In the second part of our interview with Talladega County Superintendent Suzanne Lacey by ABPC consultant John Norton, Dr. Lacey describes Talladega's vision for a new instructional model and the steps she and her leadership team are taking to spread PBL across all the district's schools. You can read the first installment of the interview by clicking here.
Norton:You've said that a lot of Talladega County's success in developing a new instructional model can be traced back to your partnership with the Buck Institute. I know the Institute is nationally known for its professional training around project based learning. At their website, they offer this description:
In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).
How did you get involved with Buck?
Lacey: As we were doing our PBL homework several years ago, we kept coming across the work of the Buck Institute. We learned about their dedication to providing educators training on how to deliver instruction in new and different ways. We simply called them and said "this is what we're doing - we would like for you to come and be a part of this. We want you to lead our training in project based learning."
It's been a good partnership. They've provided some really great presenters and consultants for us to learn from. At this point, Craig Bates is ready to serve in the role of PBL trainer and this fall he's been training additional people in our school system. He's at the point where he can help teachers become effective in this kind of instruction. He's not an official Buck trainer, but he has a lot of everyday real life experience after leading our efforts for three years.
Norton:Help our readers understand how this new approach to instruction is different from what we've been calling "traditional" in our conversation.Read More...
There is more to Talladega than the speedway. Much more! Educators in Talladega County are hard at work retooling their schools so all of their students will be well-prepared for the future -- whether that future is second grade, high school, college, or career.
Developing teachers and future administrators is critically important to Talladega's success, as it is for all school systems. More than 10 years ago, a former superintendent, Peggy Connell, realized that Talladega County was not then a magnet for educators who lived outside district borders. She developed and led a “grow your own” program that provided intensive professional development for assistant principals. She also formed a partnership with Samford University to provide tailored advanced degrees for teacher leaders and administrators. And some Talladega schools joined our Powerful Conversations Network.
This emphasis on teacher and leader development has intensified over the years, and current superintendent Suzanne Lacey considers it one of her top priorities. While the Alabama Best Practices Center has worked with Talladega County for a long time, it was just in the past two years that our partnership became deeper and more intentional.
Last school year, we facilitated six sessions for principals and lead teachers focused on formative assessment, which research demonstrates is a high-yield teaching strategy. In fact, researchers have shown that the consistent use of formative assessment, which is also known as “checking for [student] understanding,” can lead to significant student achievement gains. Rick Stiggins, an expert on formative assessment, has demonstrated that the effect of formative assessment is four to five times greater than the effects of reducing class size. [Here's a great Stiggins article about assessing for learning.]
Because most of the research on formative assessment is barely 10 years old, many teachers are not familiar with it or its impact on teaching and learning. Our work in Talladega County validates Stiggins’ research. Principals and teachers report significant improvement in both teaching AND learning when formative assessment becomes an essential part of the teaching process.
Our partnership with Talladega County has been great for us -- we've been able to share "what works" strategies and we've learned so much about how research translates into action in the real world. Talladega is also involved in a major shift from traditional instruction to a project- and problem-based learning approach that engages students in challenging but exciting ways. I've written about this impressive work (which began at Winterboro School) in several previous blogs: here and here.
Talladega County's accomplishments were highlighted recently by... Read More...
Calcedeaver Elementary School is one of just four schools nationwide to be honored this year by The Education Trust for success in educating low-income and minority students to high levels
WASHINGTON (October 31, 2011) — Today, Calcedeaver Elementary School was named one of four winners of the Dispelling the Myth Award, presented by The Education Trust. The annual award, now in its ninth year, is presented to public schools throughout the country that are closing the achievement gap between student groups and educating all of their students to high levels.
This year’s Dispelling the Myth Award winners demonstrate that schools of all kinds, and in all sorts of settings, can thrive when they are organized for success. The educators working in these schools produce strong results for all students because they teach them all to high levels, despite challenging circumstances outside of the school’s walls. They don’t ignore these circumstances; they overcome them.
Calcedeaver has consistently produced among the highest reading and math proficiency rates in the state. In 2011, 94 percent of sixth-graders met state reading standards. Indeed, 80 percent of them exceeded standards.
“Dispelling the Myth Schools show that, while this work is not easy, closing gaps and boosting achievement is within our power,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “The educators in these schools know that what they do can literally change the life trajectory of their students. Their unyielding commitment to working hard and smart pays off for the students they teach.”
These schools are an important reminder that, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, all students can shine academically. Dispelling the Myth schools share a few traits: Read More...
