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Sharing the Secret of Success

Stanton Teachers Tell How the School Improved

Several teachers have spent their entire careers at Stanton. They remember the school's past struggles and have witnessed—and contributed to—its transformation.

American Educator talked to first-grade teacher Pam Mace, who has been at Stanton for 13 years, fifth-grade teacher John Coats, who has taught there for 22 years and is currently the union building representative, and team leaders Christina Taylor and Kathleen Shallow, who have worked there for 8 and 12 years respectively, to find out what Stanton's improvement process has been like. Here are some of their comments on what's working and why—and what's still tough.

–EDITORS

Coats: Your work day doesn't begin and end at Stanton. Your day begins at home as you're preparing to come to Stanton to meet the kids' needs. Then you can teach them. You can build relationships. I think that's what made the difference: The teachers are actually building relationships with not only the kids, but the community, the family, so the kids are buying into the program. And they'll come out for Saturday school. They'll come out for extended day. When I have a [math tutoring] club at 7:00 in the morning, they'll come out for the additional support.

Mace: We're definitely an assessment-driven school. We look at our assessments to see where our students need help. And we look at our standards.

Shallow: Since the restructuring [in which the district provided Stanton and 20 other schools with a variety of additional supports] and the adoption of the citywide core curriculum, instruction is standards-driven. Teachers have the core, they have a guide, they have the benchmarks, they know where they have to be and what students need to do. We do a lot more data analysis now, so we are really focusing in on students' needs—for children who need additional support, but also for children who are excelling. We differentiate the instruction to meet the children's needs at all levels.

Mace: The team leaders have been so helpful. They are in the classroom making sure we have what we need, being very helpful to new teachers as well as the veteran teachers. Working with them you get a fresh look at things, something that you aren't already doing, or a different twist or approach.

Taylor: As a team leader, I'm in charge of our math program. I model lessons—my ultimate goal is to teach teachers best practices. I also help out with the struggling math students in the classrooms. I receive professional development, too. Once a month the other team leader, Ms. Shallow, and I go to meetings to learn new things that we can then present to the staff; I go to a math meeting and Ms. Shallow goes to a literacy meeting.

Shallow: Professional development throughout the entire district has improved. There's more focus with the core curriculum. In addition to what the district mandates, we also have morning breakfasts in which one of the teachers shares a best practice. We've had two or three this year. So the teachers are also responsible for the professional development—it's not just Ms. Taylor and me giving out information.

Coats: The main piece of advice that I would offer to other schools that need to improve is to make sure that everyone, all the stakeholders—not just the administration, but also the teachers, the community, the parents—buy into what you're doing. Make the community a part of the school. Offer them jobs in the building. Have them come in to volunteer, work in the classrooms, assist the teachers, provide office support, police the halls, make sure that children are in class, and help out with tutoring or reading enrichment.

Taylor: You have to hold yourself accountable. I think many teachers, back when we first went to school, learned that as a teacher you got a guide that told you what and how to teach and that's all you did. If, as a teacher, you notice that 18 of your 25 kids failed the test, then you need to re-teach the material a whole other way. So you need to walk outside your classroom and ask your colleagues how they taught that material.

Shallow: Nobody can do it alone; you have to work together. And you have to analyze the data. At Stanton, we know the neighborhood is rough, but we can't worry about that. We can't worry about what's going on at home. We know it affects the students, but that can't be our reason for not pushing hard. Everything we do is standards-driven. We have a tight agenda. Every minute of the day is focused on work.