Principal Dr. Gerald Gary knew his students could do better -- he just had to convince them and their families. He improved student achievement and changed the schools culture by setting high expectations for everyone in the building. Included: How high expectations are implemented.
Principal Dr. Gerald Gary knew his students at Jackson School could do better. He just had to convince them and their parents.
Concerned that his students parents often had lower expectations for their children than parents in other communities, Gary introduced parents at his school to research about the affect of parent involvement on student achievement. Soon parents began to take more of an interest in what students were learning at school and at home.
After two years of effort, about 80 percent of parents are supportive of measures to raise expectations and implement consequences for infractions, Gary told Education World. Students werent the only ones rising to higher expectations; Gary began insisting that all staff members in the building take on more responsibility as part of a culture of high expectations for everyone.
Jackson, a K-5 school in Camden, South Carolina, has a high number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, an indicator of low-income families. I found that parents and the community did not have the same expectations for their children as those in other, more affluent schools, Gary told Education World. The teachers always had high expectations -- we just needed to elevate them, and then get parents to buy in.
Gary began holding meetings for parents during which he presented data showing that when parents get involved with their childrens education, achievement increases. He talked about the importance of reading to children at home and checking their homework regularly, noting that these efforts have a positive affect on student performance.
I showed them data from schools with the same background as ours and how we could get similar results. They [Jackson parents] couldnt say their children were not doing well because of poverty or because they came from single-parent homes. If you read to them, that levels the playing field.
Weve reduced class sizes in kindergarten through second grade, so we can reach the goal of reading at grade level by second grade, Gary told Education World. I believe if they are not reading at grade level by second grade, it increases their chances of dropping out.
Gary also set goals for students above the minimum standard. He decided students needed to surpass the target point on the states Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), which is used in the fall to determine students expected academic growth. I said we need to exceed target growth if the kids are going to succeed -- so now we look at the target as the mid-point.
More incentives also were introduced to encourage student achievement and better behavior. Jackson now uses the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) discipline approach, which stresses rewards for positive outcomes. Students who score in the highest range on the state tests, for example, have the chance to earn a Wii. Smaller prizes are available for other high-scoring students.
It has improved all aspects of behavior, Gary said of PBIS. We probably have between 50 and 60 percent fewer referrals than we did two years ago. We look at rewarding the good as opposed to focusing on the negative.
Besides pushing students harder, Gary made it clear to his staff members that they also had to step up their game. In the past, there were some students who put their heads down on their desks and refused to do any work. I said students wont be allowed to sleep in class or say they cant do it, Gary said. They have to put forth the effort or the parents are contacted.
And if a custodian complains that a particular classroom is extremely messy every day, that custodian has to talk to the classroom teacher about what he or she needs to do to facilitate cleaning. Teachers have to know they have to do basic cleanup so custodians can do their job, he said. Its helping everyone understand their roles and holding everyone accountable.
Initially, there was some difficulty getting people to buy in to the idea. Part of the fear was that not everyone was going to be accountable, so you cant let anyone get away with not doing what they are supposed to do, Gary noted. You have to hold everyone accountable.
His advice for other administrators looking to engage the community in school reform -- break out the data. Take people to a successful school with a similar population and see if you can adapt it [the schools operation] for your building.