Duncan, Van Roekel and Hite Discuss Strategies to Turn Around Low-Performing Schools

It’s not OK for only 15% of students to be reading on grade level or 17% testing proficient in math…  It’s not always about doing what is popular, it’s about doing what matters to help young people succeed….
Dr. William Hite, Superintendent, Prince George’s County Public Schools

Duncan, Van Roekel and Hite Discuss Strategies to Turn Around Low-Performing SchoolsRelationships, collaboration and change were on the docket as Secretary Arne Duncan joined National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, Prince George’s County Superintendent of Schools William Hite, local leaders and union officials, distinguished educators and parents at G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover, Maryland, for a school visit and roundtable discussion on effective strategies for turning around low performing schools.  Gholson is one of four schools in the county that are implementing a turnaround model supported by School Improvement Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

Following an observation in Joe Webb’s 7th grade science class, Duncan, Van Roekel and Hite convened a roundtable discussion with the community members and educators invested in the critical work of turning around the persistently low achieving school.  The two newly installed co-principals -— Ebony Cross and Lacey Robinson -— attested to the need for robust parent and community support for the efforts currently being undertaken to improve academic achievement at the school.  Matthew McCrea, a 7th grade math teacher and one of 14 educators kept on Gholson’s faculty from the previous academic year, talked about the importance of innovation and flexibility to implement the changes needed to succeed in an underperforming school.  Lew Robinson, executive director for the Prince George’s County Educator’s Association, talked about the turnaround model as difficult but important work that must be done on behalf of children. 

“Turning around our worst performing schools is difficult for everyone,” Secretary Duncan said.  “But it is critical that we show the courage to do the right thing by kids.”

Since opening its doors in 2002, Gholson has consistently failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress and was required by law to restructure.  With support from ED’s School Improvement Grant program, Gholson initiated a number of changes for the 2010-11 school year, including a new leadership team; an influx of new teachers and faculty members; increased learning time for instruction in core academic subjects; a new Parent University to boost parent involvement; and innovations to encourage academic achievement through the use of Scholar Dollars and gender-specific core content classes. 

Gholson is also participating in NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign, a program launched by the National Education Association that highlights innovation and success in America’s struggling schools.  The campaign supports strategies to transform schools and emphasizes collaboration by all community stakeholders.

The turnaround process at Gholson is funded through a portion of the $3.5 billion made available to states through the School Improvement Grant program from money set aside in the 2009 budget and the Recovery Act.  An additional $545,633,000 was appropriated in 2010 and will be awarded to states to fund additional schools in the 2011-12 school year. ED has also requested an additional $900 million for the program in the 2011 budget. 

Learn more about the School Improvement Grant program

See photos of the visit and roundtable at Gholson. 

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach