Bracken Academy Runs on STEAM Power

A Bracken STEAM Academy teacher, Michelle Wheatfill, stands at the front of her class. presenting a lesson to students seated at tables around the room.

Teacher Michelle Wheatfill introduces a lesson to her 5th grade class. (Photo Credit: Clark County School District)

The Bracken STEAM Academy of Las Vegas is helping students reach higher standards. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — an extension of what is commonly known as STEM.  Through the integration of new STEAM technology and opportunities for hands-on learning, the school is enhancing instruction to place a renewed focus on holding all students to rigorous, college and career ready standards.

With the help of an Any Given Child grant from the US Department of Education and federal Title I money, students are being exposed to a wide variety of STEAM opportunities. They had the opportunity to attend out of school events like the Las Vegas Philharmonic and The Science Guy performances, and are now able to access computer labs before and after school. Experiences like these are helping teachers provide students with hands-on learning experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to provide.

“We are re-engineering the way that we teach,” said Principal Kathleen Decker, who has been in her position for 13 years. “I do see the teachers using a lot more hands-on, a lot more project based learning, and a lot more differentiated and individualized instruction than in the past.”

The expanded opportunities and the move to higher standards has led to a change in culture in her school. “Our expectations are much, much higher than they were before [the current standards],” Decker observed. “And the children are accomplishing way more than what we had expected of them five or six years ago.”

Teachers are seeing firsthand the difference teaching with heightened standards makes.

“The students are learning exponentially,” said fifth-grade teacher Michelle Wheatfill, who has been at Bracken for nine years. She notes that with changes happening in her school, her role as a teacher is changing. “Because of the technology we have, [the students] take charge of a lot of their learning. We’re there just to help guide them, instead of teaching every lesson with direct instruction.”

With teachers and leaders raising the bar, students are feeling more engaged and challenged by the new standards. Wynn, a third grade student, said that “Bracken is so good because the teachers don’t stop you at certain levels. They keep pushing you so you can keep going higher and get better.”

To read more about how Bracken STEAM is transitioning to more rigorous, college and career ready standards see the full post on our Homeroom Blog.

Colorado Teachers Helping Build State’s Educator Effectiveness System

System focuses on continuous improvement to better prepare students for success in college and careers.

Lisa Rossi is a fifth grade teacher at Bethke Elementary in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado. She has taught elementary school in the same district for 25 years and, for 20 of those years, has served as a mentor for her colleagues, helping them hone their craft.

This image is a “Race to the Top Snapshot” titled “Colorado State Model Evaluation System.” The subtitle is “Annual Performance Evaluation for Teachers.” The graphic is divided into two sections. The first section provides an overview of the model. The section shows that the model is divided in half. 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations are based on Statewide Quality Standards for professional practice. Components of the Statewide Quality Standards are content knowledge, classroom environment, instruction, reflection and leadership. The other 50 percent of teachers evaluations is based on multiple measures of student growth including end-of-course exams, State assessment (CMAS) results, teacher developed measures and benchmark assessments. Based on the teacher evaluations, teachers receive one of four effectiveness ratings: (1) ineffective, (2) partially effective, (3) effective, and (4) highly effective. The second section is about the observations and feedback, and there are four statements about the observations and feedback. First, probationary teachers receive at least two documented observations per year. Second, beyond the requirement of two observations per year, districts determine the frequency and scope of observations and feedback. Third, evaluations focus on meaningful feedback and continuous professional growth. Finally, data supplies critical information but human judgment is also important to ensure the process is fair and accurate.

The Colorado State Model Evaluation System is used to provide annual performance evaluations for teachers.

Three years ago, as a member of Bethke’s School Improvement Team, she took on a larger challenge: leading an effort to help her school district develop a new system for evaluating and supporting teachers. Her work has focused on implementing a framework for teaching and learning that provides a shared definition of what it means to be an effective teacher as well as the tools to measure this. The framework, which was developed by the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington, is being used to help all teachers in the district analyze and improve their practices. Among the framework’s elements are student engagement, classroom culture and assessing student learning. “We all have areas we’re really strong in and areas we need to grow in,” Rossi said. “Now, we can be much more specific about what our growth areas are.”