In two previous posts, I've discussed the challenges faced by educators and students in Tarrant City Schools and highlighted our recent retreat with a Tarrant leadership team and some of the important things I've learned about school improvement as a result of ABPC's two-year partnership with the Birmingham-area district.
In this final post, I'm going to focus on some of the actions taking place in Tarrant to advance student learning. What is most important, I think, is the system's determination to "be transparent" in their learning. When problems are uncovered, the first response is: How do we improve this?
This past year, the focus of ABPC's professional development activities among our Networks and partner districts was on formative assessment and student engagement. Using Alabama’s new Continuum for Teacher Development and resources like Instructional Rounds: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning by Elmore, City, et al., we helped Tarrant instructional leaders gauge their current reality and develop plans to ensure that students are engaged in every classroom in ways that motivate them to learn more and be successful.
A few weeks after the 2010-11 school year ended, ABPC consultant Jackie Walsh and I spent two days in Tarrant with their administrators and teacher leaders. We used that retreat to look back at what we've all learned during our two years of close partnership and to brainstorm about ways to accelerate the pace of improvement even more in the immediate future.
On hand for our 2-day retreat were all the principals and assistant principals from each of the four schools as well as some incredibly committed teachers. Beth Sanders, a second year high school social studies teacher, captured most of our work product using her phone and the Evernote app.
If you’ve ever participated in the professional development facilitated by the ABPC, then you know that participants are active learners who participate in activities designed to deepen their understanding and prompt reflection. Our expectations are that participants will take what they’ve learned about best practice and put it to work in their classrooms and leadership roles.
According to Middle School Principal Walter Womack, "teachers and students are responding favorably to what we've been learning about student engagement and student motivation. I tell students that formative assessment is like having their own internal GPS. When they are off target and their teacher or another student provides corrective feedback, they can use it to get back on target," Womack added.
In the two-day ABPC retreat, participants spent considerable time discussing and reflecting on the knowledge and skills that students need to be well-prepared for college or work. The Tarrant leadership team took the next step by... Read More...
The Alabama Best Practices Center has been working with the Tarrant City Schools in an intense partnership over the past two years. Every Tarrant school participates in our Powerful Conversations Network, and a team of instructional leaders is active in the Key Leaders Network. In addition, the ABPC staff and consultants provide customized professional learning to district, school and teacher leaders six times per year.
One of the greatest partnership benefits, Tarrant Superintendent Shelly Mize says, "is that we are all (central office, building administrators, and teachers) working as a cohesive unit with the same goal in mind, improving teaching and learning through best practice. The system-wide focus on Formative Assessment and Formative Feedback has not only assisted teachers in improving their craft, but also helped us implement EDUCATEAlabama."
In a series of three posts, I want to share some of the story of our partnership -- not to brag about ABPC's consulting prowess but to offer a case study that I believe demonstrates the value of close, consistent, collaborative thinking and planning among a vertical district leadership team.
============= Part 1
Sandwiched between interstates, industrial plants (think smokestacks) and a 2.3-mile Birmingham International runway sits the small urban community of Tarrant, Alabama. Tarrant City serves about 1300 students in four schools: elementary (K-3), intermediate (4-6), middle (7-9) and high (10-12). The middle and high school share a beautiful new building away from Tarrant’s city center, sited on a hill, which I believe symbolizes the bright future that Tarrant's dedicated educators are working to create for their diverse student population.
When traveling to city center and the elementary school, however, one is reminded of a stark reality. Many of Tarrant’s children grow up in poverty, live in substandard Section 8 housing, and breathe air tainted by industrial pollution.
"We probably have the highest eligibility rate for free/reduced lunch in the Birmingham metro area," says federal programs coordinator Beth McDavid, who has spent most of her 40-year education career in the Tarrant system.
In September 2010, Piedmont City Schools announced it would become the first Alabama school system “to engage in a bona fide one-to-one laptop initiative that provides a computer for student use 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all students in grades 4-12.”
Dubbed MPower Piedmont, the initiative’s goal, says PSC superintendent Matt Akin, is to strengthen the long-term viability of the Piedmont community by assuring that the young people growing up in the rural community have the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in the 21st century.
In this interview, Akin shares details about the project’s origins and implementation. He also answers questions that many administrators, teachers and community leaders are likely to have about safety, responsibility and the professional development needed to maximize a major technology investment.
