Louisa May Alcott Elementary School
Louisa May Alcott serves a challenging population: 100 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and about a third are designated as special education. Students often enroll with emotional and social problems, difficult family issues and low academic achievement. But thanks to an outstanding faculty and staff, these hurdles are by no means insurmountable. On the 2009 state assessment, Alcott students outperformed Cleveland students in general: 77 percent scored proficient in reading, compared with 49 percent districtwide. Similarly, 75 percent of Alcott students were proficient in math, compared with 41 percent of students who were proficient districtwide. The results for special needs students were just as impressive—in both math and reading, Alcott students significantly outperformed their peers districtwide.
Regional superintendent Cliff Hayes Jr. has lauded the leadership of the school, noting its “culture of ‘we.’”¹ Alcott principal Eileen Stull is known for consensus building and collaboration, as well as her open-door policy for continued conversations about curriculum and instruction. Yet Stull is hesitant to take credit; she attributes the school’s success to students’ families and her staff. She says, “Honestly, I have the most fabulous teachers here.”² Parents appreciate the community atmosphere, saying that Stull seems to know each child’s name. Additionally, she has a reputation for picking up truant students, showing up on parents’ doorsteps for light conversations, and traveling across the state to pick up instructional materials to save on shipping costs.
“We have a very warm, nurturing staff,” says music teacher Kay Hazlett. “We work together as a team.” Hazlett says that like the principal, teachers know every child by name.
Students at the school take classes in art, music, physical education and library/media, which many schools around the country have cut due to state budget shortfalls. But a couple years ago, the head of the Cleveland school district mandated that every child receive instruction in these areas, Hazlett says. “I believe he feels that by having all four areas along with academics, it’s going to produce a well-rounded child.”
Hazlett teaches a general music class to all students. Those who are interested can sign up for choir and band, which she also leads. Choir takes place during a planning period for grade-level teachers, but Hazlett pulls students out of their academic classes for band lessons. Students participate in band “with the understanding they keep up with their work,” she says. Hazlett works with grade-level teachers to “make sure this pull-out program is not interfering with these children’s academic success.” After all, academics come first, she says. Teachers often stay after school or arrive early to tutor students who need extra support.
The school uses an intense reading program, Direct Instruction, in which students are divided into small groups based on individual ability. Teachers and instructional aides then work in these small groups with a highly detailed curriculum, and they collaborate both within and across grade levels to further student success. Several retired nuns work with struggling students one on one. This small-group and individual focus extends to special education students, who work with an additional instructor in their inclusion classes. This instructor focuses solely on special education students’ needs.
Despite their success, Stull and her faculty are not yet satisfied. They have announced a new goal: raising Alcott’s Performance Index to 102.2 from 95.1. The increase would earn the school an “excellent” designation by the state, and Alcott would join only nine other Cleveland schools, out of a total of 144, that have received this distinction.
¹Quentin Suffren and Theodore J. Wallace, Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s High-Performing, High-Need Urban Schools, May 2010, http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED511402.pdf. Most of the material in this profile was adapted from this report. For a more detailed portrait of Alcott, see the report.
²Needles in a Haystack video, http://vimeo.com/11117466.
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