School Improvement. What does that really mean? Through our capital projects we improve our school buildings and grounds. Under the leadership of our superintendent, BOE and a strong business executive, our financial picture just keeps getting stronger and stronger. Our climates have improved dramatically. And our students’ state scores just earned us NYSED status as “High Performing” schools for our elementary and high school. This is a distinction our middle school has earned previously. Our teachers are working extremely hard and we’re making progress, one step at a time.
School improvement efforts certainly look very different depending upon which district you look at and/or where in the district you look.
Our current school improvement efforts include our researched, piloted, and planned K-6 reading program. We are fully implementing this program in September 2008, with some efforts underway now.
Improvement efforts here also include our massive curriculum design project that will result in teachers talking to teachers about what our state test results show us about our strengths and weaknesses tied to the NYS standards and including the big ideas we want our kids to walk away with on graduation. Sounds like a lot? It is. But it will also allow us to intentionally plan what we’re teaching when and to whom, with cross class and cross grade conversations. Plus we’ll be using an electronic tool to house it all so that it’s sustainable and meaningful to teachers, not something they do just to satisfy an administrative request and then store on the shelf. I’m honestly sorry to tell you we’re “starting” this now because it’s so obvious that it’s what we should have been doing all along.
So what are we left with in considering our school improvement efforts with two major implementations next year? Instructional strategies.
I’ve written here before about Thoughtful Education, the work of Harvey Silver and Richard Strong. We have a team of five teachers in the middle school and high school who have been learning together with other educators for a year now. I can see our five teachers growing and adding tools that keep kids active, attentive and involved. What I can’t see is how we’ll get our learning clubs moving quickly enough to influence the other 157 educators in the district who would benefit from learning those same tools to keep their kids active, attentive and involved.
From my perspective, there’s no better way to improve a school than to invest in the teachers who in turn invest in our students. We need to invest those CFE dollars we’re receiving in more and more professional development, sustained and supported (not one shot stuff), for our teachers. Thoughtful Ed for all 157 educators, on our superintendent’s conference days and at our faculty meetings.We have to change our climate, in a supportive way, and get teachers away from isolation and learning from each other.
We have to nail the curriculum down and ratchet up the instructional strategies. We have to transform our schools with technology and our teachers have got to be the primary learners to make that happen. And we shouldn’t take the next ten years to do it.
Are we getting into areas where teachers previously have been left to their own devices? Heck yeah. Again, I’m sorry it’s such a big deal because they should have been expecting this kind of collaboration and involvement all along. Do I realize some people like things just fine the way that they are? Sure I do. Do I also acknowledge that some of those teachers are doing just fine that way too? Okay, I can go there, but then they have something to offer the rest of us and I’m pretty sure no matter how good they are, that there’s something to be learned from their colleague down the hall.
All I know is this, we’re better together than we are apart. I realize it every time I learn from our teachers, every time they help me on a project like our APPR plan and it ends up about 100% better than it would have been if I would have done it alone.
We’re moving, sometimes it feels way too slow for me, but I was reminded again today that we’re figuring it out and we’re going to be better tomorrow than we are today.