Our scores on state tests are not great. Overall, about 65% of our students are proficient in reading and writing and fewer than 40% are proficient in math. These are based on scores on state tests, sure. I will be the first to point out to parents, staff, and colleagues that state tests present a very narrow, very short-sighted view of what our students know and are able to do. While they may not be everything, it’s tough to dismiss data like this as nothing.
In my vast 19 months of experience as a school principal, I have made an observation. Many schools, when placed (or even faced with the prospect of being placed) on an “Improvement Plan”1, go into full-on panic/fight or flight mode. In that mode, some teachers and leaders will do anything to get above whatever “magic line” means that they will be off watch2. We pay ridiculous fees to textbook and content providers for intervention curricula and software. We remove kids from classes they love like band and art and “double-dip” them in classes they dislike and perform poorly in.
Strategies like these, in my opinion, are short-sighted. They focus on the specific goal of no longer being on an Improvement Plan.
I want more for my students and my school.
A few weeks ago, I blogged about what I called “Academic Alignment.” I want to put into place a long-range, sustainable plan for my school that goes far beyond playing the state-testing numbers game. In order to do this, we need a plan. This plan, however, cannot come from only me. There are too many highly intelligent and committed educators in my school who want to be involved in the process of making things better. I did not bring a “rescue plan” to my staff. Instead, I tried to lay out a vision for what this school can become. I shared that I want our school culture to be one of learning and high-level academics — a place that is 100% about kids and ensuring that they have the tools at their disposal to be successful in school and in life.
Our approach to this has been to establish a “Professional Study Group.” On Monday, we had about a dozen teachers come together to talk about what we want to give our students. With that as a baseline, we will move forward over the coming months and establish a plan to bring that to reality. I framed three critical areas and posed a couple of essential questions under each. At our first meeting, participants brainstormed “world cafe” style, in each of the three areas. Moving forward, I imagine having participants become more specialized into one of the areas.
How will it go? I don’t know. But at the very least I am hoping to harness the power of a motivated group of colleagues to help get this moving and spread the word.