "time outs" to dismissal from school. This protocol has allowed them to address problems before they get out of hand. It has also gotten students and teachers to share responsibility for main-
Time for informal interaction allows staff to identify and address the out-of-school factors— such as health or housing concerns—that so often influence children‘s learning
taining a caring and respectful atmosphere. School leaders have made time in the schedule to reinforce caring relationships between children
In this new learning environment, the number of discipline problems has plummeted, and teachers ~ 38 ~
can now concentrate on students' learning needs.
UPDATE: In 2009, 91% of Dayton‘s Bluff students
While maintaining a deep commitment to standards-
received free or reduced price lunch, compared to
based instruction, the school carefully differentiates
33% of students in the state as a whole. But despite
teaching to address students' individual needs.
the challenges that come with such a concentration
Teachers use data on students' academic perform-
of poverty, students at Dayton's Bluff continued to
ance to identify what supports each student requires
perform well. 67.7% of students met or exceeded
to meet high academic standards. What's more,
proficiency standards in reading, just four points off
Dayton's Bluff's comprehensive, intensive and coor-
the state average. And 64.1% of students met or
dinated approach to staff development has sup-
exceeded proficiency standards in math, better than
ported the school's transformation into a safe and
the state average of 62.3%.
focused academic environment. Further details about this story can be found in our
Dayton‘s Bluff‘s comprehensive, intensive and coordinated approach to staff development has supported the school‘s transformation
sources: Karen Chenoweth, The Achievement Alliance, It's Being Done: Excuses are Dream Killers, 2005 Jennifer McComas, University of Minnesota, Turning Around a Minnesota School At-Risk: Dayton's Bluff Elementary, 2005 SPPS Promising Practices, Promising Practices Project: A Brief Case Study of Dayton's Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary School, Spring 2005
The school community's work has truly paid off. Dayton's Bluff is not only a respectful and caring place, but by 2005 more than 80% of its students met or exceeded the state reading standards.
Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio, Closing the Gap: One School's Approach, September 2004
By doing the hard work of creating a safe and nur-
View this story online at:
turing place for teaching and learning, the staff of
Dayton's Bluff have created conditions where chil-
dren and adults alike can live up to high expectations for success.
Published online February 2008. Results updated April 2010.
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Detracking Interlake High School Interlake High School, Washington A decade ago, Interlake High School was the lowest-performing school in the Bellevue, Washington, school district. Now, students thrive on a rich diet of demanding core courses. Student achievement rose steadily as more and more students opted for challenging Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate coursework. Principal Sharon Collins chalks her school’s success up to the ambitious detracking effort she launched when she became principal. The school eliminated the lowest-rung courses and urged students into the more challenging AP and IB routes. Key to this strategy was early and sustained support for struggling students. Public School Insights: I understand that about ten Public School Insights: On the point of preparing years ago, Interlake was the lowest-performing school them for college, I understand that one of the things you did to help turn the school around was begin to in the district. What changed? adopt much more challenging coursework. Collins: There were quite a few components that went Collins: Interlake was an International Baccalaureate into it. One of them [is that] the school went through huge remodel. We got an opportunity to reinvent our- school since at least eight years before I got there. But what was happening...For instance, the first year I selves when we moved into the new building. was there, we only had 16 students going for the IB Diploma. And so we started really encouraging many students to take at least 1 AP or IB class. And encouraging even more than that to go for a full IB diploma. Since we‘ve really put that push on, [the students] have started rising to the challenge.
―We got an opportunity to reinvent ourselves...We talked a lot about curriculum and climate‖
When I first came there, I met with every staff member for a 20-minute interview. We talked a lot about curriculum and climate. Those two things were the focus for the school. I instituted a whole committee to work on the climate of the school, putting in common procedures and common ways to tell kids they‘re doing well…and so we all have common expectations for the way students behave. And at the same time the district was implementing a common curriculum. There were three parts to that: having a common curriculum for [students], having teacher training to make sure that the teachers are up-to-date on professional development, and having strong student support systems. I‘m also very fortunate that I have an incredible staff here. They are very willing to collaborate with each other and…our main goal is preparing all of our students for success in college. That‘s the goal for…every kid in the building. If the kids decide they want to do something different, that‘s okay, but they‘re prepared for pretty much anything if we prepare them to be successful in college. They can choose a different path if they want to.