Hundreds of teachers like Rossi across Colorado have been similarly engaged, working with their local districts on the details of new evaluation and support systems designed to give teachers better feedback on how to help prepare their students for success in college and careers. Thousands more have participated in surveys, feedback sessions and focus groups, or served on a statewide advisory council.  By listening closely to feedback and proactively enlisting key stakeholders in the design process, Colorado has created an evaluation system by educators for educators.

A 2010 State law, Senate Bill 10-191, required districts to develop new systems for strengthening the connection between teachers’ performance and student learning. Like other States, Colorado used part of its Federal Race to the Top grant to develop and implement its new system and conduct extensive stakeholder outreach.

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Educator Portal Plus is Go-To Source for District of Columbia Teachers

Photo Credit: US Department of Education.

Teachers are getting support they need to improve their practices and deepen students’ knowledge and skills.

When geometry teacher Robert Athmer started working in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) four years ago, he was disappointed with the way the school district communicated and shared resources with educators. At the time, DCPS’s online portal provided only basic information and was difficult to navigate.  He found it “lacked inspiration.”

But today, after a major overhaul in response to teacher input, the portal gets frequent use.  Athmer now considers the revamped version of the portal an essential way of connecting with school district officials and fellow teachers, accessing meaningful professional development materials, viewing high-quality lesson plans and staying up-to-date on key professional learning opportunities.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” Athmer said. “I tend to use the resource tab all the time for things like pacing guides, unit plans, lesson ideas and formative assessment ideas. The resources for secondary mathematics are great. Everything is up there.”

The site is called Educator Portal Plus and it was redesigned with support from grants that included the district’s Race to the Top grant. It is being used by 90 percent of DCPS teachers and is also open to teachers at charter schools in the district who can see lessons aligned to the Common Core State Standards or tap into other professional learning resources on the site.

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Engaging Educators to Design and Improve New Systems of Evaluation and Support: 5 to Watch

This graphic highlights five initiatives of States and districts to engage educators. At the top of the graphic with the title is a map of the United States with five States highlighted: Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, Florida, and Connecticut. In the body of the graphic, there are five images with text next to them. The first image is two people talking. The text next to the image is “Denver Public Schools: Union leaders and teachers from pilot schools helped secure 92% support for the new system.” The second image is comment bubbles with a question mark. The text next to the image is “Tennessee use an online rapid response system to answer educators’ questions about the new system within 48 hours.” The third image is a picture of a survey. The text next to the image is “Hillsborough County (FL) is using feedback from teachers to adjust communications and solve technical problems with its system.” The fourth image is a person speaking to an audience. The text next to the image is “Illinois proactively involved the two statewide teachers’ unions and the nonprofit Teach Plus to get input from teachers at the front end.” The fifth and final image is two hands in a handshake. The text next to the image is “New Haven (CT) teachers are helping to craft the educator evaluation and support system, which is seen as a model of labor-management collaboration.” Under the body of the graphic is the sentence: “More online in Engaging Educators: A Reform Support Network Guide for States and Districts.” 	 The link to the publication: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/implementation-support-unit/tech-assist/engaging-educators.pdf

Many States and school districts are proactively engaging educators in helping to shape key reforms, including evaluation, feedback and support systems. Five to watch are:

Denver Public Schools (CO) avoided the “happy talk” that often undermines credibility with its “keep-it-real” communications campaign, focused on successes and challenges. Union leaders and teachers from evaluation pilot programs traveled to nonpilot schools to articulate first-hand experiences, an effort that led to 92 percent of schools joining the pilot evaluation program.

Hillsborough County (FL) created educator advisory panels and surveyed teachers (“pulse checks”) to assess their understanding of and attitudes toward the evaluation and support system. The district is using this feedback to adjust communications with teachers via e-magazines and podcasts, publish updates to address confusion and efficiently solve technical problems with the system.

