Achievement

School Showcase Models Community Values

The schools who presented in the school showcase at NASSP’s Ignite ’14 brought a little piece of themselves to share with their colleagues. I was fortunate enough to attend three of the packed sessions and came away having experienced a bit of what happens in each school.

It may not be common for professional development sessions to begin with singing, but maybe it should be. The native song that started the session with the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque, NM, established the reverence for community, identity, respect, and balance that characterizes the school and its leaders. (more…)

Using Data to Create a Culture of Student Accountability

Guest post by David S. Ellena, principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, VA

Tefft Middle School has 835 students in grades seven and eight. They have a highly diverse student body, yet have achieved remarkable results on state standardized testing. Lavonne Smiley and her staff attribute these results to the culture of transparency with data and accountability from all stakeholders. Here are some things that they do to create a culture of success. (more…)

Re-Framing the Narrative

Guest post by Michael Hannon:

It can be easy to overlook specific student populations when the overall student body seems to be doing well. When important metrics have met yearly progress goals, college-going rates are high, and the local National Honor Society chapter has an awesome incoming cohort, it warrants appropriate acknowledgement and celebration. That celebration cannot happen in lieu of school leaders taking steps to more deeply understand the students who may NOT be meeting yearly progress goals, who may NOT be confident in their post-secondary career or educational plans, or who may NOT be eligible for National Honor Society. It’s even more disconcerting if or when those students generally align to a certain racial or ethnic profile.

Many African-American and Latino male students confront educational challenges that school leaders can take an active role in addressing, mitigating, and hopefully eliminating in their school communities. Some of those challenges include overrepresentation in special education, underrepresentation in student leadership/extracurricular activities, overrepresentation in disciplinary referrals, and underrepresentation in honors and/or advanced placement courses. One important question for principals and other school leaders is: “What are we doing about these trends?”

Supporting African-American and Latino male students has been especially rewarding in my career as an educator. The opportunity to engage with them as their counselor is filled with moments of extreme satisfaction, and, at times, significant challenge. Making connections while visiting classes, conferencing with parents, and facilitating student-teacher meetings to clarify misunderstandings have all been par for the course as a high school counselor. This work, OUR work, is not for the faint of heart. School leaders, especially those in principal, assistant principal, and supervisor roles, assume the mantle of leadership to facilitate the educational success of ALL students, including those who are most vulnerable.

One of the best pieces of advice a principal mentor shared with me as a school counselor was to treat every students as if he or she were my own. That is, if a student is acting inappropriately, I should address him or her with the same concern (and intensity) I would if he or she was my own child. If a student isn’t taking advantage of opportunities, I should support him or her in identifying and experiencing those opportunities the same way I would if he or she was my own child.

The Narratives of Success session at Ignite’14 in Dallas will help school leaders gain insight into what over 400 African-American and Latino male students report are the most supportive educational practices and attitudes by school leaders that help them be successful in high school. Their reflections are thoughtful, timely, and noteworthy. I’m excited—and I hope you are, too.

Michael Hannon (@mdhannon) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of School Psychology, Counseling, and Leadership at Brooklyn College. He will be presenting Narratives of Success: School Leadership Implications from the NYC Black & Latino Male Achievement at Ignite ’14 on Saturday, February 8.

The Role of School Leaders in the NCAA Eligibility Process

Guest post by Nicholas Sproull:

There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes and almost all of them will go pro in something other than sports…” Sure, the tagline of the NCAA public service announcement is designed to be catchy, but the message is clear: College graduation matters. NCAA data show that the best predictor of college graduation is first-year success. So what is the best predictor of first-year success? And more to the point, what does this have to do with secondary school principals?

Since 1994, the NCAA has collected data for nearly 2 million prospective student-athletes, including individual course titles, course grades, course credits and SAT/ACT scores. Since 2003, the NCAA has collected college-level academic data from over 100,000 Division I student-athletes per year. Combined, this national sample provides the NCAA Research staff with a warehouse of data to follow the trajectories of students’ academic performance from the ninth grade through departure from a Division I or Division II college or university.

The NCAA academic initial-eligibility requirements for Divisions I and II exist to help ensure that prospective student-athletes are academically prepared for the rigors they will face when they become NCAA student-athletes.

The NCAA Eligibility Center is the division of the NCAA national office responsible for working with the nation’s 40,000 high schools to ensure that the annual academic certification process is as efficient and effective as possible for the nearly 100,000 students who will become Division I or Division II student-athletes. (Until November 2007, this process was managed by the NCAA Clearinghouse, run by ACT Inc.)

Additionally, the Eligibility Center staff is actively engaged in education and outreach efforts related to increased academic initial-eligibility requirements for Division I coming in 2016. Now more than ever, ninth grade academic performance is of paramount importance.

Because these changes will impact current high school sophomores and beyond, it is vitally important for school leaders to be equipped with an understanding of these new rules and have a plan in place for spreading the word. With the support of school leaders, the NCAA’s aim is to ensure that prospective student-athletes’ desire to participate in intercollegiate athletics is not imperiled by insufficient or inaccurate information.

