school improvement

It’s Not Too Late—Get Ready to Meet these Members Making a Difference

Are you looking to connect with fellow NASSP members who found significant value from their membership? Ignite ’15 offers a perfect venue. Ahead of the conference—which starts Thursday, February 19—get acquainted with some of these participating members and make plans to meet.

You say you’re not registered for Ignite ’15, but have a last-minute craving for a no-regrets opportunity to network and grow professionally? No worries. You can register on-site! Alternatively, consider purchasing access to the live streaming portal if you or your team are unable to be there in person.

When you become familiar with these members’ stories you’ll discover more about the NASSP advantages that are making a difference in schools and with students nationwide: (more…)

Transforming At-Risk Schools: It’s All About Attitude

Baruti Kafele’s students will never forget him. He was the guy standing at the front door every morning to greet students as they entered. Why? He was the principal. And as far as he’s concerned, that was one of the most important things he could do in his role.

A principal for 14 years, Kafele led four New Jersey schools with at-risk student populations to success. Now an internationally renowned speaker, author, and consultant, he has quite a bit of insight on the topic of improving schools with at-risk students—which he will share at Ignite ’15 this February during his session, “School Leadership Practices for Transforming the Attitudes of At-Risk Student Populations.” (more…)

AP Viewpoint: IT CAN BE DONE!

Guest post by Matthew Willis:

William C. Hinkley High School in Aurora, CO is using many of the “Breaking Ranks” frameworks to crush the high-school-to-prison pipeline and diminish systemic poverty in our community.

Creating hope, opportunity, and addressing a traditional disciplinary process simultaneously is a best practice for meeting these goals and transforming underperforming schools. The assistant principal plays a vital role in transforming school culture and its system of discipline.

Crushing the high-school-to-prison pipeline takes a commitment to creating a culture of care through restorative justice, circles, conferences, and other relational practices. We must commit to working collaboratively and intentionally to repair every breech in relationships. Unbelievably, Hinkley high school had over 260 physical aggression referrals (category C) and over 400 minor infractions like disobedience, defiance, and profanity referrals (category B) in 2008. As a result of our work with many community stakeholders, including the Aurora Police Department and Dr. Tom Cavanagh from Colorado State University, we are transforming Hinkley high school and working to create equitable practices in every classroom. As is evident from the graph below, our work to create a positive school culture that is safe and welcoming for all is coming to life. PBS NewsHour will be joining Dr. Tom Cavanaugh and the staff and students of Hinkley High School for a day in January to discover and share many of our best practices.

Just 10 days before the 2012-13 school year began, a theater shooting killed and wounded many people in the Aurora community. Having restorative justice, relationships with our students and community, and a culture of care provided a mechanism for us to deal with this devastation.

I look forward to the Ignite ’14 conference in Dallas and the opportunity to share data, best practices, and stories from William C. Hinkley High School.

Matthew Willis is the 2013 NASSP/Virco National Assistant Principal of the Year. Matthew will present the Assistant Principals Viewpoint on Saturday, February 8 at Ignite ’14. For more information and to register, visit www.nasspconference.org.

Ignite ‘14 to Feature Turnaround Principals

Is your school currently in ‘turnaround mode’? For all but a very few high-performing schools the answer is a resounding yes.

Schools are in the center of a vortex consisting of three major, long-term change initiatives; 1) new, higher standards with accompanying assessments and accountability measures, 2) new teacher evaluation systems, which include data from student test scores, 3) new state data systems for holding schools more accountable, which include attendance, school discipline, and graduation rates.

To further complicate matters, many schools have faced multiple years of tight budgets and are being asked to do much more with larger class sizes and less experienced teachers. At the same time school leaders are being asked to address a twenty-five year low in teacher satisfaction brought on, in large part by the ‘fire our way to Finland’ reformer mindset, an all-time high student poverty rate, and an increasingly diverse student population.

This so-called ‘perfect storm’ of school reform places dramatically increases pressures on school leaders to enter into ‘turnaround mode’ to improve student achievement by increasing rigor, changing staff expectations, and enhancing teaching practice. It is not surprising that 75% of principals say their job has become too complex.

