An Interview With GEAR UP Principal Esperanza Arce

esperanza

Esperanza Arce is the Principal of the Vista Verde Middle School Cougars in Moreno Valley, CA.

Vista Verde has been a California GEAR UP school for 3 years.

####

Please tell us about how Vista Verde became STW-TCS redesigned model middle school and as an AVID demonstration school and what it means to you.

Vista Verde became STW-TCS  (California Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage) redesigned model middle school and an AVID demonstration school because of all the hard work and countless hours our teachers, staff, students, and community have dedicated.  Our teachers have common prep periods daily, so they have many opportunities to collaborate as a department and constantly share best practices and strategies.  Additionally, our district office is very supportive giving us numerous opportunities through minimum-day Wednesdays and  district-wide  CORE days to provide professional development to our teachers in best practices/strategies, RTI, PBIS, AIM Lesson Planning, and more.  Every student has Advisory in their schedule; a period of time allocated for school-wide announcements, extra time to complete classwork/homework, once a week anti-bullying lessons, fun activities such as March Madness, and much more. Furthermore, AVID is a priority to us; we offer 9 sections of AVID (3 in each grade-level).  77% of our teachers have received AVID training and soon we will be at 100%.  We also offer rigorous electives such as Spanish and STEM to all of our high-achieving and GATE students.  We provide significant support throughout the day to our various student cohorts.  Our Special Education students receive a Learning Strategies section where they are provided with the opportunity to learn or master study skills and complete assignments from their core classes.  Their Case Carriers have access to their caseload daily via the Learning Strategies and/or their Advisory.  Additionally, they receive support throughout the day.  Our ELD students receive 2 sections of ELD with experienced and expert ELD teachers who also incorporate GATE and AVID strategies.  With over 370 Chromebooks provided by our District Office, our students have access to technology regularly and our teachers incorporate the use of technology in their lessons on a daily basis.  One clear example is the use of these chromebooks during AVID tutorials in content-area subjects.  The aforementioned are only some of the reasons VVMS became a STW-TCS redesigned model middle school and an AVID Demonstration school.

 As a principal, receiving these recognitions can be the highlight of any leader’s professional career, so it means a lot to me.  Many times I try to find ways to validate the hard work of our faculty and staff, but our team is so humble that no matter how great I reiterate to them they are, they simply smile and continue doing a great job.  Therefore, getting these two recognitions, and most recently the CBEE Honor Roll mention, allows my team of faculty and staff to see how valuable they are.  It reinforces their hard work and shows them that others confirm their value.  Vista Verde Middle School is a unique place; there is a true sense of family, collegiality, support for each other, and uniformed vision and mission.  To be the principal of this amazing place is truly an honor.  Words cannot express what Vista Verde means to me; a school that provides a quality education to all students deserves to be recognized; I may be the face, but our staff and students are the heart.

Tell us a little about the community and school.

Our community and school are very diverse.  Vista Verde is in the middle of a large urban community in the center of Moreno Valley.  We are a Title 1 school consisting of students from many different backgrounds and a large range of SES.  The student participation in our various academic programs mirrors our school’s demographics.  We have strong parent support and an involved community.  Over 80% of our student population consists of Latino and African American students.  27% of our student population is in AVID.    Vista Verde Middle School feels like home to our students; they fit in and know we care about them.

Why be a principal?

Any individual involved in education can make a difference.  I am a principal because I wholeheartedly believe in making a difference EVERY DAY.  I help impact the structure of my school to positively affect the quality education we offer our students.  I am a principal because I enjoy working with teachers and staff who are in education, not because it is a job, but because it is a way of living.  We are a team who work together to provide opportunities for those who want to achieve and to change the minds of those who think “they can’t” achieve.  | am a principal because I once thought I couldn’t achieve, but was given the opportunity to do so.

What are some challenges your school community faces?

There are many challenges our school community faces, but some of the more prevalent are the social influences constantly facing our “at-risk” youth.  Vista Verde MS is in the middle of a large city with many pockets of unpleasant influences.  Our students, like many other students, are constantly tempted with these negative social influences.  As a school we are continuously implementing proactive interventions to guide our students through positive pathways, and hence, have the greater impact in their lives.  We do not want to lose our students to drugs, gangs, violence, etc., which are elements of any community, so we work closely with our Student Services department, community resources, and our teachers and parents to provide an environment in our school that we hope to have a long-lasting positive affect in the decisions of our students.  We have done this by creating strong academic programs like AVID, Jr. Scholars, AVID Keepers, SPED-LS, STEM, ELD, and rigorous electives.

Why is getting students to think about college in middle school important?

