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A Homegrown Transformation at Winterboro School

April 28, 2010 | Category: Success Stories | Tags: secondary, success stories
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By Cathy Gassenheimer

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 of becoming a New Tech school was high. Funding was limited, particularly in light of the current economic downturn. Suzanne and her staff decided to act anyway.

Over the summer, under the leadership of a new principal, they converted Winterboro, which houses grades 5 through 12, into a school rich with computers (1:1 student ratio in grades 7-12). Most importantly, Winterboro would become a school where teachers would work together to create interdisciplinary project-based learning experiences for their students.

When I visited Winterboro in January, I was so excited to see what was happening. While it was the same old beautiful building, what was happening inside was very, very different from my previous visits. Students were more engaged and teachers were working together and learning from each other.

I saw even more progress on my latest visit. When talking with students (and we were given ample opportunities to interact with a wide variety of students), they volunteered that they wanted to be at school. They talked about how much fun learning had become. They were quick to say that it was hard work, but they also said that it seemed easier because they were able to retain and apply what they were learning to real-life situations.

I was able to talk again with several of the students that I met in January. One, a junior, told me that her teachers and colleagues (that’s what they call their fellow students) had helped her “come out of her shell.” She said that serving in the role of a classroom manager, responsible for explaining to guests what they were learning, had helped her become more confident in her ability to communicate effectively with others. “Winterboro has literally changed my life,” she told me.

Later in the day, we listened to a panel of teachers discuss the many changes taking place in the school. One teacher observed that she believed that they were able to transform Winterboro so quickly because THEY had to create the new project-based lessons from scratch. She wondered whether the faculty would be in the same place if they had been given a “trunk of lessons” from the New Tech schools. With the exception of one teacher on the panel, every other teacher agreed. Ownership and collaboration matter.

Sharing their hope that student test scores would improve this year, these highly engaged teachers observed that the change they saw in their students was worth all the hard work. As I left Winterboro I wondered what we could do to spur more transformations like this? What are your ideas? Are other schools and districts ready to build more project-driven learning into their classrooms?

Cathy Gassenheimer is A+'s executive vice president for the Alabama Best Practices Center.{C}
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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