Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Day In the Field

I spent a whole day yesterday visiting schools and talking to principals and teachers. I was able to visit the high poverty school featured recently in the national blog Teacher in a Strange Land. What a treat!

Last year this school was considered a failing school and was close to being taken over by the state. Most children were performing as very low levels and some suffered from neglect, abuse and handicaps. All the students are high poverty.

Instead of being taken over, the school was allowed to reorganize this school year. A new principal who is a National Board Certified Teacher was able to hand pick her staff which is now made up of seasoned Board Certified Teachers, some teachers from the previous year, and new teachers including a few TFA teachers. Here are my impressions based on my short visit.

There is a tremendous team spirit at the school with the principal as the undisputed leader. Everywhere you go on the campus, there is order. Everyone is on task. Teachers are confident, students attentive and cheerfully working on projects, reading, listening, and anxious to demonstrate their learning. If we step into a classroom most students look up for a moment but then quickly go back to work. When we walk by the cafeteria or to the playground, the students crowd around the principal like chicks around a mother hen. She hugs them and they hug back. The children have been taught to make eye contact and respond courteously.

I got to meet the Dean of students and found out she makes home visits to ensure discipline and parental involvement. This a neighborhood school. All of the children live within a few blocks of the school. The school was being visited by a big blue bus left over from the federal Katrina assistance programs that provides services from a school psychologist and other specialists.

It's late in the school year and the new teachers have developed confidence in their skills. They all want to come back next year. The results from LEAP have not come in yet but almost all students are showing very good progress on all their diagnostic tests.

This is not a charter school. It is a traditional school run by highly trained and experienced professionals and a good mix of enthusiastic young teachers. I am proud to say that the principal was once one of my students many years ago. There is no merit pay based on student performance. Teachers are paid based on years of experience, degrees and even the National Board Certified supplement which comes from the local school system (since the state has stopped funding it). This school is thriving compared to the takeover charter schools in the area that have continued to decline. Unfortunately our Governor and State Superintendent want to take our schools in a different direction.

I ended my day by attending the town hall meeting with Superintendent White in Lafayette. (See the Lafayette Advertizer Article) White complimented teachers for the increases in LEAP results of the last 10 years. He also said: “We cannot fire our way to success in education.” But most of the questions of teachers centered around the part of the Act 54 evaluation that requires that 10% of teachers be rated as ineffective and put on a path to dismissal. Many teachers are not confident that the mysterious value-added formulas will be fair.

White has stated in the No Child Left Behind waiver proposal to the US DOE that all children in Louisiana will achieve proficiency by the year 2014. The feds had stipulated that state achievement goals must be ambitious but achievable. I just don't know how the recent reforms and adopting the slogan “Louisiana Believes” can make this happen.