It is very important to get students to think about college in middle school because for many students thinking about college in high school may be too late.  I worked with high school students for over 10 years and it was very unfortunate to witness many of these students come into high school with little or no knowledge about the college entrance requirements (SAT, A-G, ACT, etc.).  Many high school counselors are servicing over 500 students in their case load; therefore, meeting the needs of their students may be very difficult. Many counselors tend to focus their attention on 12th graders because of priority and time sensitivity, so many 9th to 11th graders tend to get neglected.  Consequently, these students are minimally informed about college/university entrance requirements or options.  Therefore, we have to empower our middle school students to become their own advocates. 

It is never too early to teach our students about a decision that can affect the rest of their life.  The college verbiage should be a constant part of any school.  Every teacher should be talking about college.  I don’t believe that every student will go to college, but I do believe that every student should be given the opportunity to choose to go to college.  If we deprive our students of this essential information, I believe we are robbing them of their choice.  We can never “over inform” students of the college options they have and there is nothing that prevents us from starting in middle school.  As a former high school teacher and administrator, I would be grateful to the middle schools that make this a priority; it will not only increase college-going rates but provide more students with the knowledge of what it takes to make it (of course this is only part of the battle; we must also work on preparing students to be successful once they get to college).

How has the school changed with GEAR UP?

GEAR Up has been instrumental in Vista Verde’s most recent accomplishments.  It has given our teachers the opportunity to get AVID and College Board trained and use the strategies throughout their instruction impacting both AVID and non-AVID students.  GEAR Up has also increased our vertical and horizontal articulation within our school and between our high schools and our feeder elementary schools.  The GEAR Up site leadership team meets regularly and attends critical conferences where the information comes back to the site and is presented to the rest of our staff.  Our GEAR Up coordinator and regional coach/mentor work closely together and are constantly communicating about the latest college activities, updates, information, etc.

Why is an educated workforce important for strong communities?

An educated workforce is important for a strong community because it will contribute to a positive cycle.  The more productive citizens we help develop, the better the workforce, the stronger and more productive the community.  We see this in the research and in the practice.  Our goal as a school is to positively contribute to the community, so that the community can positively contribute to the schools.  It makes sense.  Not all students will stay and live in the communities that help raise them, but many will.

What are some of the challenges in preparing all students for career/college?

Some of the challenges in preparing all students for career/college include the lack of funds to pay for more school personnel.  Increasing the number of school counselors could greatly benefit students.  More funds could increase resources in the school and around the community.  Training and paying our teachers to become college coaches for our at-risk students could greatly benefit preparing students for career/college.  Although we have an amazing AVID program, many of our students could be classified as “transitional-AVID” students.  These students would be placed into an “AVID-type” program where students slowly gain the knowledge and skills to be accepted into the AVID program.  However, more AVID sections would mean the need for more funding.

 Anything else you would like to tell about yourself, your school, or your students?

Vista Verde is a wonderful school and I am so proud to be able to say “…it is ‘my’ school…”  :)   There are many special things happening and there are many more special things in the process of blossoming.  Our school is a GEAR Up School, an AVID Demonstration School, a CBEE Honor Roll School, and a Schools-to-Watch-TCS because our teachers, staff, students, and community work together, have ownership of the school, and truly care.

Vista Verde, besides  being a “School to Watch” for two years and and an AVID Demonstration School, has the good fortune to have a principal, Esperanza Arce, who not only has her vision of educational excellence but also has the wisdom to foster and support the creative efforts of her staff members in attaining this vision.  Except for commute time challenges, I would not hesitate a moment to enroll my seventh grade grandson at Vista Verde.     —Jon Sides, California GEAR UP Whole School Services Coach

For more information on AVID, STW-TCS, GEAR UP, or Vista Verde, check these links out.

http://valverdevvms.ss4.sharpschool.com

http://www.avid.org/abo_demoschools.html

http://www.castategearup.org

http://www.clms.net/stw/

####

 

 

 

 

 

New Generation Assessments Set to Launch

assessments

California Schools Set to Launch Trial Run of New Generation of Assessments 

            LOS ANGELES—The Smarter Balanced Field Test will launch Tuesday, marking an important milestone in California’s transition to a new assessment system as it assesses technological capacity and the quality of test questions, and helps students and teachers prepare for next year’s first operational test, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said today.

“Over the next three months, students, teachers, and administrators will gain valuable hands-on experience in a new era of student assessments,” Torlakson said. “With more than three million students participating, this is the largest field test of its kind in the nation. It is a challenging transformation, but our schools are rising to that challenge with a great sense of excitement and determination.”

Field testing begins Tuesday and runs through June 6. By the end, more than three million students in school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools will have had a chance to try the new system.

