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Monday, February 21, 2011

How to Save Duval's Schools

I write about education issues a lot but a recent commenter on my work said I am pretty good at pointing out things that were wrong but I am a little light on solutions. I thought I was pretty good at putting ideas out there but if they thought differently let me clear that up. This is how I would turn around the four struggling schools, Jackson, Ribault, Raines and North Shore K-8.

The first thing I would do is start a come home campaign. At a recent school board meeting Becki Couch said there were over 3000 students who could be attending those schools but who had chosen to go elsewhere. I would try and get those kids back and I would do so by convincing them and their families that those schools would become academically rigorous and safe schools to attend.

The next thing I would do is make those schools safe and academically rigorous schools to attend.

I would tell the teachers that I trusted them and end arbitrary amounts of students they could or could not fail. I would have them teach the material and make it rigorous, which would mean that if somebody passed their class it was because they earned it and not because a teacher gave them a grade or pushed them through. I would tell the teachers they could go as slow as they felt their kids needed, they could reteach if necessary and that the pacing guide was a suggestion, nobody was going to get in trouble for being more than five days behind. After a few weeks I would move kids around and have groups that were quickly moving through the material and groups that needed extra time.

Then at the same time I would make sure the teachers and students had good learn environments. Rudeness, disrespect and violations of the code of conduct would not be tolerated and consequences would be swift and strict. If you came to learn you would have nothing to be afraid of. If you came to cut up or steal learning time from your peers or teachers then you would have a tough time. The adults not the children would be running the schools.

I wouldn’t dismantle the staffs but in my system everybody would be teaching. Academic coaches would have nearly full loads and even assistant principals would be expected to teach a class too. It would be all hands on deck and this would stop admins and psuedo admins from losing touch with the jobs that teachers do. It would also help keep classes smaller and hopefully allow us to have some electives.

I would tell my teachers to be prepared to work long hours. However I am not worried about volumes of data notebooks, two-page lesson plans and complicated board configurations. Put up a daily agenda and then go. Spend the time you have been doing those things the last few years figuring out how to connect with the kids and keeping the families involved. I would want my principals and A.P.s in the classrooms looking for quality instruction not word walls.

Then not only would I instruct my teachers not to teach to the F-Cat but I would tell them not to even mention it. About a week before it was taken the principals could have an assembly to discuss it’s importance and that would be it.

That is how I would turn around those schools. With our current structure in place that is what I would do but that’s not to say I wouldn’t have a wish list too.

I would like the kids to have six one-hour periods a day, with no A/B block. 90 minutes is way to long for many of our kids and teachers. If the students had class everyday I believe the transfer of knowledge would happen quicker. With A/B blocks, weekends, holidays and absences can lead to four, five and sometimes six days between class meetings.

After the first nine weeks kids failing a class would be required, not asked if they wanted to, to stay after school for tutoring.

Every student would have at least one elective each day so they could have a safe spot in their schedule. I would want the schools at a minimum to have art, graphics, shop, home economics, music/band, and drama.

If some kids would not get with the program I would suspend them for five days at a time, which could be shortened if a parent would come and spend the day with their child going to their classes.

There would be a zero tolerance policy for fighting and bullying. Kids that did so would be sent to alternative schools.

I would ban cell phones and high heels because neither are necessary for learning.

I would like to have several different curriculums that serve more of the kids needs including a skills acquisition program for kids not interested in college who would like to learn a trade.

Real summer school classes not grade recovery would be offered, where kids could get extra help, get ahead or make up credits.

I would like to have social workers and mental health counselors on campus. The social workers could provide wrap around services and the counselors could try and get to the root of some of the kids problems. Why kids do poorly in school often has nothing to do with school.

I would have monthly meetings with the community and businesses to discuss education issues and get their input. I would look for internships and mentors under every rock.

These last few suggestions are outside of what we do now but would be helpful.

1 comment:

  1. Don't worry, Chris. Whatever ad wizard gets the sweet contract to oversee the final turn-around of these schools will try some, if not all, of these old-school reforms. However, these McSchool operators will be hailed as saviors by the right-wing "reform" movement as they (finally) triple the per-pupil spending at these schools for a couple of years of progress before announcing their job is (half)done and it's time to move on to greener pastures. Regardless, it will be the public schools left holding the bag and getting the blame. Where is the novel approach of making sure that elementary schools that feed into these schools have a sound curriculum based on a proven understanding of childhood development? Where is the outside of the box thinking of taking these schools off-line to try some radical and innovative learning strategies? If the purpose of the FCAT is to identify schools with problems, then I say mission accomplished. We know these schools have problems. Let's set to fixing them without the continued stigma of failing to meet the same old standards every year. I'm not suggesting we abdicate responsibility for these schools or forget to make new choices based on data, but is the data telling us anything new each time? We know the kids don't read as well as we would like them to. We know how to teach kids how to read. We know people that know how to teach reading. Let's forget about trying to get some of these kids a traditional high school diploma and focus on creating an environment that champions the development of learning skills that will see them complete an equivalency program. It's ridiculous to identify the fact that many of these students are several grade levels behind and continue to act as though a single magic bullet will offer salvation. Set realistic, multi-year goals and continue to fill in from the bottom up. It's so disheartening to contine to bash students and teachers at the high school level when the "solutions" keep preaching more testing and more finger pointing.