Public School Insights: But was there ever any fear amongst parents or faculty that you would actually dilute these courses by encouraging more students to participate? Collins: Well, the IB curriculum is pretty set. There are internal and external assessments in the IB program throughout the year; it‘s not just preparing them for one test at the end of the year. So it would be pretty difficult to dilute the classes and still have the kids do well. Of course, there‘s always that fear, but the [faculty], in order to teach an IB class, have to be trained by the IB organization, and [IB is] pretty clear about what the curriculum‘s going to be and what the assessments are. It‘s a year-long course; not just doing whatever curriculum the teacher chooses.
―Since we‘ve really put that push on, [the students] have started rising to the challenge‖ That‘s why it‘s really important that you have the three components. You have a really standardized curriculum that [sets high expectations and goals for stu-
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dents]. You have training where teachers are getting professional development and are experts in their content area and the curriculum. And then you have a very strong support system for students. And that might mean that [students] have an extra math class during the day so that they‘re ready to take that honors-level math course. The support class that we offer at the school pre-teaches them what they‘re going to learn in their honors class the next day or over the next week. It pre-teaches the investigation they‘re going to do, some of the vocabulary they‘re going to do, the basic skills they‘re going to need for the unit coming up. So when they‘re sitting in their honorslevel class, they‘re a little bit ahead of their peers because they‘ve already seen the curriculum and the work, and they‘re kind of getting a double dose of it.
―A lot of students who struggle have a problem figuring out where even to start‖ We also have before-school work, which is from 6:30 to 7:20 for students who may be struggling across the board. Our counselors work with them on organizational skills and [things such as] checking their grades online, looking at their assignments [and] making sure they‘re set for the week. A lot of students who struggle have a problem figuring out where to even start.
that you were able to use? Collins: It‘s also about...creating a positive school climate. That means kids enjoy coming to school. They know that there are adults at the school who care about them. They know that they‘re being recognized for positive work and positive behavior. When we opened the new building, we instituted what‘s called Safe and Civil and Productive Schools. The staff really bought into that. We survey our kids every spring about how they feel about different areas of the school and if they think their teachers care about them. We track that data, and when we see that maybe we‘re falling short in certain places, we put together a task-force to develop different strategies to help kids feel more like their teachers do care about them. They know there‘s an adult they can talk to about things. It‘s a matter of making sure that students enjoy coming to school and [that they] feel like people there care about them and are keeping them focused on going to college. So, being very strategic about that.
[Students] take different kinds of personality tests, and figure out different [aspects of] jobs they might be interested in, and then they make their four-year high school plan...decide which classes they‘re going to take. And they research different colleges that offer [programs related to] those kinds of jobs. And they Public School Insights: So a strong support system look into each of those different colleges [and] the for students who may have a bit more trouble sucexpectations for getting into them. So they start out in ceeding in those classes. From the results I‘ve seen, ninth grade making a plan for where they‘re going to you‘ve had pretty astonishing success from all sorts of end up, [they‘re] not just [starting that plan at] the students in your IB and AP classes. end of their junior year. Collins: Yes. We increased the number of AP and IB tests taken over the course of the last three years. In 2006, we had 544 AP and IB tests taken, and 62% of the kids were earning credit when they took the test. This last year we had 1,113 tests taken, and 70% of the kids earned credit. That‘s a pretty big improvement in performance, especially considering we doubled the number of tests we‘re taking. And you would think, when more people are taking these high-level classes, that maybe the results would go down a little bit. But our students are performing better than they were three years ago, and we have a lot more students taking the classes. So having a strong support system for the kids and really developing a culture where kids [prioritize] academics are important. Public School Insights: You just mentioned this notion of academic culture that you‘ve begun to infuse into the school. Do you think it‘s merely a question of raising standards and then providing support, or were there other aspects of this culture-building exercise
―It‘s a matter of making sure that students enjoy coming to school and [that they] feel like people there care about them and are keeping them focused on going to college‖ Public School Insights: I‘ve also read that, in the spirit of starting early, you work with middle school teachers to determine which students are going to need help and support early on so they can get on this more advanced track you promote. Collins: Absolutely. Starting in spring, we go to the middle schools where our kids are feeding into Interlake and we target about 25 or 30 students who have struggled in middle school. And what we found is that if we can get them hooked into school the first six
~ 41 ~
weeks of high school, [that‘s] really important. You start kids off on the path of success…and then keep following up with them.
