September 6, 2016

Quick Takes (v13): Changing Times at The SCSD

Quick Takes
School starts Wednesday in the Syracuse City School District for most students.

Some - those who attend Bellevue Elementary - will have to wait a little longer, as there was some damage from a broken pipe that was discovered this week which needs to be fixed, according to a report on the news tonight.

Students at Grant Middle School started two weeks ago. According to this article, there are a number of changes for Grant.
The extra two weeks of school are part of Grant's ambitious campaign to improve. (Principal Pam) Odom is striving to turn a building known for behavioral issues and some of the worst test results in the state into a school where families want to send their kids for individualized, tech-savvy learning.
The early return is just one part of the plan. Other changes include extending the day by 40 minutes; personalizing curriculum to individual students; assigning eighth graders to mentor their younger peers; rearranging classrooms to better use technology; finding ways to get kids involved in the neighboring community: (and) providing incentives to students who behave well and don't miss class.
There are still many challenges - including funding, as always - to sustain the improvements that have been seen in test outcomes, reduced suspensions, and the other small successes that have been seen, and in turning Grant into a "21st century school for 21st century students" and I'm hoping they are able to keep things going in the right direction.

Not all that far away, another SCSD school has been removed from the "persistently dangerous" list, having been on it for two years. Lincoln Middle School, under the leadership of Principal LaJuan White, has been making changes as well.

Some of the changes center on a 'classroom hierarchy' which outlines expectations for students, and at the same time tries to keep kids in the classroom rather than meting out harsh discipline for little things. Per this article, another spotlight on the SCSD in the local paper, there were also changes made in how the building administration worked.
To start, Lincoln did away with a formal Principal's office last school year. Instead of having a suite of office for the administration, each principal or vice principal was assigned to a hallway and grade level. White also created teacher deans to monitor hallways during their free periods. That helped cut down on students who didn't go to (discipline rooms) when they were told. The teacher deans could also help defuse conflicts they weren't already involved in, and they started to form relationships with students they wouldn't otherwise teach. 
Another innovation? Principals making home visits. Those visits helped establish a relationship between the parents and the school, certainly, but also respect between students and the principals. White notes
I think that almost gave me some street cred -- like, 'she's crazy enough to go to your house, so don't even do it.' I'd say 'I'll see you at your house later' [Students would] say, 'yeah, right.' Then they would see, and it's like, 'oh you were serious.'
As at Grant, more work needs to be done, and some of the changes haven't been easy for everyone, including the teachers, to accept. Progress seems to be coming slowly in that regard, though, as everyone in the school community begins to build bonds that will help everyone be successful.

The biggest change for the SCSD this school year? Sharon Contreras, the embattled superintendent, she who did not have the confidence of the teachers or even some of the Board, is now gone.

In her place in the Superintendent's Office is Jaime Alicea, the district's chief operating officer and a former teacher, principal, and deputy superintendent. He has the respect of the teacher's union, and of the Board of Education; several members of the Board are new as well.

Grant and Lincoln are illustrations of what can be done, and of some of the things that need to be done, in many of the schools within the SCSD. But this seems like a truly new year, one that will bring hope to the students, the teachers, the staff, and the administration, and one where everyone is 'rowing in the same direction' as they say in the business world.

We've needed a start like this for a while.