This “test of the test” will serve multiple purposes—foremost gauging the accuracy and fairness of the test questions ahead of the new assessments becoming operational next year. Across the nation, more than 20,000 assessment questions and performance tasks will be evaluated to determine which work well and which need to be improved. Test questions are aligned with the Common Core State Standards adopted by California in 2010 to encourage critical thinking, complex problem solving, and deeper knowledge of subjects.

“I am particularly interested in hearing teachers’ views on the questions and their appropriateness for the students they work with every day,” Torlakson said.

The field test also serves as a barometer of technology capability, allowing the state and local educational agencies to assess computer availability and server capacity to prepare for the new testing in spring 2015. Furthermore, teachers will be able to observe the computer savviness of their students.

“This field test gives us the opportunity to prepare our students for success,” Torlakson said. “The STAR program served us well for years, but the world has changed, and our schools also have to change the way they teach and test their students.”

The field test, which will cover English-language arts and mathematics, will take place between March 25 and June 6, with districts testing within assigned six-week windows during this timeframe. All students in grades three through eight will participate, as well as a sample of students in grades nine and ten and most eleventh graders.

The test will be about 3½ hours long, and no paper and pencil version will be offered during the field test. There will be no student, school, or district scores produced from this administration of the assessment.

Additional information may be found on the California Department of Education Spring 2014 Smarter Balanced Field Test Web page.

####

No API Until 2016 for California

School-Rank

 

(Repost via) Faced with a complete sea change of its K-12 education system and having been relieved of its duty to meet some federal accountability requirements, the State Board of Education on Thursday temporarily suspended its school performance measurement tool known as the API.

As a result of this decision, no Academic Performance Index scores – used to indicate how a school’s students are performing on standardized tests – will be calculated for the next two years.

The move was deemed necessary by both state education officials and law makers to pave the way for California’s transition to Common Core academic standards and a new assessment system set to be field tested this spring by students in grades 3-8 and 11.

“This is an opportunity for schools and districts to really focus on what they need to be focusing on and they don’t need to worry about this,” Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education, told board of education members.

Some 45 states adopted new Common Core standards in English and math more than two years ago and are in varying stages of rolling out new curriculum in schools based on those standards. In addition, many of those states joined one of two groups to design and produce new assessments aligned with the standards; California is a member and lead partner of the Smarter Balanced consortium, which has created a computer adaptive testing model to replace the state’s former Standardized Assessment and Reporting System, or STAR.

While hundreds of thousands of school children will participate in field testing of the new assessments, known as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress or CAASPP, the data gathered this spring will not be used to score pupil performance. Instead, it will be used by the Smarter Balanced group to further refine the assessments and to set benchmarks for student achievement in preparation for the 2015 official spring testing launch.

Results of the 2015 CAASPP will then be used to calculate a new base API, and 2016 results will provide the information needed to determine student achievement, or growth API.

In the meantime, state officials will continue their work on reformatting the high school API to include not only CAASSPP and California High School Exit Exam results but other indicators of success as well including graduation rates.

California’s decision to eliminate STAR – based on the standards being replaced by Common Core – and perform a trial run of the new system this spring had drawn the ire of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who threatened to withhold federal funds if the state failed to comply with the law and produce annual accountability scores based on the API.

But late last week, Duncan’s department signed off on the state’s request to waive portions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, eliminating what would have amounted to a requirement to “double test” students as well as the threat of running afoul of the law.

(This is a repost from the Cabinet Report)

####

Access, Equity, and Common Core: GEAR UP Forums

jorge aguilar

California GEAR UP concluded their 2014 state-wide Leadership Forums with the theme “Social Justice and Equity: Common Core State Standards”.  Jorge Aguilar (pictured above) Associate Vice Chancellor for Educational and Community Partnerships at the University of California, Merced was the keynote speaker. His lecture was focused on ‘Advancing the Golden Rule Through Common Core State Standards’, which looked at the opportunity and obligation provided  by the common core state standards centered around  the notion that we will be able to measure  ”college and career” readiness  through grade level assessments. His key question was: “How do we measure  whether ALL  students benefit from this policy shift?” You can view his entire presentation on our website here.

The forum was broken in to workshops for school leadership teams to attend. Forum workshop leaders brought relevant expertise and/or practical experience in specific areas of the Common Core State Standards, as well as an understanding of the work of California GEAR UP, grounded in the belief of social justice and equity in education. Workshops explored the connections between social justice and equity and the effective implementation of the CCSS in Mathematics, English Language Arts, or the development of critical thinking through the Arts. How do we teach ALL students to think critically– including low and under-performing students who may not have been exposed to high academic demands in the past? How will their learning needs be supported?

Workshop sessions were design to be participatory and interactive–not merely PowerPoint presentations. Participants engaged in activities and conversation. The workshop leaders facilitated dialogue among participants using a variety of strategies to promote thinking and “talk” to understand. GEAR UP Coaches as co-facilitators assisted the workshop leaders and sessions included time to answer questions from the audience and respond to guiding questions posed to the participants by the group leaders.

