In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.
Stella May Swartz Elementary School, a grade 2–4 school located in suburban Chicago, has a diverse student body of 160 students, 45 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. In 2012, 100 percent of the school’s third-grade students met or exceeded State standards in mathematics, and 91 percent met or exceeded State standards in reading on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. The school uses Title I funds for reading specialists, reading materials and professional development.
In 2011, nearby Salt Creek Primary, which serves pre-kindergarten through first grade students, and Swartz adopted a new reading and language arts program that provided teachers with a wealth of materials, allowing them to differentiate instruction according to students’ needs. The materials were more advanced but students were able to rise to the challenge. Teachers closely monitored students’ progress and used data to tailor interventions to their specific needs. The staff took a similar approach in mathematics.
Q. How do you promote teacher and leader effectiveness?
Angeline Ross, principal: Our teachers never say no and keep things positive—we are trying to teach that behavior to our students. Our teachers are always trying something new—we introduce at least one new strategy each year. One year it was guided reading; another year it was using smart boards. Our teachers are always brainstorming and problem solving because they care about more than just the kids in their grade levels. They care about all kids. I try to schedule common planning time for the teachers and they team teach. We also do a lot of professional development. I will go to a professional development workshop and bring information back to the school or bring in an outsider to the school.
Deborah Butman, fourth-grade teacher: It starts with the principal. She gets her hands dirty and is very collaborative, suggesting different ways to teach a specific piece. If the principal is willing to take risks and be open with teachers, teachers will be more open with each other and with the kids.