And having said all that, I don‘t think we‘ve completely ―figured it out.‖ We still have lots of kids who aren‘t making it, and we keep trying to figure out how to get them there.
[For] kids that have typically gotten Ds and Fs in middle school, we‘ll work with [them] a couple of weeks before school starts. I have five teachers who come in and they work with 25 or so kids [during this time]. They just do the summer reading packet with them, they do the first week or so of the curriculum in math and biology and their other ninth grade courses. We call it ―Starting Strong.‖ It basically gets the students completely ready so that when they start school they‘ve got their planner all together, they‘ve got their notebook ready, they know where all their classes are, and they‘ve already done their first few assignments. They‘re totally on top of everything…and for some kids who‘ve struggled in middle school, that hasn‘t been the case before. The first year we did it, it went okay for the first quarter, and then [the students] went back into their old habits. We learned we couldn‘t just give them that little ―Starting Strong‖ part, we also had to have the other part where they meet from 6:30 to 7:20 in the morning with their counselor and follow up with them. So the second year, we started this follow up piece, which has been a lot more successful. Public School Insights: It sounds like what you‘ve done is to minimize tracking in your school to get more students into that advanced course of study. As you‘ve talked to other educators who may be considering this, and they‘re worried that they will have families or even teachers who say that they‘re going to dilute the quality of courses by doing this, what do you tell them? Collins: I always ask people the question, ―Do you want your son or daughter to be in the low track?‖ [If not] then no one should be in the low track. I‘d go much farther than saying we need to minimize tracking: I would say we need to eliminate it. The kids need to be taking the highest level classes they can and we need to figure out how we can support them so they can be successful. It shouldn‘t be only a few kids taking the challenging, high-level curriculum. It‘s good for all kids. We‘ve got to figure out a way, and we might need to be creative.
―I always ask people, ‗Do you want your son or daughter to be in the low track?‘‖
You can‘t just plop [students] into an AP or IB class and expect they‘re going to do well if they don‘t have the same instructional background as some kids who have been going that way all along.
―Encourage all students, and let them know you believe they can do it and that you‘re going to give them the support they need‖ Public School Insights: So support is the key to the detracking agenda? Collins: Yes, and being creative about how you offer it. Supporting the high-level curriculum. I think one of the mistakes people make in education is that we think we need to remediate, so the support class turns into a remediation class. It [actually] needs to be a ―support the high-level curriculum‖ class; pre-teaching [students] what they‘re going to learn, frontloading them, giving them the vocabulary, giving them strategies and critical thinking they‘re going to need to be successful in [the advanced course]. We‘ve also broken down the data so that we can look at our kids that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch to see if we‘re getting them into at least 1 AP or IB class. If we aren‘t, we better figure out why not, and start encouraging them to do it. So, encourage all students, and let them know you believe they can do it, and that you‘re going to give them the support [they need] to be successful.
View this interview online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/visionaries/ SharonCollins Read more about the school at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/ensuring-all-studentsreach-their-highest-potential-math Published online July 31, 2009.
