Sunday, February 8, 2015

From Oakland: A lesson in how to turn a tough school around

Posted By on Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 3:36 AM

SUCCESS STORY: A school grows in the right direction in Oakland thanks to a committed principal.
  • SUCCESS STORY: A school grows in the right direction in Oakland thanks to a committed principal.

I picked up a San Francisco Chronicle Saturday morning and found a heartening story about education success in a tough Oakland neighborhood with a long-failing school populated by poor, minority students. A lesson for Little Rock, the Delta and other regions in Arkansas?

The story begins where all school success stories begin — with a driven, committed principal. At the Madison Park Business and Art Academy it's Lucinda Taylor, on the job for nine years and planning to stay a good while longer.

She took the kids she was dealt (though now others clamor to be there). Indeed, she hasn't been intent on running kids off, as some "successful" charter schools do. In addition to decreasing the dropout and truancy rates, she's cut the suspension rate. She met with parents and begin addressing shortcomings that start before kids reach school. She realized her kids were the type that couldn't' sit still. So they are allowed to move around in class.

Yes, the Chamber of Commerce will be happy to learn she didn't tolerate inadequate teachers and "ruthlessly" weeded out those. Good principals in Little Rock do this now.

But anybody who thinks it begins and ends with teachers, pay attention.

She also discovered their families needed food assistance and health care, as well as ways to cope with the effects of the violence that surrounded the school.

… Taylor adjusted the curriculum, set up a food bank and installed a medical and dental clinic.

Taylor grew a middle school into a K-12 school. Scores soared.

Sorry, Dem-Gaz and C of C, there's another critical element here (one that favored charter schools enjoy from the Billionaire Boys Club).

A big part of Taylor's school turnaround was money, lots of money for big projects and consistent funding to ensure the changes she made stuck.

Taylor spends her school breaks writing grant applications and has secured millions of dollars over the last several years to build a new turf football field and track, install high-speed wireless, buy a laptop for every child, purchase new books and curriculum materials.

Scores  have held steady despite the dramatic increase in enrollment. Taylor's tenure has clearly been a positive step, as opposed to the constant leadership shuffling the Oakland district has experienced.

PS for Little Rock — That doesn't mean you extend tenure to someone on stability alone. Qualifications also count. Accountability in principal hiring begins first with the superintendent for example, not the ousted school board.




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