Illinois proactively engaged two statewide teachers’ unions through early discussion and advisory roles to co-create its teacher evaluation, feedback and support system. And the State worked with the nonprofit Teach Plus to organize several feedback forums across the State.

New Haven Public Schools (CT) teachers are helping to craft the educator evaluation and support system, which has been held up as a model of labor-management collaboration. A teacher’s overall evaluation is based on classroom observations (conducted by peers or administrators) and student learning goals (including student assessment data) that teachers set with their supervisors.

Tennessee set up an online rapid response system to answer questions about the new teacher evaluation and support system. The department fielded up to 75 questions a day and responded within 48 hours.

Details in Engaging Educators: A Reform Support Network Guide for States and DistrictsTo view a more detailed version of this graphic, click here.

Leader Spotlight with Florida Principal Tauri Eligon

Tauri Eligon, a member of the first Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Education Leadership (PROPEL) class, in front of a PROPEL ad on a wall

Tauri Eligon was the first member of the inaugural class of the Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Education Leadership (PROPEL) program at Florida Atlantic University to be hired as an assistant principal. Participants in the selective program are effective teachers who are nominated by their principals and who are selected after several rounds of interviews. During the first half of the 16-month program, participants continue teaching four days a week in their own school, take classes part-time and do administrative tasks under the supervision of the principal. During the second half, participants complete a four-week apprenticeship at a high-needs school, learning from the principal about leadership and how to give teachers helpful feedback. Eligon started his job at Challenger Elementary in Tamarac in September 2013, 20 months after he entered the training program

Q. What inspired you to become a teacher?
A. My mother, who was a high school teacher in Brooklyn. She had some of the toughest students you could possibly have. But she treated all of her students as if they were her kids. That left a lasting mark on me.

Q. You were an elementary school teacher for 14 years and had also served as a mentor teacher and mathematics specialist. Did you always want to be a principal?
A. No. But I had a principal who saw some leadership qualities in me. He opened my eyes to the possibilities of the impact I could have in a leadership position.

Q. What was the most beneficial part of the PROPEL program?
A. The professors were not typical professors. They were area superintendents, principals and directors. They were able to provide real-life examples of leadership.

Q. What else was helpful to you?
A.  We learned to have difficult conversations with parents—telling parents that their children are having trouble academically or socially; telling parents that their children may be having thoughts that might be violent. These are conversations that need to happen, that do happen, and they’re not easy. The training absolutely helped. We spent a lot of time talking through different scenarios, different problems and having practice conversations.

Q. Was there anything in particular you felt you needed to learn?
A. I needed to learn quickly to be a better manager of time, a better leader and a better collaborator. It’s a different skill set, and these are skills that need to be learned and honed.

 

To learn more about PROPEL and Florida’s principal preparation programs, visit the full post here.

Florida Prepares Principals Through Experience in Schools

26 members of the first class graduating from the PROPEL program standing outside of a building at Florida Atlantic University.

The first class of the PROPEL program, which began in January 2013, has started producing school leaders. Nine graduates of the program have now been hired as assistant principals and two are now principals.

Selective programs turn teachers into leaders.  

Jenieff Watson started teaching in 2000 in St. Petersburg, Florida, and she loved her job. “I never thought of doing anything else,” she said.

She was such an effective teacher she was asked to take on leadership roles, first as a mentor and then as a reading coach. In 2012, Watson was asked to apply for a newly redesigned principal preparation program at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa that included a year-long, four-day-per-week internship with a successful principal as her mentor. Competition was stiff—dozens from her school district applied for only four slots—but after several rounds of interviews she was chosen.

In January 2014, less than two years after the program began, Watson was hired as an assistant principal at Dunedin Highland Middle School in Pinellas County. Several months later, she completed the additional State requirements for becoming a principal. “I didn’t see myself as a leader,” she said. “But leadership found me.”