Among the highlights:
• About 1100 students attend Piedmont City’s three schools, 65% of whom are eligible for the subsidized lunch program. Akin says the project has already made a computer available in 500 Piedmont homes that never had one before.
• The initiative began with a complete technology upgrade in all the district’s schools and classrooms, including a high-speed wireless network on each campus, paid for with federal stimulus and eRate funds.
• The upgrade was followed by a one-year pilot at Piedmont High, using 150 laptops purchased with federal stimulus funds, with a significant investment in teacher PD.
• The successful pilot convinced school leaders to use mostly local funds to purchase 640 additional laptops for all students and teachers in grades 4-12.
• “In planning our rollout, we looked at several other school systems across the country and tried to implement the practices that best fit our situation. We held community meetings to introduce our entire community to the goals and details of MPower Piedmont.”
• “We had parent meetings that gave all of the details to our parents and students – and they were all required to attend. Students were then given their computers at school and they were allowed to take them home.”
• Akin said concerns about student safety and equipment damage were discussed in detail. “My first answer: ‘this is about our kids and giving them opportunities to be successful.’ I believe that we can truly transform our community and one of the ways is to teach our kids about responsibility.”
• The district has “a very detailed Required Use Policy…that outlines how our students are required to take care of the laptops. It has been amazing to see kids reminding each other to be responsible.”
• A filtering system is installed on each laptop “where, when students leave the school network, they are still automatically routed through our filter. No matter how they access the internet when they leave campus, access is still filtered.”
• Teacher support for the project is high. “We’ve made a large investment in professional development. Over 80% of our teachers in grades 4-12 volunteered to attend a conference in North Carolina the week before school started. At that point, I knew that we would be successful.”
• Parents are also enthusiastic. Businesses and churches are upgrading their own wireless networks and the local housing authority has similar plans. In the near future, Akin says, Piedmont aims to become a totalled wired “wireless” community, which leaders believe will promote economic and social development.
READ THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW with Matt Akin, including his list of “lessons learned” for other small systems that might want to pursue similar initiatives.
By and large, are Alabama educators doing enough to interest students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers? If we take the findings of a recent national poll as an indicator, the answer is no – not enough, not yet.
But some But some Alabama schools are taking action ...
It’s been two weeks, and I am still energized by our A+ Board and Council meeting at Winterboro School in Talladega County.
I’ve blogged about Winterboro before. It is a rural school where an estimated 40% of students will be first-generation high school graduates. Unfortunately, until this year, many of the students were leaving school before they graduated. Last year, because of the drop-out rate, the school moved into the first year of school improvement.
Superintendent Suzanne Lacey and her very talented and committed staff decided to take action. They had been studying New Tech schools, and had visited several in California and Indiana, but the cost... Read More...
Many educators dream of a school environment where the curriculum is driven by projects and problem-based activities that challenge all students to learn more deeply and apply what they learn to the real world.
Some educators believe this kind of schooling simply isn’t possible in today’s high-stakes accountability environment. Winterboro School in rural Talladega County is out to prove them wrong.
Winterboro serves students in grades 5-12, about 85 percent of whom are on free or reduced lunch. As far as state testing benchmarks, the school has consistently met those, but it didn't take a fortune teller to see problems lying ahead...
Take a minute and look at the photos scrolling at the top of this page. With the exception of the results graphic, all of these pictures feature Alabama students and educators. Spend a little more time looking at the picture of a student reading with a retired educator. There’s a story there.
The Mobile County school’s journey from bottom to top really began when teachers proved to themselves they could reach every child.
By Jennifer Pyron
[This story appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of ABPC’s Working Toward Excellence journal.]
Walking into Anna Booth Elementary early in the morning is like gulping a double shot of espresso. The new school building buzzes with energy. Every classroom is a hive of activity, and there’s a palpable intensity in the air. The faculty and 530 students are ready to begin a jam-packed day of instruction, intervention and powerful learning.
The essential question on Susan Pruet’s mind these days is this: Will an EYE on Mobile’s future workforce demands lead to an EPIC interest in engineering and technical careers?
More specifically, Pruet wonders, can a combination of challenging academic content and project-based learning (1) increase student engagement; (2) help reduce dropout rates; (3) lure more students into math, science and engineering careers; and (4) strengthen teaching and learning across one of Mobile County’s diverse school feeder patterns. Read More...
Alabama Best Practices Center – a division of the A+ Education Partnership
Alabama Best Practices Center
P.O. Box 4433
Montgomery, AL 36103