Turning around a school—simultaneously raising student achievement in the face of more rigorous standards, changing attitudes and expectations, and improving teaching requires a “different kind of leadership.” In keeping with NASSP’s commitment to supporting school leaders, the Ignite ‘14 National Conference will include practitioners who have successfully turned around low-performing schools.  In fact, all three are currently in their second turnaround school.

Not only have these schools dramatically improved test scores, but they have reduced course failures, improved attendance, reduced student referrals and discipline incidents by more than 70%, and significantly improved reading and writing scores.

What do these leaders and their schools have in common?

  1. Clear Vision
  2. A laser-like Focus
  3. High expectations resulting from a growth Mindset
  4. Collaboration and Shared Leadership
  5. Strong Staff and Student Relationships
  6. High levels of Student Engagement
  7. Dramatically improved student Behavior
  8. Sizeable increases in student Attendance
  9. A schoolwide Commitment to Learning for all students
  10. Consistent Instruction resulting from a Defined Set of Instructional Practices
  11. A long-term emphasis on Schoolwide Literacy
  12. A strong Culture of Accountability

In addition to my own presentation titled Instructional Leadership: From Inspectors to Builders, school leaders from the three schools with whom I have worked over the past several years will be presenting in separate concurrent sessions:

  • Eric Jones and Teresa McDaniel, J.O. Johnson High School, Huntsville, Alabama
  • Brad Perkins, Muskegon High School, Muskegon, Michigan
  • Kasey Teske and Amy McBride, Twin Falls, Idaho

In addition, Dan Duke, author of Differentiating School Leadership, will discuss what his research has uncovered about the keys to long-term school improvement and turnaround. Dan and I will also be presenting together in a second session, Differentiated Leadership (Part II), on the practical applications of his findings.

Improving schools requires readily available, low-cost, research-based resources for teachers. Former National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, and I will discuss the resources available from The Teaching Channel and how I have used those resources to enhance classroom practice. As I have done for the past two years, I will continue to emphasize how I used the Doing What Works resources to help schools successfully implement school wide literacy initiatives as well as to reduce dropouts and improve graduation rates.

Keys to Differentiating Instruction Using Technology-Based Formative Assessments

Guest post by G.A. Buie:

Student homework has been a cornerstone for learning and evaluation for years. Even in our technology-driven classrooms, for students who are diligent and engaged in the learning process homework can be an effective method of evaluating their progress as well as a teacher’s instructional effectiveness. Unfortunately, not all students are diligent and engaged, and though the problems related to assigning homework have changed, the process of assigning homework hasn’t. Teachers are encountering a shrinking number of students completing their assigned homework—and, even if it’s completed, teachers must question whether the work is original or copied. As a result, homework becomes a very ineffective tool to evaluate a student’s progress.

With student and teacher accountability at a premium in today’s educational environment, it is imperative that teachers have a method of measuring a student’s progress and his or her understanding of content. Waiting for the summative assessment is too late; teachers need a tool that doesn’t take away from instructional time, yet doesn’t add to an already heavy teaching load.

Teachers need quick results that measure curricular objectives, and at times they need to be able to develop those activities on the spot. At Ignite ’14, we will explore a wide variety of technology-based formative assessment ideas which can be used in almost any classroom. These tools will be designed to gather valuable data for the teacher almost instantaneously, thus allowing the teacher the opportunity to differentiate their classroom using multiple forms of data. Best of all, these ideas can be implemented on any budget with tools already available to most schools or students.

G.A. Buie (@gabuie31) is the president-elect of NASSP. He will present at the Ignite 2014. For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

Upcoming Webinar – Cultivating the Principals Urban Schools Need

Join Glenn Pethel, executive director of leadership development for Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools, for a webinar sponsored by The Wallace Foundation that will examine how six urban school districts are working to cultivate first-rate principals for their schools.

Until recently, many educators and policy makers overlooked the unique role districts can play to help principals shoulder their central responsibility: improving teaching and learning. However, with new evidence emerging about the importance of school leadership and how it can best be developed, a number of school districts are rethinking their approach to the principal pipeline.