Nick Sproull (@nsproull) serves as Associate Director of High School Review/Policy for the NCAA. He will be presenting NCAA Eligibility Center: Overview and Updates at Ignite ‘14 on Saturday February 8.

Restorative Practices: An Answer to Many School Challenges

Guest post by Steven Korr:

Educators face so many challenges today. The pressure to foster student achievement at higher and higher levels is enormous. At the same time, educators find that students don’t seem to be socially and academically prepared to excel. Students often don’t know how to work successfully in groups. Many lack a sense of caring about others that can result in hurtful and even violent behavior.

The upshot is that we’re all seeing more disrespect and disruptions in classrooms. Many teachers wonder, “How can I teach when the problems are so great?” After all, learning requires risk-taking. But if students don’t feel safe, how can they be expected to take necessary risks?

Clearly, these conditions have a detrimental impact on learning. Still, when educators go into the classroom they are expected to teach. And students, for all their challenges, need them to do just that.

The old answers for handling these problems are failing. The current trend across the country is to repeal zero tolerance policies. The data shows that those policies weren’t working anyway. But if we can’t just throw kids out of the classroom or school when they disrupt learning, what are we going to do? Our answer is to institute “restorative practices.”

At the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), a graduate school based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, we start from the fundamental premise that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.

In a school building, this means that we have to take a look at how we can build connections and strengthen relationships between everybody in the school – teachers, students, administrators, staff, and even secretaries, bus drivers, hall monitors and cafeteria workers.

This doesn’t mean instituting yet another new program that’s going to be forgotten in a few years’ time. Instead, restorative practices provide a framework for changing the thinking and behavior of those in authority, to consistently do the things that good educators and leaders have always done—thereby changing the way everyone in the school building relates to one another.

Restorative practices provide ways to address student behavior when things go wrong. More importantly, they improve the learning environment so that kids feel safe and effective learning can happen.

Steve Korr is a trainer and consultant for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (iirp.edu). He was a counselor and principal at an alternative school for at-risk youth for more than a decade. He has helped schools across the country, both urban and rural, implement successful restorative practices programs to improve school climate and positively impact learning. He will be presenting a breakout session at Ignite ’14 on Saturday, Feb. 8th from 8AM to 9:15AM.

To learn more about restorative practices and whole-school change, visit SaferSanerSchools.org. The article “What Is Restorative Practices?” by IIRP Founder and President Ted Wachtel also provides an excellent introduction to the topic.

School Showcase Feature: Woodbridge Middle School

Creating sustainable, quality education programming is a driving force for all public schools. We all look deeply and rationally at our students, striving to identify their needs. However, with all that is before us, it can seem like an overwhelming task. Here at Woodbridge Middle, we spent some time researching, analyzing, and planning such a program that would benefit students regardless of their achievement level or demographic. With this in mind, we established an opt-in Same Gender Program based on the research of Dr. Leonard Sax.

Currently fifty percent of the students at our public, coed middle school receive their instruction in language arts, math, science, and social studies in an all-boy or all-girl setting. We have multiple learning community structures in place which extend beyond simply building time in the master schedule so that teams and departments can meet. Our structures provide opportunities for teachers to constantly examine how we do business, what impact we have on students, and what we need to consider for improvement as we move forward. Our goal is to continuously search for better ways to meet the academic, emotional, developmental, and social needs of our students. Our Same Gender Program is one example of how we have worked together to meet the needs of our students.

The all-boy program’s objective is to establish an environment in which middle school boys can learn best. Through research and student observations, we have developed an active, kinesthetic-learning environment where boys can succeed. An all-boys lesson modifies the topics, activities, and instructional delivery to increase student engagement. Within the all-boys program, we have developed a House System where students participate in healthy competition in both academics and extra-curricular activities. The House System also serves as our behavior management tool, in which students take ownership of their own behaviors and adjust their social tendencies. At the conclusion of our program, we hope to develop young men with good character and the motivation to succeed.

Similarly, we have developed an all-girls program with the aim of building leadership, integrity, and self-awareness. By excluding the distraction of gender stereotypes and building upon gender differences, we have, as Dr. Sax put it, “got beyond pink and blue.” We see girls as individuals and understand that they do not need to be trapped by certain feminine stereotypes, such as “girls are not good at math and science.” Instead, we create opportunities that allow them to succeed by modifying their environment. For instance, we expose students to female scientists, mathematicians, and authors in the hopes of providing examples of greatness. We also utilize texts with strong girls as major characters who have attributes with which they can identify.

Additionally, we spend a great deal of time providing a safe place where girls can express themselves without the fear of failure or competition. As reporter Sara Rimer of The New York Times explained, “being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls.” Our teams seek to reduce the anxiety many girls experience by citing mantras such as Failure Leads to Success, Be Flexible, and Practice Balance. These keys of excellence help the girls release the deep-seated feelings of insecurity many of them have experienced throughout their academic and social careers. It also gives them permission to take risks where they may not historically have done so.