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Triumphs and Troubles in the Era of No Child Left Behind Seaford Middle School, Delaware Principal Stephanie Smith of Seaford Middle School has seen the highs and lows of school reform. She has seen her school shake off the stigma it bore as a school "in need of improvement." (Delaware named her its 2008 Principal of the Year for her role in that school's remarkable transformation.) She has seen the school sustain its performance despite the fact that many more students now live in poverty than did just a few years ago. She has even seen the school begin to stem the tide of its highest-performing students into a nearby charter school. But now she worries that the school might not be able to keep clearing the bar that No Child Left Behind sets higher every year. And she faces the prospect of slipping back into "needs improvement" status less than a decade after her school emerged from it. We spoke with Smith, who told us the remarkable story of her school's triumphs and struggles in the era of No Child Left Behind.
Public School Insights: What kind of a school is Sea- anced. With 71% in that population, we do things the same for everybody and it seems to be working for ford Middle School? that population for us. Smith: It is a grade six through eight middle school. We are the only middle school in our school system. We have four feeder elementary schools, and we feed into one high school. We have about 750 students.
―We are 71% free and reduced price lunch. That number has gone up drastically‖
Public School Insights: You have said that you are a work in progress. But you have had good progress— pretty dramatic increases in school performance in recent years. Could you tell me more about that? Smith: We have. We were blessed that we had the highest gains in mathematics test scores in our state a few years ago. Scores also went up drastically in our African-American population. But right now we are hitting kind of a plateau. And of course the numbers we need to meet AYP are going up. So we are trying all the strategies that we have and we are still making gains—we have not slipped behind—but our gains need to pick up because the target is being moved on us.
Seaford is a demographically diverse school. We really don‘t have a majority population anymore—we run about 40% African-American and Caucasian populations, with a Hispanic population as well. We are 71% free and reduced price lunch. That number has gone up drastically, probably since you last got information on Our focus right now is really two things. We did miss our school. We are about 21% special ed. our AYP predictors this past year in two areas—AfricanAmerican mathematics, where we have had such gains Public School Insights: What do you think prompted in the past few years, and special education mathematthe rise in free and reduced price lunch numbers? ics. In special education, over the past few years we've been able to meet Safe Harbor [a certain percentage of Smith: I think just the status of the economy. Our growth], but we did not meet it last year in mathematcommunity—the city of Seaford and its outlying arics. We grew, but not to the extent to which they eas—has been given the title of the poorest community would give us Safe Harbor. So that cell hurt us a little in our state. I think that it's a direct result of everythis past year. thing that is going on with the economy. Our numbers have just gone up this year. Public School Insights: Have you noticed an impact of that demographic change on the work that you are doing at the school? Smith: Not, I'll be honest, as much as one might think. One of the things that we've been proud of is that with our free and reduced price lunch students and with our population that is not free and reduced price lunch, achievement has pretty much been bal-
―Our gains need to pick up because the target is being moved on us‖
Public School Insights: Do you feel that these results are prompting useful work within the school? Smith: They are. We use data all the time in what we do. We practice a distributed leadership model, and the ~ 43 ~
way we distribute the work and how things are done all depend on the data we get back. So now we know the areas that we need to focus on, and those are the areas that when we get new resources—we are going to get some school improvement resources this year because of our change in status—we [will put them in].
―We use data all the time in what we do‖ Public School Insights: Do you feel that overall federal policy has been helping Seaford? Smith: It‘s been helping in the sense that we are growing and that things are looking better here. Hurting in the sense that when you put ratings in the paper and compare us to other area middle schools, we don‘t look as good. But I had someone at our Department of Education tell me the other day, ―Keep doing what you're doing—you are doing the right thing and you're moving.‖ Yet when you put us all apples to apples, and we don't all have apples, it just doesn't look the same in the paper. That's what's been difficult.
that stigma off ourselves. We have received a lot of recognition and big awards, especially the past three years. We are presenting at two national conferences this year. We were an NASSP Breakthrough School. I was honored as principal of the year for our state. So a lot of things have come around in the past couple of years that have brought more attention to our school as people are recognizing that this is working. Public School Insights: You mentioned more and more schools will be slipping under the AYP bar. Do you have any concerns it could happen to Seaford, and that you would have to restructure your restructuring? Smith: I do have that concern. As the bar goes up and we move closer to 2014, when the goal is 100% proficiency...I know the effort that we are making here and I see the kids that we have. And I know that [we are not going to get to 100%], especially with some of my special education population.
