January 13, 2015

Learning Lessons: Great ideas, Great schools

Voice: January 2015 

This story is the beginning of a regular series, "Learning Lessons: Great ideas, Great schools," that will feature educators who either individually or collectively are doing great things or conducting great programs in Pennsylvania’s public schools.

Who knows best what students need? The educators who teach them every day. York City EA members have built a site-based management model that does just that, and it’s working for their kids.

For a community divided, a solution
“York is a very segmented community,” said Janice Laird, site-based management project manager and APWH history/psychology teacher at William Penn High School. “There are different issues in different parts of town. Site-based management allows each school the authority to address their own issues.”

The York City project includes a team of teachers, support professionals, and administrators from the school who work together to identify and serve student and community needs. 

“The most important benefit is that we, as a school, are able to make decisions for our children,” said Adrienne Suarez, a fifth-grade teacher at Arthur W. Ferguson School. “We know our community, our students, and families of our students and because of that, we are able to make decisions, implement programs, and offer opportunities that we know will benefit everyone.”

Through a NEA Great Public Schools Grant, York City received $249,000 to support the program. Led by Stinson Stroup, manager of PSEA Education Services, the district was able to hire coaches, including former educators and experts in the field of K-12 education, who work with educators in their buildings. 

The first task for many buildings? Data analysis. 

Students take responsibility
Through a series of red, yellow, and green paper stoplights displayed in the hallway, students at Ferguson are given a visual representation of their success on different standardized tests. 

“The students need to understand what level they are on,” said Denise Miller Blackwell, principal at Ferguson. “Even if they are a fifth-grader reading on a third-grade level, they understand, and we can say, ‘we have somewhere to take you. Let’s start making those plans.’”

The data helps the teachers determine effective intervention for the students. The groups are flexible, and students move between groups as they master skills.

Gaining buy-in
“The spirit of willingness existed in both the principal and with the staff,” said Francis Barnes, former state secretary of education and site-based management coach at Phineas Davis Elementary School. “The teachers felt empowered by being assembled and having a say. The notion of them having a say was new.”

It also creates a close camaraderie.

“Teachers used to work in isolation,” said Bob Wildason, a site-based management coach at Jackson School. “Those days are over. The key to any success is collaboration.”

Peer-based improvement is another area that has flourished in York City. Teachers involved in the group discussions feel comfortable disseminating information, including constructive criticism, to their peers. At McKinley School, Bill McNeely, site-based management coach, has witnessed the successful implementation of peer observation for classroom instruction improvement.

Because of the way the model is structured, McNeely sees leaders emerging from staff.

“They have started to take initiative on their own,” he said. “Because it is coming from them, it is relevant to what they are seeing in the classroom.”

When everyone involved remembers the reason for implementing the new model, it makes the work easier.

“With site-based management, teachers and administrators work together for the benefit of the students,” said Chelsea Gutacker, a second-grade teacher at Ferguson.

A persistent resiliency
The site-based management model has brought issues to a conscious level, and there seems to be an understanding among all involved: Focus on what you can do.

“It’s pretty remarkable in the sense that it’s juxtaposed against this movement to take everything, away,” said Chris Clayton, PSEA assistant director of education services who serves as the site-based management coach at Ferguson. “They are taking ownership and responsibility, in the face of such uncertainty.”

Teachers have shown a persistent resiliency, said Sandra Griffin, site-based management coach at Alexander D. Goode School.

“They have the ability to filter out distractions because there are many things that bog them down and drain away their hope,” she said. “The new found opportunity to make decisions has given them a new found hope and energized them.”







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