The middle school experience can be isolating and overwhelming for many students.  By understanding how boys and girls learn differently, our school has created a welcoming place where All are Respected  and Achievement is Expected regardless of gender, demographics, and other characteristics. While we have by no means perfected the model, we are confident in its effectiveness and continue to build upon our successes.

Woodbridge Middle School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking RanksSchool Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Woodbridge team will be presenting A Same Gender Option: Boys and Girls are Different! on Thursday, February 6th. For more on Tefft Middle School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.

School Showcase Feature: Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School

For thirty years, the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) has championed a skills-based approach to secondary education that emphasizes learning to use one’s mind well, solving real problems, and demonstrating mastery of a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. One of the CES’s Ten Common Principles states that “the aphorism “less is more” should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content…”

At the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, demonstration of student mastery and achievement happens daily as students work with their teacher-coaches to complete assessments and projects in interdisciplinary classes. These individual pieces of work are assessed using school-wide standards and rubrics in thirteen different skill areas. Often students engage in revision after receiving feedback; once their work meets standards, it becomes eligible for inclusion in the student’s portfolio. To advance through Parker’s six-year program of studies, students are required to meet the school’s standards for Divisions I, II, and III, though they may do so at the rate appropriate for their individual development. Students demonstrate mastery of curricular standards in each Division through “Gateway Exhibitions” in which they present and defend their academic portfolios. The final Gateway is graduation, for which students complete special Graduation Portfolios and present a year-long senior project.

Gateway Exhibitions are more than milestones—they’re also an opportunity for reflection and for recognizing that not all learning is captured within the portfolio itself. Here’s a Parker parent talking about her daughter’s Gateway Exhibition in Math/Science/Technology last spring:

“During A’s Gateway this spring, she spent time discussing one of her MST pieces that she failed. She said that she was glad that she had failed because she had learned more from failing than she would have learned if she had succeeded. Not only did she speak articulately about drag and flow and volume, she spoke about learning to ask questions, and that how now she asks questions not only to clarify and extend her learning, but because she is curious!”

Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Parker team will be presenting Common Principles, Uncommon Results: Whole-School Approach to Authentic Assessment and Inquiry-Based on Thursday, February 6th.

Upcoming Webinar – The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning

Join noted author and Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond for a webinar sponsored by The Wallace Foundation. Darling-Hammond will examine how principals and other school leaders can work directly with teachers and staff to improve instruction and student achievement.

During this webinar, participants will learn strategies to shape a vision for academic success, create a hospitable climate, cultivate leadership, and manage staff data and processes.

Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University and co-director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She is the author of more than 400 publications, including The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future (2010) and Powerful Teacher Education (2006).

Webinar compliments of The Wallace Foundation and NASSP.

Date: Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Time: 3:30–4:30 p.m. ET

Reserve your virtual seat now!

School Showcase Feature: Fossil Ridge Intermediate School

Better. This simple word has characterized and driven the work of the members of the Fossil Ridge learning community. Through this desire to become better, Fossil Ridge has developed a collaborative culture focused on guaranteeing high levels of learning for every one of their students.

Opened in 2003, Fossil Ridge Intermediate has become increasingly diverse over the last several years, with 24% of its students representing minority groups and approximately 50% of its students enrolled in the free and reduced-price meals program.

The root of school improvement at Fossil Ridge lies in the school’s culture. A tremendous amount of work has been put in to aligning the beliefs, behaviors, and practices of the school. This focus on an effective culture has allowed subsequent structural change to flourish and enabled an entire learning community to focus on what matters: improving individualized student learning.

After its culture was firmly established, the work turned to focus on struggling students via a modified bell structure, a new pyramid of interventions, extended learning time for struggling math students, and additional interventions in reading.

Fossil Ridge’s school-wide intervention system provides immediate, specific intervention to identified students who require extra time or more individual assistance in meeting a particular standard or criterion. Students are required to attend specific interventions with other students considered deficient in the same concepts. Students who demonstrate competency for a given week are offered the choice of a variety of other classes designed to provide extra learning opportunities during the REAL Time block.

Over 5 years, Fossil Ridge has seen dramatic increases in student learning with increases of 18-30% on end-of-level assessments and individual subgroups. As a result of this work, Fossil Ridge was selected as a national model Professional Learning Community School by AllThingsPLC.info in 2011.

As further evidence of Fossil Ridge’s high levels of learning, they were recognized as a 2013 National Breakthrough School by the NASSP. Even with a change in leadership and varied personnel, the culture of learning combined with the inherent desire to get better continues to drive the work of this nationally recognized school.

Fossil Ridge Intermediate School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Fossil Ridge team will be presenting Preparing for Take-Off: Specific Actions that Make a Difference in Student Learning on Thursday, February 6th.  For more on Fossil Ridge Intermediate, check out the article published in the May 2013 issue of Principal Leadership.