We are also getting a new state test. This is our last year with our current state test, and so we do not even know what our kids [will] be assessed on. It is still out to bid. We know it is going to be computerized, and it We have a charter school here in our area, and we deal is supposed to give us different feedback than we have with a little bit of flight. I lose—and I've reduced the gotten in the past. But there is a lot of uncertainty number drastically over the past few years—about 21 about that. So yes, it is a concern. Like I said, we are kids a year to the charter school. That school is preblessed we were able to get out. We are one of only a dominately white and, despite using a lottery system, few schools to get out of school improvement in our filled with very good students—the children all have state. We have been looked at as a leader in a number fours and fives on our state test, out of a five-point of areas, especially distributive leadership. But we are rubric. So I deal with that each year as well—losing still chasing a moving target. that skim off the top. But we have kept a lot of those students too. And we are to the point where I can predict who is going to go based on siblings and families. I could stand on my head in front of the school and I don't know that I would change their minds. But I am able to predict it. And I think we are making an impact with the reputation of our school in our community. It really wasn't great when I first came here, and we've been able to do quite a bit in the past five years to change it. Public School Insights: You mentioned earlier that despite the fact that your school did not make AYP this last year, the state education department told you to just hang tight and do what you are doing.
Public School Insights: Tell me more about the distributive leadership model at Seaford. Smith: We operate under a theme system. This year our theme is ―Paving the Path‖ and, because the road to success is always under construction, our staff teams are construction crews with crew chiefs. We do everything under this theme, and as a matter of fact I'm presenting at the national middle school conference about promoting your vision through themes. So we form our construction crews around different areas that need to be addressed. For example, our parent and community involvement construction crew looks at their data, brainstorms ways to improve it and acts. It does not fall all on my plate—they work on it. Each team‘s crew chief is part of the school leadership team. When we have school leadership team meetings they report where they are on the goals and the action
Smith: Yes. I think the perception right now is that most schools are going to be in restructuring very shortly. I know that is the case in Delaware. But we really don't have a clear idea of what that means. I hate to say this, but the middle school has really been the ugly stepchild of the district for a while. It was deep in the school improvement process years ago. But we did get out. We got out and we've shaken
―Our school has been looked at as a leader in a number of areas, especially in distributive leadership‖
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plan for their crew. Then we as a leadership team have discussions and make suggestions about how we proceed. The school leadership team meetings are not run by me. There are some issues on which I will facilitate, but otherwise a teacher will run those meetings. And they have the ability to make decisions based on the information that we have. We all decide together.