Pethel will be joined by colleagues Michelle Farmer, director of leadership development, and Erin Hahn, coordinator of leadership development, to discuss how school districts funded through The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative are working to build a large corps of well-qualified candidates and provide support to school leaders on the job.

This webinar also will review the recent Wallace Foundation report, Districts Matter, Cultivating the Principals Urban Schools Need, which demonstrates how urban school districts can play a major role in ensuring they have principals who can boost teaching and learning in troubled schools.

Webinar compliments of The Wallace Foundation and NASSP.

Date: Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Time: 3:30–4:40 p.m. ET

Reserve your virtual seat now!

RSVP: A student’s perspective

Guest post by James Gomez, a student at Bettendorf High School, Iowa:

The first time I was told about the basic concept of RSVP, I was intrigued and fascinated by it. A student body directly bringing about change within their school is a unique concept. Though at that time I was a few years too young to be a part of this organization, I knew it was something that I wanted to join. RSVP is a student-led organization within a school that gives a voice to the student body and helps to build leadership capacity within students.

What is RSVP?
RSVP, created by the National Association of Student Councils in 2006, empowers the student body to identify issues within their school. These concerns and ideas are then taken to principals and school administrators, who work together with students to address them. This line of communication from student to administration helps the student body feel confident that their voices are being heard and valued.

A student-led leadership team and student facilitators are essential parts of an RSVP program. Comprised of students who are willing to take leadership roles, the RSVP leadership team represents the student body and helps to organize the RSVP student facilitators. The leadership team trains facilitators to run student summits in order hear what students like about their school and what could be changed within it.

When the facilitators have gathered this information, the leadership team picks out the top concerns from the first summit and has the facilitators return to the student body for a second summit to ask students for their ideas for solutions. To make changes within the school, the leadership team meets with the principal to discuss what steps can be taken to address the concerns of the student body. More student summits can be held to gather student reaction or to call students to action to help make the change a reality.

RSVP’s Impact
My experience with RSVP began as a freshman in high school. I signed up with a high level of enthusiasm for the concept of RSVP, but I did not know what to expect out of the program. During facilitator training, the leadership team showed the trainees some of the changes that had been brought about through RSVP.  Changes to various school facilities, events, and policies were all included in that list. It was then that I fully realized what kind of potential RSVP had within a school.

After my freshman facilitator training, I was approached by the RSVP teacher advisor and asked if I would like to join the leadership team. The members of the leadership team saw that I had shown energy and leadership potential during the training. I was thrilled to take a more involved role in a program with which I was already impressed.

During my freshman year, I facilitated summits, participated in leadership team meetings and activities, and helped inform other schools about RSVP. Additionally, I helped bring about a major policy change concerning cell phone use at my school. This large shift in policy allowed me to see just how much RSVP empowers the student body’s voice to make substantial changes.

During my sophomore year, I attended a Student Council State conference with RSVP to present the RSVP program to students and educators from around the state. The interest and enthusiasm that people showed over our presentations helped me see how beneficial it can be to share RSVP with other schools. Additionally, during my second year on the leadership team, I took the lead of a subcommittee of the leadership team that dealt with all lunchroom-related concerns brought to light during summits. Taking this leadership role meant stepping out of my comfort zone to work independently to take on problems that the student body had voiced through RSVP.

Since first joining RSVP, my leadership and teamwork skills have grown exponentially. Working with peers on the leadership team as well as with facilitators has made me a more confident speaker and communicator. I believe that RSVP is beneficial not only for schools as institutions, but also for the students involved in it. For these reasons, RSVP has been an important part of my school and an important program for me personally.

To me, RSVP is empowerment of students to create the change that they want to see in their own school. RSVP allows many students to get involved and make a positive difference in their school environment. Students and administrators around the country can benefit from RSVP and from the differences that it makes within their schools.

James Gomez is currently a junior and Lead Team member of RSVP at Bettendorf High School in Iowa.  Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy), principal of Bettendorf High School, will speak about RSVP’s impact on students like Gomez at Ignite ’14 an Extended Learning Lab on Saturday, February 8, 2014.

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.