Watson was part of the first cohort of carefully selected teachers to go through the Gulf Coast Partnership Job-Embedded Principal Preparation Program at USF, one of two new fast-track principal preparation programs in the State developed with support from the Federal Race to the Top program. The other is the Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Educational Leadership (PROPEL), based at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton. Combined, the two programs have graduated 160 educators eligible to become assistant principals and principals over the past three years.

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Rhode Island: Measuring Contributions Support Professionals Make to Learning

Establishing specific goals helps students and professionals make progress

Teacher and her student sitting at a desk looking over a notebook

Teacher and student go through class notes together. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education

Amy Manchester has worked as a speech language pathologist for 12 years. Her caseload at Richmond Elementary School in the Chariho Regional School District in Rhode Island includes students with autism, dyslexia, language disorders, and other disabilities.

Her job is to make sure her students can access the curriculum. On any given day, that could mean teaching a non-verbal student to use a speech device to ask questions and make comments during class. Or, it could mean teaching a student who is on the autism spectrum the rules of conversation and methods to interpret social cues and body language to help them participate in classroom discussions.

She knows the work she does affects her students’ learning. Until this year, however, her performance evaluation did not put a lot of emphasis on her effectiveness.

But, during school year 2013­-2014, Rhode Island piloted a process by which support professionals—library media specialists, school nurses, reading specialists, counselors, psychologists, social workers and language and speech pathologists—were evaluated based, in part, on whether their students achieved specific learning goals and outcomes.

In the past, for example, Manchester might have had a goal of helping students improve their ability to understand words as they were being spoken to them. But the amount of improvement did not affect her performance evaluation. Now, she has specific numerical targets (called student learning outcomes, or SLOs) for lowering the number of pronunciation errors a student makes and for increasing his ability to identify distinct sounds within a word. SLOs are long-term academic goals established for groups of students, which help them understand their progress and helps support professionals like Manchester understand what work still has to be done. Another of Manchester’s goals was to collaborate more with classroom teachers. “A lot of times it is easy to do our work in isolation and the collaboration piece is key [to student learning]”, she said.

Manchester and other support professionals also need to set specific targets for increasing access to student learning (called student outcome objectives, or SOOs) to measure their impact in a different way. Reducing truancy, for instance, is an SOO.

The formal title of the process is the Rhode Island Model Support Professionals Evaluation and Support System. It is an extension of the State’s redesigned teacher evaluation and support system, which puts greater emphasis on student learning and goal setting. Both systems were developed with support of the State’s Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

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New York Puts Spotlight on Teachers Engaging Parents

Teacher leads a workshop for parents during "Parent University" on May 1

With 47 workshops offered at the May 1 “Parent University,” teachers engaged parents in their children’s education. Credit: Steve Bartholomew

South Huntington schools invite parents back to school to learn about new college and career standards

When parents at the Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center in South Huntington, New York, began asking questions about the unfamiliar assignments their children were bringing home last fall, teachers thought they deserved answers. So, the teachers with the support of teacher leaders put together an evening demonstration of how the State’s new college and career ready standards had changed both how they were teaching and what students were expected to do.

On January 8, the night of the demonstration, the notorious polar vortex of the winter of 2014 slammed into Long Island, and the temperature plunged into the single digits. Undeterred, the teachers went ahead with the event and hundreds of parents braved the cold and sat through sample lessons in mathematics and English language arts to learn how to ask their children questions like those they hear in school.

“Instead of just asking their kids how their day went, they might say ‘I’m noticing that your homework is different. I wonder what you can teach me about that,’” said Stephanie Brown, a sixth grade English language arts teacher and “parent academy” organizer. “We taught them how to do a close read of text. So, when they’re home and a child has to read something, they can ask, ‘What’s the gist of the first three paragraphs?’”  

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Pennsylvania Trains Principals and Teachers in New Observation Method

Teachers are getting support they need to improve their practices and deepen students’ knowledge and skills

Marybeth Zlock poses with her second grade students at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Marybeth Zlock

Marybeth Zlock and her second graders at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Marybeth Zlock

James Ellis, the principal of White Deer Elementary School in New Columbia, Pennsylvania, likes the conversations he and other administrators in his district are having with teachers about what great instruction looks like.