Schools teams will now return to their sites with a better understanding of creating a transformative community-wide college going culture while being better equipped to leverage GEAR UP resources. Being a California GEAR UP school is a 6 year process, of which schools are embarking upon their third year. California GEAR UP School Services Coaches will meeting with schools across the state to facilitate use of GEAR UP tools, work on implementing Professional Development Action Plans, and scheduling Partnership and Statewide Services.

The purpose of California GEAR UP is to develop and sustain the organizational capacity of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a statewide network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. As a result of this expanded capacity, a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, will enroll and succeed in higher education.

For more information on California GEAR UP, please visit our website.

 ####

SAT Redesigns Admissions Test, Drops Essay

SAT_achievemore

Creators of the SAT exam announced plans Wednesday to toughen the test in the face of stagnant national scores, planning to challenge students to provide more analysis, cite evidence and even turn in their calculators before answering some math questions. The new version will be first administered in 2016.

“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming but the challenging learning students do every day,” said David Coleman, president of the non-profit College Board, which produces the SAT, originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Skeptics questioned whether a new format will be any more successful than previous efforts to use the standardized test in a campaign for college access, in part because the test’s scores historically have correlated with family income. They also point out that the 88-year-old SAT in recent years has slipped behind the rival ACT — a shorter exam with an optional essay — in total student customers.

Through the revisions, the College Board aims to strip many of the tricks out of a test now taken by more than 1.5 million students in each year’s graduating high school class. The College Board also pledged to offer new test-preparation tutorials for free online, enabling students to bypass pricey SAT-prep classes previously available mostly to affluent families looking to give their children an edge.

But in the redesign will be “SAT words” that have long prompted anxious students to cram with flashcards, as the test will now focus on vocabulary words that are widely used in college and career. The College Board hasn’t yet cited examples of words deemed too obscure, but “punctilious,” “phlegmatic” and “occlusion” are three tough ones in an official study guide.

Out, too, will be a much-reviled rule that deducts a quarter-point for each wrong answer to multiple-choice questions, deterring random guesses. Also gone: The 2400-point scale begun nine years ago with the debut of the required essay. The essay will become optional.

Back will be one of the iconic numbers of 20th-century America: The perfect SAT score, crystalline without a comma, returns to 1600.

Coleman, head of the College Board since fall 2012, previously was a key figure in the development of the new Common Core State Standards. Those standards, which set national expectations for what students should learn in math and English from kindergarten through 12th grade, have been fully adopted in 45 states and the District. Coleman’s vision for the SAT, with emphasis on analysis of texts from a range of disciplines as well as key math and language concepts, appears to echo the philosophy underlying the Common Core and could help the test track more closely with what students are learning in the nation’s classrooms.

Whether the College Board can break the link between test scores and economic class is the subject of much debate. Critics complained that too little time was given for essay revisions and that assignments did not reflect the level of analysis expected in college. Some college admissions officers also were lukewarm.

“As a predictor of student success, a 25-minute essay isn’t going to tell us a great deal,” said Stephen J. Handel, associate vice president of undergraduate admissions for the University of California.

And in recent years, more and more students were gravitating toward the rival ACT exam. The SAT has long been dominant on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in the Washington region. The ACT, launched in 1959 and overseen by an organization based in Iowa, attracts more students in the middle of the country and the South.

The two tests overlap in mission but diverge in style and content, with the ACT traditionally measuring achievement (including a science section) and the SAT measuring thinking skills. But the ACT has made inroads on the SAT’s turf, and many students now take both. In 2012, the ACT surpassed the SAT in the number of reported test-takers.

ACT President Jon L. Erickson said he was “a little underwhelmed” by the College Board’s announcement. “I appreciate and I’m glad they’re fixing their acknowledged flaws in their test,” he said.

Both exams also are facing challenges from the growing test-optional movement. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing lists about 800 colleges and universities that admit a substantial number of undergraduates without requiring them to submit SAT or ACT scores.

####

Torlakson Announces New Online Tools for Educators

4-27-2011-4-29-33-PM

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces New Online Tools for Educators

SACRAMENTO—Educators across California, from those who work with the state’s youngest learners to those in high school classrooms, can use several free online professional development tools created by the California Department of Education (CDE), State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said today.

The CDE is continuing to develop these resources as the state asks its educators to re-emphasize college and career readiness for their students. A series of Professional Learning Modules (PLMs), for example, is designed to help teachers implement the Common Core State Standards. Each of the 13 modules focuses on a single subject, such as Getting Started with the California English Language Development Standards, which provides guidance to teachers so they can provide a world-class education for English learners. The PLMs were developed in collaboration with county offices of education, the state subject-matter projects, and WestEd and are available on the Brokers of Expertise Web site at no cost.

