Attainable, Sustainable Real-World Success: Teachers in This District Fight for the Opportunity to Share Data and Collaborate on Ways to Improve the Instructional Program

Article excerpt

For many years, we in the educational community have heard the success stories that prove wrong the belief that low socio-economic/minority students can't learn. But by the time these stories are published, the success is long enough in the past that the published summaries lack the rich details needed to replicate the success. They also leave out the trials and tribulations leaders encountered along the way, as well as what was done to deal with the difficulties in a productive manner.

The current circumstances in public education require a sharing of the steps and missteps to success so that we can support our profession and the children we serve.

The Cucamonga School District began the deliberate journey to becoming a place where children consistently learn, grow and master standards in 1997. As with any journey, there are always questions about what to do, what to do next, and whether this will continue to work or if it was just luck. There is never a time when everyone is on the same fully-committed page. We have learned that even in this very human type of environment, success is possible.

The Cucamonga School District is a small, K-8 organization located in the Inland Empire. While areas around the district grew rapidly and became more affluent, the Cucamonga School District has remained small and continues to serve a highly transient population of students, 70 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch. Approximately 25 percent of our students are English learners, and until recent years, approximately 20 percent of our teaching force left the district each year. Most managers were hired from outside the district and their tenure in the district was short.

These conditions provide the backdrop for the continuous improvement process that has proven successful in the real world and is both attainable and sustainable.

The process began with the focus on analyzing student achievement, with the purpose of having that analysis lead to goal-setting and changes in the instructional program. To anyone who is a logical thinker, these steps made sense. To others devoted to the creativity of the teaching/learning process, this suggestion was seen as a betrayal of our children.

To address these concerns, teacher leaders were selected from each school who understood the logic of the process and who used creativity in their classroom instruction. These leaders were provided in-depth professional development and served as the communicators for the change to be implemented.

Over the years, time for collaboration has been provided through substitute released time and use of physical education specialist teachers. A final solution to the question on how to provide collaboration time has come through a negotiated agreement to shorten lunch by 10 minutes a day and dismiss students early one day a week. Teachers use the time on the early dismissal day for collaboration and planning.

Although it took several years to build the foundation of collaboration for the purpose of jointly improving student achievement, teachers now fight for the opportunity to share quality data and to work together to adapt the instructional program for students.

The use of teacher leaders has been formalized over the years. Each school identifies six to seven Student Achievement Instructional Leaders. These teachers receive extensive professional development and serve as grade-level or department chairs, with the responsibility of facilitating the implementation of each new step in the ongoing improvement process. Indepth professional development is also provided to teachers in Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement, reading/mathematics instruction (AB 466) and strategies for English learners.

The dramatic systems change that is necessary to improve student achievement needs the support of administrators who are trained in guiding an effective change process. …