School 4 Aligns Challenges - Steve Barkley

School 4 Aligns Challenges

Last year I had the opportunity, as part of a contract with Rochester City Schools in NY, to work with the school based management team at George Mather Forbes School #4 and its principal, Karon Jackson. I especially remember Ms. Jackson as she volunteered to help me model what a coaching conference with a principal might be like. I often promote principals asking to be publicly coached in front of their staffs as an ideal way to model that vulnerability to coaching as a key to ongoing professional growth.

Recently a newspaper article, School 4 Aligns Challenges, Understanding, from the Rochestrer Democrat and Chronicle, featured Jackson and School #4 because the achievement gap — the difference in math and reading test scores between various groups of students — is lower at School 4 than at any other high-poverty school in the state. School 4 was named a National Title I Distinguished School,[an award reserved for schools that receive federal Title I poverty aid, have improved test scores and have narrowed the difference between the scores of its lowest- and highest-performing student subgroups, such as students with disabilities, those with limited English skills and those in various ethnic groups.]The National Association of State Title I Directors recognized 71 schools this year from 37 states, including just two from New York.

As I read the article, the following words said by Jackson or about her caught my attention:
Knowing students
Hugging and gently scolding
Mothering Caregiver…Hard on kids

These words strongly connect for me to the work I do with increasing student effort. I asked Karon to respond to a few questions I had. Here they are with her responses.
1. What did your students do that was critical to their success?
The students learned to accept and work with differences (cultural, physical and academic) of the students and staff. They learned specific strategies to support themselves in the areas of English, Language Arts, Math and Writing.

2. What did teachers do that motivated the necessary responses?
The staff focused on the needs of the students by aligning specific strategies to specific needs. They embraced the concept of the school’s intervention block (30 minutes where students switch classes according to the skills they need). They used students’ data to drive their instruction, their grouping and their discussions with parents. They all celebrated small successes in the classroom.

3. How important was teacher collegiality to your success?
Collegiality played a major role in School No. 4’s success. School No. 4 staff, involved in the Urban Teacher Leadership Academy at the University of Rochester, did a unit of study on vocabulary. They created a word wizard and a word of the week for primary and intermediate grades. This initiated a school-wide vocabulary program. The school-wide intervention block (Soar 4 Success) provided teachers opportunities to work closely with each other and to know each other’s students.

4. What did you do as principal to promote that collegiality?
Built common planning time into the schedule.

Throughout the year brought in Arthur Brown and Dr. Jason Berman to do workshops on “Where is the Love: How to love our students”.
Worked with specialists to align all School wide professional development to the needs of the students (always hands–on, interactive with thought provoking questions and reflection).
When I talk with the staff, I speak from the heart, making connections to self, the students and the entire school community.
Set up a monthly staff award called “Give Me Love Award” .

5. Words of Wisdom for readers looking to increase student achievement.

Know your students, know your staff (Relationships, Relationships, Communication, Communication, collaboration, Collaboration).
Know the data and make sure your staff does, too.
Model the way and lead by example.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, celebrate the small victories, but most of all do “Whatever It Takes” .

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