“We are working to support our teachers with professional learning as they work to support their students with lessons and activities that prepare them for the real world,” Torlakson said. “From the earliest years through graduation, California’s children and teachers deserve to have the tools they need to succeed.”

The modules were intended to be used by educators independently, in collaborative groups, or as a face-to-face presentation. For instance, the online professional learning resource for English Language Development (ELD) Standards offers self-guided or face-to-face training for educators in how to use the ELD standards in tandem with the Common Core State Standards. Other modules include CCSS Mathematics: K-8 Learning ProgressionsCCSS: Literacy in Science, and also an Overview of the Common Core State Standards for California Educators.

Torlakson also unveiled a new Web-based professional development resource called the Early Childhood Educator Competencies Self-Assessment Toolkit (ECE CompSAT) to help hone the skills of early childhood teachers, aides, and directors of programs serving very young children.

“By investing in our children earlier in life, we reap the benefits of a better educated, more productive workforce, and a healthier state in the future,” Torlakson said. “We do that by also investing in early childhood educators to ensure they have the skills and the support they need to prepare our children for school.”

Early childhood educators can use the free ECE CompSAT to consider their everyday practices, examine what they can do, and what skills they should develop. The ECE CompSAT is an interactive Web site with 100 pages of information and nine hours of streaming video that viewers can use to assess their skills in multiple areas. The ECE CompSAT is based on a 2011 CDE publication found on the California Early Childhood Educator Competencies Web page.

The ECE CompSAT was a project of the Governor’s State Advisory Council for Early Learning and Care. This project was completed with the help of California State University-Fresno, WestEd, and the CDE’s Early Education and Support Division and Technology Services Division. It was also a component of CDE’s award of a federal Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge grant to develop and support systems to rate and improve early learning programs so parents can make the best choices for their children.

# # # #

TOOLS Program at-a-glancs Announced

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 9.41.45 AMScreen Shot 2014-02-28 at 9.42.37 AM

A Guide to the Local Control Funding Formula

edsource

(repost from EdSource)

The Local Control Funding Formula replaces California’s nearly half-century-old, state-controlled school finance system with one that promises more local control as well as greater transparency and fairness.

Under the old system, school districts received approximately two-thirds of their revenues as general-purpose funding based on complex historical formulas (known as “revenue limit” funds), and about one-third through nearly four dozen highly regulated “categorical programs,” such as for summer school, textbooks, staff development, gifted and talented students, and counselors for middle and high schools.

Under the new system, districts will receive a uniform base grant for every district, adjusted by grade level, plus additional funds for students with greater educational needs, defined as low-income, English learner and foster youth students. Districts will get an additional 20 percent of the base grant based on the numbers of these students enrolled in a district, and even more when they make up more than 55 percent of a district’s enrollment.

Welcome to EdSource’s guide to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), along with news and information about California’s new K-12 finance system.

The EdSource section includes:

Districts will have broad discretion over how to use the base grants. The funding law says that districts must expand or improve services for high-needs students in proportion to the additional funding that these students bring to the district. Temporary regulations that the State Board of Education passed in January 2014 tell districts how much money they must spend each year on high-needs students and when that money can be used to fund schoolwide and districtwide programs.

The transition to the new formula began in the 2013-14 school year. Full implementation of the new funding formula is projected to take eight years. The vast majority of school districts will receive more funding under the new formula after it is fully implemented. Most districts that would get less than under the old system will receive additional payments restoring their funding to 2007-08 levels, before the Great Recession led to substantial budget cuts. In 2013-14, no district will get less than it received from the state on a per pupil basis in the 2012-13 school year.

School districts will have more authority than before to decide how to spend their money. But they will also face new obligations to show that their spending improved student performance. Districts must adopt a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), after soliciting suggestions from teachers, parents and the community, and update it annually.

The plan must spell out the district’s goals for improving student outcomes according to eight priorities set by the state, and align spending to meet the goals. Districts that fail to meet their goals and improve student outcomes will receive assistance from county offices of education and through a new agency, the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence. Districts that are persistently failing could be subject to state intervention or even a state takeover.

More information on the EdSource website on LCFF here.

####

Governor Brown 2014 Budget Verdict on Education

Jerry Brown

(Excerpt from the Campaign for College Opportunity)

Governor Brown has once again introduced a budget that includes significant increases for California’s public colleges and universities, proposing $1.1 billion over last year’s budget.  The Governor, however, is quite clear that new monies will come with expectations. Expectations that colleges and universities remain affordable, improve transfer, and reduce the time it takes to earn a degree or certificate.

