I often liken the world of "School Improvement" that Brighton has become to an inhospitable planet, because it is truly difficult to survive in this realm. This week I have been totally frustrated by the many layers of regulation our school is under—and by well-meaning people who do not have a clue.
My late father's first rule in running a business was to prioritize your time by doing the important, not the urgent. I feel so often my work is determined by immediately responding to the urgent, while I let the important suffer. And the important thing is: We need to improve instruction to increase student achievement.
Last Monday, my day started off with more revisions to our never ending Schoolwide Plan (federal) which has consumed my life for weeks. I know writing this plan is part of being a Title I School, but whoever thought it was necessary for this plan to be written in a narrative form has obviously never worked in a school.
Our School Improvement Plan (state), on the other hand, was clear and concise. The SIP plan, due in October, was in the form of a chart, and I really believe this plan gives us a map of how to improve our school.
As I write these plans, I try to add the hours spent on completing this work, and I wonder who writes these plans in other schools if they do not have someone on staff like me to do all of this. During grade level meetings we discuss our goals and objectives, analyze data, and determine benchmarks, and then I compile all of this and do the writing of the plan. This is my way of making sure that the production of these plans does not interfere with instructional time. I believe the number one purpose of my position as School Improvement Specialist is to provide support for teachers and protect our instructional time. I call it "SIT" — Sacred Instructional Time.
Following my early morning meeting on the Schoolwide Plan, I went to my next meeting for School Improvement Specialist Training. This is the training I have been hungry for and the reason I actually took this new assignment. I want to learn everything I can about School Improvement in order to help Brighton and other schools in my district. I have been so fortunate to learn so much this year from our State Peer Assistant, Linda Hatton, but I want to know more.
Well, the first two hours of our training was devoted to Questioning Skills. I agree these are important teacher skills, but I am sitting there thinking about the 28 days we have until testing and wondering how this applies to what I need to know NOW. Needless to say, I was in knots as I tried to listen. I actually wanted to stand up and say, "Where have you people been? Do you not understand the pressure everyone in this room is under? Please give us some useful information we can use right now!"
These meetings were followed by the results of our most recent benchmark testing being posted. To say the least, this was not great news. According to these tests, several classes have only mastered three objectives for the year. Now I am in the panic mode.
In this panic state, I receive a call from a consultant who will be coming to our school within the next few weeks. This is a part of our school's Comprehensive School Reform Grant. From my experience with our CSR program, I believe this is an another well-intentioned government program that throws money at the problem of low performing schools, but does not offer many real solutions. If the CSR program at our school is an indicator of what CSR offers, then as an educator and a taxpayer, I say "what a waste." This is a layer we do not need at our school because again they do not have clue about the pressure we are under.
If there is one thing I could do for schools "under the gun" for low performance, it would be to simplify life for these schools. Take away all the layers that do not focus on student achievement and send someone into the school who understands the pressure and has real solutions that work. This is what I have found in our State Peer Assistant this year. She gets it. For all the others who think they know, but have never worked in low performing school before, I ask you to come live in my trench and learn.