―Our staff deals with tough issues, so it is not ‗me‘ doing things, it is ‗us‘‖ For example, last year we had to cut staff. We, as a group, sat and decided where. In the end even our social studies department chair said, ―Okay, I'm going to give up a teacher in social studies so we can do this based on the data.‖ We make those kinds of decisions together. Our staff deals with tough issues, so it is not ―me‖ doing things, it is ―us.‖ And that is a big thing. When I talk about the school, everything is ―ours‖ and nothing is ―mine.‖ Just changing that one word makes a big difference, as far as staff is concerned. Public School Insights: That is quite different from the person from on high eliminating positions. Smith: Yes. That eliminates a lot of problems for me that other schools may have, because decisions don't just come pouring out of my office. They are things that we've done together, so there is no sense of the unfairness that somebody did something to somebody that other schools may deal with. It is a collaborative effort. And that group that I mentioned is a big group. It has a representative from each department—the department chairs, who interviewed for those positions— and elected, at-large representatives, so each year the staff can change who is on the team. It also contains parents, a paraeducator representative, and our nurse. Public School Insights: Some schools in the turnaround process might sense they are doing the right things, but in the first year they do not see test scores increase. Are there interim measures that you are doing the right things that can give you confidence that you might see improvements in the following years? Smith: There are. For example, how kids are progressing. We have drastically reduced our retention rate, which is something we are really proud of. It is not because we changed what it takes to pass, and it is not because we've made things easier. We have just built support for kids so that they do not get to that point. Last year, we retained six kids out of 750. When I first got here, we retained probably 40 or 50. So that is something that we can look at and be proud of. I would say looking at your own assessments as well. Here, our state assessment is a one-shot deal in March, and we do not get information back until the
end of May, when the kids are almost gone. So we do common assessments across our math, science, and social studies departments. Language arts is working on them. We also just started using the MAPS assessment—Measures of Academic Progress. This assessment gives us some data as we go on through the school year. Even if progress does not show on that one-shot state test, then we still know that we've made it. Celebrating all those pieces and sharing all that data with staff is important. Each year, they need to see this information so that they can see changes. I'll tell you the other big thing I noticed when I became a principal—staff need to know the goals. There were a lot of staff members who had no idea what the goals on the district school improvement plan were. They knew that we wanted test scores to go up, but not the specific measures and goals we had outlined that we were supposed to meet. So my first year I changed the format of department meetings so staff had to report out based on the school improvement plan. What did we as a department do to increase parental involvement? What did we as a department do to increase student academic achievement? So the first year they were trained that ―These are the goals‖ and the areas we are focusing on. Now that it's become commonplace to them, we can move on and do different things. Public School Insights: Are there any questions I should have asked you but didn't? Smith: The biggest thing for us was changing culture and moving to the idea of the team. That was the only way we were going to tackle the issues. I moved classrooms around and made people new neighbors. For example, math is in one wing and teachers can share back and forth. I give them time and opportunities to do that. I think the biggest thing is recognizing what you have in your staff and figuring out ways to use it.
―The biggest thing for us was changing culture and moving to the idea of the team‖ Public School Insights: Looking at your internal resources and giving them the capacity to do their best. Smith: What do they need? If my staff members feel that they need something, it is my job to figure out a way to get it for them. They have to have what they need to tackle the problems we deal with for the kids. View this interview online at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/triumphs-and-troubles-era-nochild-left-behind-conversation-principal-stephanie-smith Read more about the school at: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/stories/SeafordMiddle Published online March 5, 2010.
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Appendix: Principles for Measuring the Performance of Turnaround Schools Learning First Alliance, September 2009 U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced an ambitious goal: Turn around the nation‘s lowestperforming schools. For the students, families and communities served by persistently struggling schools, the need to turn things around could hardly be more urgent. Low academic achievement places severe limits on the lifetime opportunities of the overwhelmingly low-income students who attend such schools. Every child has a right to attend an excellent public school that prepares students to participate in our democracy and to lead satisfying, productive lives. The Learning First Alliance, a permanent partnership of 17 major national education associations representing over 10 million parents, educators and policymakers, stands ready to support school turnaround strategies that advance this vision for success. To create both swift improvement and sustained success, turnaround efforts must follow clear and actionable principles for measuring school performance. Such principles are necessary to identify schools in need of turnaround, reliably gauge the progress and staying power of turnaround efforts, and guide good decision-making. The Learning First Alliance proposes the following principles for measuring the performance of schools involved in turnaround efforts: Measure Progress Toward a Broad Vision of Student Success Successful schools expose students to a breadth of knowledge and skills to give them every opportunity for success in the 21st century. While state assessment results in reading, writing and mathematics are essential measures of schools‘ and students‘ progress, they are by themselves insufficient. Strategies for identifying and turning around struggling