“When Californians passed Proposition 30 in 2012, it was a statement of support for our public colleges and universities. It’s now up to us to be smart about those resources to ensure California gets the best return on its investment. Governor Brown’s budget which earmarks resources for student success does that,” said Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

The big news for Community Colleges is $200 million to improve and expand student success programs and close opportunity gaps for underrepresented students. $100 million will go toward increasing orientation, assessment, placement, counseling and other education planning services. The other $100 million is to close gaps in access and achievement for underrepresented student groups. The Campaign’s recent reports on the State of Latinos and Blacks in California Higher Education document the huge need to improve success and close the huge attainment gaps that persist across our UC, CSU and community college campuses.

Arun Ramanathan, on behalf of The Education Trust—West, issued the following statement in response to Governor Brown’s January budget proposal:

“The Governor’s budget represents a renewed commitment to California’s future, its students and education system, while also learning from the difficult lessons of the last five years of budget crisis. We applaud the Governor for his investment of $10 billion in new spending for K-12 schools. We are also encouraged by his commitment to addressing the boom and bust budget cycles that have plagued California’s education system. The new influx in education funds will accelerate the implementation of Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), closing the gap toward full implementation by more than 28%. It will also raise the stakes for the implementation of the new model at the local level and the rules that will be passed by the State Board of Education on January 16th  that will guide local district and community planning and spending decisions. As the Legislature considers the Governor’s proposal, it should also assess how to ensure that this funding is used effectively at the local level to close the opportunity and achievement gaps that impact low income students, students of color and English Learners. It should also consider whether the additional funding is sufficient to not only fully jump start LCFF implementation, but also the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).”

To read the governors budget in it’s entirety, go HERE.

Targeting Improvement: Instructional Rounds

 

IMG_2378

 

Superintendent/Principal of Pleasant View Elementary School Dist Presents Instructional Rounds at California GEAR UP Leadership Institute

(Repost from AASA School Administrator Journal.)

Similar to physician training, this new model emphasizes collegial classroom observations, diagnosis and a plan of action

BY COLLEEN GILLARD

When Mark Odsather moved into the superintendency of the Pleasant View Elementary School District in California’s San Joaquin Valley four years ago with a mission to turn around one of the state’s most impoverished and low-achieving districts, his first visit was to the lower school’s kindergarten.

Watching the young pupils answer yes/no questions to the story the teacher had just read, he noted the group of mostly English language learners didn’t have much to say. And it wasn’t just the kindergarten class — none of the children in the school seemed to be talking in class.

FeatureGillard
Kathy Greider (right), superintendent in Farmington, Conn., records notes during an instructional rounds visit to classrooms in her district.

Across the country in Connecticut, students in affluent Farmington’s high-achieving school district were struggling with a different problem — answering open-ended questions. “They couldn’t really explain the concepts or their thinking,” said Superintendent Kathy Greider.

And in Melbourne, Australia, when Katherine Henderson, director of schools in the Western Metropolitan Region, visited some of the region’s 150 schools to ask about their rock-bottom performance, she was told by teachers that she “didn’t understand,” that with such dire backgrounds of poverty, neglect and/or language troubles, “these kids just can’t learn.”

A Defensive Culture
Now, a few years later, the picture looks much improved in all three school districts. Despite different pedagogical problems in widely disparate settings, all three have been helped by an innovative and fast-growing program that improves teaching and learning by focusing on transforming the leadership culture among school and district educators.

Called instructional rounds, the approach is modeled after the training doctors receive in medical rounds. In hospitals, groups of doctors and residents visit patients to observe and collect and review data to diagnose and then recommend a plan of action. As a collegial model for communal growth and continuous self-improvement, the process serves doctors well — something the developer of instructional rounds, Richard Elmore of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, found inspiring and distinctively helpful for a profession famous for the isolation of its teachers.

Like the medical version, instructional rounds has groups of educators (central-office to building-level staff) visiting classrooms in each other’s schools to observe and take notes around a particular problem of practice. The group (or network, in rounds parlance) then analyzes the collected evidence to find meaningful patterns before suggesting remedial action.

Despite offering prescriptive help to the schools in question, the work’s overall ambition is to bring school improvement to scale districtwide. Key to this involves changing the often-defensive culture and professional practice of the network members themselves.

Rounds is designed to correct something Elmore describes as “a profession without a practice.” For historical reasons having to do with the way it evolved from one-room classrooms, teaching lacks the rigor of many disciplines.

“Rounds professionalizes the process of defining problems and problem solving,” says Stefanie Reinhorn, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who works as a facilitator with school teams that come to Harvard to learn about instructional rounds. The highly technical steps in instructional rounds help “force professionals to act like professionals,” she adds, “through forcing conversation to focus laser-like on student learning.”

