Getting Sent to the Principals Office
How to appropriately engage and challenge students with severe challenges and juvenile records. How to allocate resources of time, staff, and funds to meet students’ needs. How to align Race to the Top requirements with current best practices. And how to be an instructional leader.
I spent the morning at the New Castle School in New Castle, DE. New Castle is an alternative school for grades 7-12, serving approximately 50 students. They serve a student body that has been unsuccessful in traditional school settings and offer smaller class sizes and more focused instructional support. The school was well run and it was abundantly clear that the teachers were engaged in both the students’ academic and personal lives.
- While I was in attendance, a couple of students were finishing up their DCAS assessments. Afterwards, I talked to them about the experience. They said that the transition to a new assessment medium was difficult since they had become accustomed to the paper and pencil method. They highlighted the need to do more work on the computer to feel comfortable using it in an assessment format, which is especially pertinent for students with accommodations (i.e. having it read out loud to them, larger print, etc.). This exchange highlighted the need to not exclude non-mainstream kids from the education reform debate (in areas such as testing) since we owe it to them to measure their progress and hold ourselves accountable for results.
- I had the opportunity to observe a few classes while in session. In each class, there were anywhere from 3-7 students along with two instructional staff (typically a teacher and an aide). The students, all of whom possess academic, emotional, and/or criminal challenges, were engaged and had the appropriate support structure to meet their needs. These students clearly benefitted from access to greater resources, which highlighted the need to tie funding levels to the needs of the student along with the flexibility to tailor to the school’s local context.
I spent the day at Fred Fifer Middle School in Camden, DE. Fifer is a comprehensive middle school for grades 6-8, serving about 850 students. They have a challenging student body, with almost half the students being low-income, a high minority population, and a high special-education population. They are also oversubscribed by almost 100 students for their building, so class sizes are large. Despite these challenges, the school that ran like a well-oiled machine with an engaged staff, energetic and motivated students, and a strong focus on meeting the needs of all students.
- Through some creative scheduling, the school was able to ensure that all teachers had common planning time for both grade level teams and content areas at least once a week. This time, exactly the kind recommended in our states Race to the Top application, ensures that teachers are able to plan together, share insights and lessons, and target the needs of their students in every class.
- I had the opportunity to observe the instructional support specialist working with a social studies teacher on using the new DCAS data in his classroom. This was reading data, but he wanted to be sure that he was targeting the reading needs of his students during social studies. This is exactly the kind of this we want to see DCAS data used for!
- I also had the opportunity to observe the Principal, Dr. McCullough, as she worked with one of her teachers to set instructional goals for the year. They used the new DCAS data to set growth expectations for each student, and then planned how those goals would be met. Again, exactly the way we want DCAS to be used!