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March 25 Session Offered Pointers, Another Conference Upcoming

Mutually Understood Goals and Common Practices Can Boost Student Performance

By Timothy McClure - March 25, 2010

Districts in California where African-American, Latino and English Learner students are meeting proficiency targets share common practices.  These commonalities are emerging as school leaders share strategies that have resulted in positive student gains in a series of conferences focusing on these key subgroups.

After reviewing student performance data over a period of three years for the featured schools, most educators attending the conferences ask, “I wonder how they did that?”

Of course, teachers and administrators from the selected schools understand they have one brief session to answer that very question.  As the school and district presenters share their successful practices, it is comforting to note that these practices are consistent with the District Assistance and Intervention Team (DAIT) standards, Education Code 52059(e).  Seven DAIT standards offer guidance for State Board of Education-approved providers that support districts entering the Corrective Action phase of Program Improvement.

None of the schools operate as a separate entity.  Rather, they all benefit from a governing board that adopts, and reviews on a regular basis,  a vision, mission, goals and policies that focus on the academic achievement of all students, and especially on English Learners, students with disabilities, and African American and Latino students.

These local governing boards align budgets to support implementation of the Local Educational Agency Plan and work closely with the Superintendent to ensure that the district goals and policies are communicated to staff, parents and community.

They establish a system of accountability by holding the Superintendent responsible for student performance, reviewing data at every board meeting, establishing a culture of collaboration, and understanding that change creates tension that must be managed appropriately.

In turn, the Superintendent holds district office administrators and principals accountable for student performance.  The district office provides professional development and coaching support.  Principals and teachers are encouraged to explore different pathways, depending on the characteristics of each individual school, to achieve the district-wide goals and expectations.  Principals hold teachers accountable for effective instruction, monitored through frequent walkthrough classroom visits, and full collaboration with colleagues in the shared effort to improve performance.

When shared by teachers, principals and district office administrators who have achieved significant and sustained jumps in student performance, these practices become distinct, vivid and inspirational examples of what can be accomplished.

A conference, sponsored by the Association of California School Administrators, was held in Sacramento during February, focusing on strategies for African American students. Another conference was held in Southern California on March 25, focusing on Latino students and English Learners, and drawing over 350 participants from around California.

Lee McPeak, principal at Andros Karperos School in the Yuba City Unified School District was one of the presenters on March 25. McPeak told EdBrief, “What we focused on is the administration being present in the classrooms as a teacher of teachers, and being a part of the creative collaboration as it pertains to individual students, and changed instruction to meet the individual needs of kids.”

McPeak added, “We also talked about how important doing a whole-school study of instruction is, and institutionalizing the vocabulary and the skills (needed for student achievement). We also studied an ELD program with a Discrete Skills Model. With the right balance of those together, you can make cultural change, which improves student performance.”

Sergio Robles, Senior Director of Special Projects with the Hueneme Elementary School District, gave a presentation at the March 25 conference about the rigorous program in that district.  Robles observed “This is the worst of times to be working in isolation. We need to be very generous in sharing what works for our English Learners. There are too many young people who are not thriving in our schools, because of basically a language issue. We pretty much know the pedagogy, but some approaches work better than others in certain situations . . .  It’s a matter of sharing notes among practitioners, sharing what works, and the circumstances in which a particular approach works. What worked last year may not work as well this year because of changes in enrollment. We should do a conference like this periodically throughout the year.”

Wes Braddock, principal at Sweetwater High in the Sweetwater Union High School District, presented on March 25 with teachers Susan Carreon-Jedlicka and Missy Lawler.

“We touched on strategies we used at Sweetwater High School that allowed us to be one of few comprehensive high schools in California that have exited Program Improvement Year Five under No Child Left Behind,” Braddock said. “These included targeted instruction aimed at students who were ‘on the bubble’ in terms of being able to score as proficient or higher. We also discussed strategies to help kids get over that magic point of 380, which is the threshold for proficiency on the California High School Exit Exam.”

“It was nice to speak in a packed room of interested educators,” Braddock added.

A related session on African American students is scheduled for April 28 in Del Mar in Southern California. For more information click here.

Editor’s Note:  Timothy McClure is Director of Professional Development with the education consulting firm Total School Solutions.