"Team Work Makes the Dream Work!"
“Team work…will make the dream work!” This phrase was chanted by Ms. Jarrell, a 3rd grade teacher at Stagg School of Excellence, during a guided active learning exercise. This phrase represents not only the underlying theme reinforced by teachers at Stagg, but parents and community members of Englewood, concerned about the possible school closings and consolidations being facilitated by Chicago Public Schools. Teamwork Englewood has implemented the Englewood Education Leadership Initiative to help increase knowledge and develop relationships amongst key stakeholders in the community regarding educational opportunities as well as helping to empower those interested in gaining the tools necessary to make informed decisions related to educational choices for their children.
Over the next several weeks, Teamwork Englewood will host a series of school tours and meetings to provide parents and concerned community members with information and the tools necessary to help implement strategies for effective learning environments for their children.
On Friday, February 8th, Teamwork Englewood sponsored a school tour of Stagg School of Excellence and Marquette School of Excellence. The tour, facilitated by Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL) allowed concerned parents, political representatives, community members, and educators an opportunity to view a model learning community. Stagg School of Excellence and Marquette School of Excellence are turnaround schools in the first year of operation.
What Makes a Model School?
Stagg School of Excellence is “A home away from home.” Many students spend most of their time in school, anywhere between the hours of 8am to 6pm. The administration felt it was important to create a warm environment for its students. As you walk through the halls and enter the classrooms, you will find colorful curtains; quiet reading areas; small couches; photographs; and plants. Each item offers a reminiscent feeling of home. You will also find many messages throughout the building offering positive affirmation that each student is a scholar and is destined to achieve success.
The Importance of Parent and Community Engagement:
Another important aspect of developing a model school is through parent and community engagement. One of the many ways that the administration and staff engage with parents is through communication. Through an established Parent Advisory Council (PAC), roughly 20-30 parents participate in regular meetings held at the school. The group is run exclusively by parents. The PAC also contributes to the learning environment by working with children in the primary grades.
In addition to the PAC, one of the reasons Stagg has been successful thus far is due to partnerships with City Year Chicago; Correra; Children’s Home & Aid; Check and Connect; and Play Works. During the summer, collaboration between Stagg School of Excellence and each of the community partners took place and has continued throughout the school year.
Although Stagg School of Excellence opened its doors in August 2012 as a turnaround school, there has been a “complete paradigm shift.” Assistant Principal Pullum is very excited about the progress that has been made. The school offers an athletics and fine arts program which also helps to increase parental and community engagement. Parents are eager to attend other school activities in addition to Parent-Teacher Conferences. According to Ms. Pullum and Mr. Roberts, Assistant Principals, parental engagement has “sky rocketed’ from the first event of the school year to the most current.
Challenges and Assets
While Stagg has made tremendous progress over the course of the year, there are still some challenges. One of the greatest challenges is “gaining complete buy in” from all students. Despite the challenge of gaining complete ‘buy in’, the greatest asset is the parental and community engagement and the support from members of the AUSL Network.
Curriculum and Infusion of Technology in the Classroom
Creating a culture conducive to learning is the core of what makes AUSL schools work. The infusion of technology in the classroom is also another important component. As you enter each classroom, it is equipped with technology. There are computers available for compass learning and other learning tools.
Meeting and exceeding goals and bench marks is very critical. Although the curriculum used this year did not change, students are gradually pushed toward technology. Not only are there two computer labs in the school, but the school just recently made iPads and Chrome Books available for the students. Chrome Books are linked to MAP (a newly adopted assessment tool) and are used for learning assessments. The curriculum used in previous years did not change.
Gaining Support from the Community
One of the recurring questions throughout the discussion was “How do you reduce the apprehension to change?” Arming parents and community members with information is one of the most effective ways to reduce apprehension to change. By opening the doors of our schools to parents and the community, there is a greater understanding of what really takes place in the schools. A tour of the school is one way in which parents begin to understand the range of options available to them.
AUSL has participated in the transformation of schools since 2001. Initially AUSL trained teachers and sent them to Chicago Public Schools. Since 2003, AUSL has trained 500 new teachers. Currently, the organization has increased its pool of teachers from 90 to 180; and manages 25 schools, serving 14,000 students. One of the reasons that AUSL has been successful is because: “The adults in the building are the critical component.” AUSL ensures that before agreeing to turning a school around, that there are enough qualified teachers available. AUSL does not compromise on having enough teachers to open a school. One of the main goals is to have one-half new and one-half experienced teachers working in a turnaround school.
What is it about AUSL that works? What is the difference? “Principals know they are accountable.” AUSL has the ability to act quickly to make the necessary changes to ensure success within the school.
In each classroom visited, the children were engaged in the learning process and the teachers commanded the class. Jaree Herron, a 6th grade student shared his feelings about working with students with learning disabilities: “It feels good about helping other people who are of different [learning] abilities.” At Stagg School of Excellence, there are numerous opportunities for learning. Everyone must buy into the mission…every adult in the building is a teacher. Stagg School of Excellence has set the tone that by creating a different environment by setting the right climate and culture, learning can occur.
Marquette School of Excellence
After completing a tour of Stagg School of Excellence, a smaller group visited Marquette School of Excellence.
Marquette School of Excellence is another newly formed AUSL turnaround school. Marquette is unique because it houses a community health center. The health center is operated by Elev8. Elev8 was developed in 2007 through collaboration with the middle school initiative to provide academic support.
One of the goals of Elev8 is to help families build capacity to act on their own behalf to obtain much needed resources.
Benefits to the Community
The clinical staff at the health center offers services to just as many community members as it does students. The community has certainly taken advantages of the services available. Shoshanah Yehudah indicated that last year alone, the clinical staff saw more community members than students.
“Even though you have health centers in the building, you still have to develop trust within the community.” According to Shoshanah, as a result of the partnership with AUSL, Elev8 has seen an increase in the number of people seen in the clinic. There are roughly 1,400 students enrolled at Marquette School of Excellence. Of the 1,400 students enrolled, roughly 950 have visited the health center this school year.
Citing opportunities to build an Elev8 model, Shoshanah and the staff are committed to creating sustainability within the community through the utilization of the health center.
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