“East” of the west

For the next few weeks, I want to use my school improvement blog to introduce you to a few principals, their schools and the turnaround work that they are doing (or have done) to make a difference in the lives of students.  It is my absolute honor to know them and to have worked with these amazing leaders. Today, we are going to start in Gresham, Oregon and my friends at East Gresham Elementary School. I may have included a few snippets from the school over the last year so I am apologizing up front about repeating myself… some great things are just worth repeating, right??

I met Kimberly Miles, Principal at East Gresham Elementary almost five years ago.  My first work with her was quite simply to conduct a needs assessment and provide a little bit of leadership coaching for her.  We identified areas in need of improvement to really grow her school and quite honestly, at the first, it was a little bit (or a whole lot) of everything.  Kimberly was new to the school and so were many of the staff. They had just received a school improvement grant and a team of us (well, two of us) were assigned to the school to support the work needed.

My colleague, Polly Patrick tackled the heavy lifting right away with the school.  Polly led the staff on a journey of growth mindset; working to establish a more positive culture that was focused on believing in student ability and supporting that same confidence in the students themselves. They did book studies and had deep conversations about purpose, values, beliefs and what they truly wanted the school to become. Picture2 GRIT became part of the culture at the school and refusing to accept failure soon took on a life of its own at the school.

In the meantime, I was working with the staff to establish a collaborative culture. Teachers initiated collaborative team meetings, forming professional learning communities as the way of their work in the school. They learned to agree on what were truly essential learnings for students, how they would assess and they became very, very good at using their data as evidence of learning.  It was such a pleasure to watch their conversations grow over the years to very focused discussions about what students needed to know and, most important, what the adults had to do to make this happen.

I wish that I could tell you that this all happened overnight and that the staff found it really easy to work differently with us.  I sure know that they persevered and stayed the course but the bumps and roadblocks that I often refer to in school improvement were alive and well at the school.  Not every single teacher always loves working in collaborative teams (well, for the most part, in my experience, they do once they see the benefits of the work but maybe not at first) and sometimes they do not get the increase in student achievement right away that they so desire from all of their hard work.  Changing practice is complex for many so as we are working on new ways to work together and better ways to be evidence-based and working hard to build confident learners, we still need to know what we are doing in the classroom is the most effective work. And, so, at East Gresham, instructional strategies were addressed and expectations of what great classrooms looked like were identified. Eventually, teachers owned the process of change and were continuous learners of the critical work needed to improve. And, here are their results:

Smarter Balanced Assessment (National Assessment)

  ELA Meets or Exceeds Math Meets or Exceeds
2014-15* (1styear SBAC) 27.07% 20.45%
2015-16 27.9% 20.1%
2016-17 28.77% 19.86%
2017-18 41.78% 32.85%

ODE Report Card (Oregon State Report Card)

Year Academic Achievement Level Academic Growth Level Student Group Growth Level
NCLB Waiver ratings, Percentages plus 1-5 levels
2014-15 20% 1 20% 1 22.5% 1
2015-16 30% 2 60% 3 42.5% 2
2016-17 40% 2 70% 4 52.5% 3

My proudest accomplishment at the school, (ok, not really my accomplishment but Principal Kimberly’s accomplishment) was the growth in leadership at the school.  Dr. Miles learned to work with a shared leadership model. She created a guiding coalition/leadership team that met consistently.  The teachers on her team truly became the school leaders.  Their agendas developed from business/administrative issues to student-centered problems to address and solve.  They learned to use school wide data as evidence of what they needed to do next.  And, I truly should not be writing here in the past tense because this is still “the way they work” at East Gresham School.  I have to say, when I first met Kimberly, I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to authentically share the leadership at her school.  As most principals will say, that is a hard thing to do.  You are a new principal and you want to lead.  You were hired to lead the school and given the great responsibility to lead.  So, when someone comes along and asks you to create a shared leadership model and to bring real decisions to the team on a regular basis, that is often too big a mountain for many to climb. Kimberly learned that autonomy and empowerment did not mean giving away anything. It simply created more opportunities for others to provide expertise and discuss and think about their current reality and vision for improvement in a very collaborative way.

I watched Kimberly grow in so many ways over the years and I am most proud of her ability to share leadership.  This style of leading has led her school to successful growth and has provided the framework for a positive, truly collaborative school culture.  One sure sign that things have changed was shared with me this past week. Kimberly told me that she has had few teachers leave in the past year… anyone in a school turnaround situation knows that it is really, really hard to keep great teachers in these challenging schools. Kimberly knows that she has turned the page as staff now want to work at the school.

In closing, I invite you to visit Dr. Miles own blog- https://afewthingsworthreading.blogspot.com/2019/01/a-must-read-for-each-school-leader.html?spref=tw.  I appreciated that she used her blog space to write about a book that I co-authored.  Her ability to continuously read, study and want to learn inspires me  to do all that I can to improve schools.  Have a great week. I look forward to seeing you next Saturday.


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