Sunday, August 28, 2011

Staff Summer Fun

Maureen Tecson, Vince Lindain, Sonia Wong loving it in the Bahamas.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Good News, Bad News 2011-2012

Good News should always come first. Principal Tracie Noriega of Alvarado Elementary has been selected for a pilot test of National Board Certification for principals. She is among 240 principals selected from more than 700 applicants from 19 states. The program hopes to establish leadership research-based standards, identify effective school leaders, and elevate the profession. Congratulations Tracie!

Due to the state of California's budget problems, New Haven was required to lay off 70 teachers at the end of the 2011 school year. However, many of the Alvarado teachers who were laid off at the end of the year have been able to be rehired. Alvarado also added a part-time Assistant Principal, Mistee Hightower-Guzman, to the staff.

Mistee Hightower-Guzman

Pat Pedroze is the new Resource Specialist and Yurani Maycotte DePerez is the new office Assistant, For a while, the plan was to lay of the media specialists at the middle schools but that plan was ultimately scrapped.

Now for the Bad News. The instructional year has been reduced from 180 days to 175 days. Students will receive five fewer days of instruction this year. This means all employees will be making less money because they will be taking six unpaid furlough days. This also means that parents who have their children in day care may have to pay for more days in day care as their children will not be in school as many days. There are still fewer teachers, so the class size reduction ratio in grades kinder through third grade took a big hit. Class sizes will increase. Kindergarten will increase 25 to 1. First and second grades will be 25 to 1. Third grade will increase 30 to 1. Last year third grade was 25 to 1. There is no limit on class size for fourth or fifth grade.

The Good News is as the new year begins, your child's teacher will do everything possible to make the school experience the best for each child. The changes discussed above mean that the teacher will revamp their program to meet each child's needs academically and socially. This is a challenge Alvarado teachers are very capable of meeting.

Program Improvement AYP/API 2010-2011

In the 2010-2011 school year, Alvarado Elementary was placed in Program Improvement. Although increasing our API (Academic Performance Index) score from 816 in 2008, to 826 in 2009, we missed meeting our 2009 goal for our Socio-economically disadvantaged population AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). Again, in 2010, although increasing our overall score to 835, AES did not make our Latino student goal. Since goals were missed two years in a row, we were placed in Program Improvement. Letters were sent out to our Alvarado Families informing them of this and, as per law, offered these families a transfer to another school in the district. Less than .025% opted to transfer while the remaining families stayed at AES.

Teachers and staff took the PI rating hard, especially with a 9 point increase in API. Staff morale took a hit, especially with the grim economic environment, and, given little or no help from the District office, Alvarado Elementary staff formed a cohesive group to address these issues and provide staff development. Our focus has been on the seven comprehension strategies: Connections, Questioning, Inferring, Visualizing, Determining Importance, Monitoring Meaning, and Synthesizing, and in the year 2011-2012 staff will be trained on "Critical Literacy".

The 2011 data is due out in a few weeks and we are anxiously waiting to hear the results. This post was written by Laurie Koehler, a respected third grade teacher and former Literature Leader at Alvarado. Keep in mind that API is the State of California Index. AYP is the No Child Left Behind federally mandated standard.

No Child Left Behind

The Learning Walk

"Through the talking about goals, and reflecting on observations I think we can improve our craft. We can't be afraid to look at ourselves critically."
Carmen Jorgenson

Learning walks were developed from a business model at Hewlet Packard where management walked around and observed the company workers. The Institute for Learning at the University of Pittsburgh developed and coined the term "Learning Walks" which is one of the new buzz words in education today. Principals, teachers, and superintendents visit classrooms as a team in order to see what students are experiencing at any given time. Some visits can be the whole class time or as brief as 5 to 10 minutes. Learning walks are about observation, reflection and growth, how teachers teach, how students learn, what gets taught to whom and why. NHUSD has adopted this format to develop improvements to instruction by assisting teachers with PLC's (Professional Learning Community). Alvarado has been doing Learning Walks since 2008. This practice also helps to identify best practices and future teacher leaders.

However, the business model presents some challenges for the school environment. If teachers leave the classroom to participate in the walk, then substitute teachers are teaching their students. Substitutes cost money and do not always provide the same quality of instruction as the regular classroom teacher. Team members are not supposed to talk during the visit unless they ask a question of a student and are to be unobtrusive in the classroom. Students are sometimes overwhelmed by having a group of teachers in their classrooms. In March of 2012, fifty teachers and administrators visited Alvarado in one day. Most classrooms in California are already overcrowded with barely enough room for the students. In some cases there may be as many as 6 or 7 teachers in the classroom possibly disrupting the focus of students.

School environments are very complex. Principals and teachers are being pulled in a million directions every day. Often there may not be the time to prepare and debrief teachers as the model requires. This can be very frustrating for the staff. Often teachers are told their class will be visited and then the team runs out of time for all the visits. This leaves the teachers on edge and wondering the age old question, "Am I not good enough for the team to observe?" Also the teams seldom visit the library, the science room, physical education, or the music class making those teachers feel like second class citizens.

For those being visited, Learning Walks can be stressful for teachers especially if they do not know the focus of the observation. For those schools in Program Improvement, the Walkers also look to see if the daily objectives of lessons are posted. Some of the time each teacher in each group is given a specific focus to observe. Before moving to the next classroom the teachers meet for about 5 minutes to debrief by each reporting their observations. Often the classroom teachers being observed are told to do a guided reading lesson during the visit which could mean the focus is reading instruction, but the team could be looking for interactions between students and teachers, classroom organization, independence in student learning, evidence of deep and rigorous thinking, displays, or all the above.

There are a set of steps for the walkers which includes orientation of the staff, instructional focus of the walk, the actual classroom visitation, brief outside the classroom talk, debriefing, and communication with teachers, either oral or written. The walkers may not make judgement statements about what the teachers and students are doing or not doing. Usually schools use a recording sheet for team members to jot down their observations. The teams often look at the walls to see how they support learning and examine student work on those walls. Some team members ask questions of students. The team looks to see what individual help is given to students. After all classrooms have been visited, then the team meets for general debriefing where each person shares what they saw in the classroom citing specific evidence. Then team members make inferences about how they can use their learnings in their own classroom or in the case of best practices the entire school. It is important to communicate the learnings to staff members not on the team and to thank the teachers who have been visited.