These discussions occur after school leaders observe teachers in action and are designed to provide helpful feedback and guidance on what teachers can do to improve in their jobs, such as by better managing their classrooms or helping students make more progress. The observations are part of Pennsylvania’s new teacher evaluation system, which went into statewide use as a pilot for the first time this year. Under the old system, Ellis said he didn’t have the same deep discussions about what he saw or should have seen.

“In the past it wasn’t unheard of to put the observation [report] in the teachers’ mailboxes for them to sign, and we were done for the year,” Ellis said.

Now, he talks with the teacher before and after the observation and does a less formal, walk-thru or visit again before finalizing an evaluation. That second classroom visit can both reinforce what he saw during the formal observation and provide new insights. “Previously that wasn’t as important to me as the main observation,” said Ellis. “Now, I really try to check back,” he said.

Teachers with fewer than three years of experience are formally observed twice a year; more senior teachers only once. The classroom observations and how a teacher carries out other professional responsibilities count for half the evaluation. The other half is based on student growth data and other measures of learning.

“A Different Atmosphere”

One of the teachers Ellis observed this year was Erin Sheedy, a kindergarten and special education teacher at a neighboring school in the Milton Area School District, north of Harrisburg. Sheedy said she particularly liked the pre-and post-observation discussions she had with Ellis. Administrators like Ellis in the district conduct observations in schools besides their own.

“It’s a different atmosphere to have that kind of one-on-one attention for any teacher,” she said. “The principal used to be the man behind the door, the wizard behind the curtain. Now they’re much more visible, and it’s a conversation.”

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Iredell-Statesville Schools Are Raising Achievement for Students with the Highest Needs

North Carolina’s Iredell-Statesville Schools (I-SS) are raising academic achievement amongst their high-needs students, English learners and students with disabilities. In 2010, I-SS received the $4.99 million Development grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation(i3) competition that is making this possible.

I-SS-5th-graders

In one of Iredell-Statesville’s elementary schools, (left to right) 5th-grade students Ashley, Sitaly, Jose, Jasiah, and Bobbie work together during their science intervention time to discover the meaning of “force.” (Photo courtesy of Jada Jonas and the Iredell-Statesville Schools)

Their plan, called COMPASS — the Collaborative Organizational Model to Promote Aligned Support Structures — focuses on aligning support structures for teachers, strengthening collaborations between educators in professional learning communities, analyzing student performance data, improving curricula and developing differentiated instruction to address individual needs and raise academic achievement. According to project director Sherrard Lewis, COMPASS has been “a unifying force — a glue — that brings the data usage, heightened curricular goals, and instructional improvements together.”

COMPASS was implemented in participating schools in three stages, the last of which began during the 2013-2014 school year. The first stage involved staff training and support. The second worked to improve and increase data use to inform teaching practices and curriculum creation.

“When teachers analyze and understand data, it helps them understand a child’s true potential,” Lewis said. The district created quarterly “Data Days,” which allow teachers to focus on student performance data and other measures to identify student needs and then select evidence-based interventions to help students reach specific, measurable goals.

Professional development workshops, managed by the I-SS i3 team, immediately follow the Data Days and are geared to help teachers meet their students’ needs.

One principal involved in the COMPASS program said, “One thing I really appreciated is that the support we’ve gotten this year has really been differentiated based upon the needs of our school … [the COMPASS team’s] support has been very unique and tailored to our schools and what our teachers need.”

Since these initial changes and training sessions, graduation rates have increased for several of the targeted groups. In 2010, for example, high-needs students were graduating at a rate of 65 percent. In 2012, that number had risen to 90.

I-SS will continue to build on this foundation with additional support from a $19.9 million dollar U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top-District grant for a new project called IMPACT — Innovative Methods for Personalizing Academics, Complemented by Technology. Their learner-centered model seeks to reinforce the strides that have already been made through COMPASS.

Cross-posted from the June 10, 2014, article by ED’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.