schools should include evidence of student performance in other core academic content areas. They should also track multiple measures of student success, such as capstone projects and other examples of student work. In addition, judgments about school performance should take into account indicators such as graduation rates, student participation and performance in advanced courses, and data on staff, family and student satisfaction. Such broader indicators of performance are necessary to determine if schools are truly preparing their students for long-term success. Measure the Conditions for School and Student Success Successful schools strive to meet their students‘ diverse needs by addressing the root causes of poor student performance. Outcome measures alone do not provide schools the guidance they need to do so effectively. Therefore, school turnaround efforts should measure the conditions necessary for school success—such as school working conditions, investment in professional learning, student learning conditions, teacher retention and transfer rates, student mobility rates, student attendance, school safety and student discipline information, the availability of support staff, the quality of facilities, and appropriate and stable financial investments. In addition, turnaround initiatives should track essential school improvement processes. They should, for example, measure progress in: aligning strong, comprehensive curriculum and professional learning with state standards; creating sound formative assessment strategies to highlight and address student learning needs; implementing intensive systems to support struggling students and teachers; fostering school-wide collaboration among staff; promoting shared leadership from staff and administrators; and strengthening staff professional development. Turnaround efforts should also gauge the effectiveness of strategies to promote parent and community engagement, and to strengthen links between schools and social service agencies. They should measure the external supports available to students in a community—such as access to excellent health care, early childhood education and appropriate out-of-school enrichment opportunities. Attention to these foundational issues can improve staff and community capacity to serve students‘ needs. It can also highlight the kinds of supports schools need—both within and beyond schools—to mount and sustain effective improvement strategies. ~ 46 ~
Ensure that Measures are Clear and Available to all Stakeholders Clear, widely understood and widely available performance measures are critical to promoting stakeholders‘ confidence in the process of identifying and supporting turnaround schools. Measures should be reported in different media and languages. Such clarity and accessibility help stakeholders follow the progress of school turnaround efforts. They are prerequisites to effective family, community, district, staff and student engagement in those efforts. Track Progress Over Time Turnaround efforts that ultimately produce dramatic and sustained improvements in students‘ performance often take more than a year or two to meet their performance goals. The success of turnaround efforts should therefore be measured against ambitious yet attainable goals for improvement over time. In the case of individual students‘ performance on state assessments, for example, evaluations of turnaround efforts should measure individual students‘ academic growth over time. Include Experts‘ Qualitative Judgment When Measuring Turnaround Progress Quantitative measures of school improvement are critical, but by themselves they do not offer enough information to guide the improvement process. Schools would also benefit from the judgments of informed observers who witness turnaround efforts first hand. Site visits to schools by trained teams of state and local educators and community leaders are essential to identifying which schools need to be turned around, what strategies should be used to turn them around, and whether turnaround schools and their students are making progress towards clearly-established goals for improvement. Well-designed site visits prompt school staff, communities and outside experts to collaborate on identifying and addressing school and student needs. Site visits can help identify causes of insufficient progress and promote mid-course corrections in the turnaround process. They can also provide an important check against manipulation of quantitative measures through strategies such as excessive test preparation or manipulation of school climate data. Site visits should be designed first and foremost to support the turnaround process rather than to shame or punish struggling schools. The development of reliable performance measures for turnaround schools will require intensive collaboration among policymakers, educators and communities. The 17 members of the Learning First Alliance look forward to assisting in the creation and appropriate implementation of these measures. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education American Association of School Administrators American Association of School Personnel Administrators American Federation of Teachers American School Counselor Association Association of School Business Officials International Council of Chief State School Officers National Association of Elementary School Principals National Association of Secondary School Principals National Association of State Boards of Education National Education Association National Middle School Association National PTA National School Boards Association National School Public Relations Association National Staff Development Council Phi Delta Kappa International
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The Learning First Alliance is composed of the following organizations: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education American Association of School Administrators American Association of School Personnel Administrators American Federation of Teachers American School Counselor Association Association of School Business Officials International Council of Chief State School Officers National Association of Elementary School Principals National Association of Secondary School Principals National Association of State Boards of Education National Education Association National Middle School Association National PTA National School Boards Association National School Public Relations Association National Staff Development Council Phi Delta Kappa International
The Learning First Alliance 4455 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 310 Washington, DC 20008 www.learningfirst.org www.publicschoolinsights.org