Observation and self-scrutiny can be hard and scary. “It takes courage,” says Reinhorn, a former instructional coach in the Boston Public Schools, “to bare your problems to your colleagues,” even if rounds protocols require observers to be objective and nonjudgmental. “Rounds really has nothing to do with teacher evaluation — something that is basically disconnected from actually learning about what is going wrong in the classroom.”

Instead, classroom observers concentrate on a predefined problem of practice (lack of rigor in the classroom, for example) in the core learning experience. This is what Elmore calls the “instructional core,” the actions of teacher and student in the presence of content.

FeatureGillard2
Math specialist Christina Garrity reports on the patterns she and her colleagues uncovered during an instructional rounds visit in the Farmington, Conn., district.

 

Research shows that “educational leadership best succeeds as shared leadership that exploits the collective wisdom of the staff,” says Dennis Buzzelli, former superintendent in Tallmadge, Ohio, who works as a school improvement consultant and rounds facilitator in Akron. Instructional rounds, he adds, asks educators to talk about and establish a common understanding of what good teaching and learning look like.

A Rural Network
Rural districts don’t get a lot of outside attention in terms of school improvement efforts, says Odsather, who doubles as superintendent and principal of the 560-student, K-8 Pleasant View district in the farmlands of the California Central Valley. About 93 percent of the Pleasant View students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and 80 percent are Hispanic with an equal number of English language learners. Turnover is so high that 80 percent of those who begin in kindergarten leave before 8th grade. Some neighborhoods are plagued by gang violence.

What really upset Odsather upon arrival in Pleasant View, though, was the quality of education students were receiving. “Rural schools are easily forgotten,” says the veteran educator, who came from an upscale Seattle suburb, Bellevue, Wash., and grew up alongside the children of Microsoft millionaires.

“The kids here are no different from the ones I was raised with — only they’re treated differently,” Odsather says. “Not much is expected of children of migrant farm workers.”

In casting about for improvement tools, he read the initial Harvard Education Press book on instructional rounds published in 2009. “When I started, my mind was just melting,” he says. “I was confused by how the concepts led to school improvement, but intrigued by the idea of identifying and calibrating what high-quality education might look like. I liked the idea of rigorous and collegial self-reflection. To reach for professionalism based on honesty and transparency really appealed to me.”

Odsather contacted peers across the region, mainly superintendents from districts with similar demographics, to form a six-district (five K-8, one K-12) network spread 200 miles across the San Joaquin Valley.

“The first thing we learned in trying to develop problems of practice was that we were too passive,” he explains. “We weren’t truly focusing on the things we valued, like raising expectations. Recognizing this was a huge help.” The superintendents began meeting three times a year before moving to monthly gatherings. Classroom observation visits in Odsather’s district focused on why the young students weren’t talking. What the leaders learned was the classrooms lacked opportunities for conversation.

The Next Level
What to do about it — or developing the next level of work, in rounds terminology — was more challenging. Pleasant View ran training for the leadership team on addressing the deficiencies in instruction. But deeply embedded institutional practices are difficult to change. “I’ll be honest,” Odsather concedes, “I had staff leave rather than change how they ran their classrooms.”

Adds Reinhorn, the facilitator at Harvard: “Fixing is often more an issue than investigating the problem. This is when lateral accountability within networks becomes important.” In this regard, Odsather’s fellow superintendents offered critical help with advice and feedback.

Odsather worked with his small staff to create norms and strategic structures around project-based lesson planning. The aim was to stimulate student conversations, leading to higher levels of critical thinking.

“One of our first staff conversations was to talk frankly about our hopes and fears,” he says. “It turned out many worried about losing control of the classroom if the kids work in groups. But it turned out the kids were much happier with hands-on, group projects. Classroom management was less of a problem than before.”

In the revamped kindergartens, youngsters in groups of four took turns talking about story prompts. Meanwhile, 8th graders began discussing their work around rubrics that clarified standards of excellence.

Odsather met with his two schools’ leadership teams for two hours each week. More importantly, teachers’ schedules were upended to give them 45 minutes before class daily for joint lesson planning. In emphasizing structures to help realize change, faculty set norms to improve meeting efficiency with expectations for punctuality, productivity, transparency through peer observation and positive feedback. They then created their own teacher evaluation systems around ongoing improvement.

Now, three years into the process, Odsather claims the information collected during rounds and the networked adult learning has guided him in how to improve teacher skills and knowledge, while reorganizing the school day to empower teacher collaboration to better support teaching and learning in the classroom.

“Rounds has invigorated my staff to become owners of their craft — to find the tools to be successful in creating classrooms that encourage kids to solve problems, think critically and creatively, as well as communicate their ideas clearly and articulately,” says Odsather. “Our expectations have soared. We had a high gang population and graffiti problems when I arrived. Now, we no longer have the fights and discipline problems we once had. Teachers say we have given the kids their innocence back.”

Farmington Network
In its ninth year of instructional rounds, Farmington’s school district of 4,000 students and seven schools is a mature example of a district well into the application of instructional rounds.

Farmington began this work in response to discovering that while their high school students may have been acing college-entrance exams, they remained unable to explain their thinking. Assistant Superintendent Kim Wynne says these students, whom she calls “high-achieving, passive learners,” had great knowledge recall but failed at critical thinking.

When the district discovered Elmore’s newly developed theory of school improvement, Farmington moved forward with just one network, the District Leadership Council, composed of central-office staff, the school business manager and the district’s seven principals and assistant principals. Jointly, they visited classrooms in a different school every six to eight weeks.

But they quickly found changes to raise critical thinking skills would not be possible without reaching deeper into the classroom. So, the Farmington leadership expanded its networks to include teachers, with each school running its own network.

Enthusiastic teachers formed their own networks organized around core subjects, enlisting subject-area instructors at all schools (including the high school department chair) to meet in this subject-based, multigrade, vertical network twice a year. To create more independent learners in English language arts, the instructional rounds network examined whether providing writing scaffolds, graphic organizers and sentence starters made students overly dependent on teacher guidance, Superintendent Kathy Greider says.

At the high school, student representatives who were added to the network suggested the curriculum would be more interesting if it were made more relevant to their lives. “Today, we are seeing ownership of school improvement from students to (the) central office,” says Wynne, the assistant superintendent.

While raising achievement results is the ultimate goal, Farmington’s leaders say they evaluated their success in terms of improved student engagement. “This, we assess through noting [whether the students or the teachers are] asking questions in the classroom, as well as in the answers students have about what they are learning and why,” Greider says. “To our gratification, they increasingly have answers.”

 FeatureGillard3
During a debriefing session of instructional rounds in California’s Pleasant View Elementary School District, Superintendent Mark Odsather (center) explains how to use pieces of evidence to identify instructional patterns.

At the high school, student representatives who were added to the network suggested the curriculum would be more interesting if it were made more relevant to their lives. “Today, we are seeing ownership of school improvement from students to (the) central office,” says Wynne, the assistant superintendent.

While raising achievement results is the ultimate goal, Farmington’s leaders say they evaluated their success in terms of improved student engagement. “This, we assess through noting [whether the students or the teachers are] asking questions in the classroom, as well as in the answers students have about what they are learning and why,” Greider says. “To our gratification, they increasingly have answers.”

Victoria’s Surge
In the 77,000-student region she leads in Victoria on Australia’s southeastern coast, Katherine Henderson was tired of hearing accounts of teachers doubting the ability of students to learn. She set out to ensure every child would succeed.

It took five years, but by 2012, her region of considerable poverty and a large immigrant population moved from ranking last among the state’s nine regions on every measure of statewide testing to third. The upward change was so dramatic, the state Department of Education built a case study around the work.

“No school can improve without good leadership,” she says. “Sure, I could have dismissed all 150 principals and started over, but I had the tools with rounds to improve schools through improving the current leadership.”

After launching the work with Harvard’s Elmore on-site, she recruited as rounds facilitator Thomas Fowler-Finn, former superintendent in Cambridge, Mass., to provide ongoing guidance. They divided the region into seven networks of 16-22 schools each and began network training by dissecting current educational research to raise understanding of what good educational practice looks like.

“Early on, there was tremendous anxiety among staff over a sense of exposure, especially when principals were presented with irrefutable evidence about teaching and learning problems in their classrooms,” Henderson says. “We had colleagues who had socialized together but never discussed their mutual practice,” who suddenly were asked to move beyond camaraderie to brutally appraise each other’s and their own teaching practices.

The teachers learned they couldn’t assume any one of them had a professional knowledge base, Henderson adds. “But over time, as they began to trust the dedication of their colleagues to mutual improvement, they were better able to face the challenges.”

Henderson described it as fascinating work. “We had classrooms where teaching was excellent but which still weren’t succeeding because what really matters is what the children are saying and doing. We ended up with a coherent and shared focus across the region. It was very, very satisfying and exciting to bring people from very different professional levels and lift them up together.”

Summing Up
Odsather, the superintendent in his fourth year leading California’s Pleasant View schools, captures the instructional rounds experience this way: “I often think of Richard Elmore saying, ‘You hire people on their ability to learn, not on the basis of a resume.’ Now when I interview people, I ask about their greatest weaknesses as a teacher and what they’re doing about it. I’m really interested in their thoughts on how to improve their practice.”

Pleasant View Elementary is in year 3 of 6 as a California GEAR UP School. 

####