The PRIDE is Back

The Pride is Back at Banneker High SchoolThis week, we welcome our students back for the start of the 2016-2017 school-year.  As has become custom, we begin by announcing our theme for the year – a new tradition that will continue for decades on end. If you recall, my tenure as principal of Banneker High School began one year ago by declaring, It’s A New Day”.  In so doing, the goal was to transmit a new message; to express that Banneker High School was moving in a new direction fueled by the desire to create an improved school experience for our students. Although that work continues, this year, we are squarely focused on reclaiming the pride that has long defined our school community.  

Over the past several months, I have enjoyed the privilege of meeting dozens of BHS alumni – all of whom have delighted me with wondrous stories about a school that they recall was unified by the goal of pushing students to become their personal bests.  They talked about a time when being a student at Banneker was a part of their personal identities, not just the place where they were assigned to attend school.  These proud alums spoke about caring teachers who inexhaustibly challenged them, parents who were dedicated and engaged, and students who positively represented BHS through their collective pursuits of excellence.

Having been inspired by these conversations, I’ve been moved to dedicate the 2016-2017 school-year to reclaiming that which has so clearly defined the Banneker High School community since its inception – our school pride.  As we begin our 28th year, I declare that “The PRIDE Is Back” at Banneker High School!  More appropriately, each letter in the word “pride” also corresponds with our recently articulated core values:  Perseverance; Respect; Discipline; Integrity; and Excellence!

Shadeed Abdul-Salaam

Mr. Shadeed Abdul-Salaam

Joining me this year are several new additions to our team – each coming from unique and impressive backgrounds.  For example, Mr. Shadeed Abdul-Salaam comes to Banneker having previously worked as a public health chemist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  Mr. Abdul-Salaam earned his Bachelor’s degree as double major in Biology and Chemistry from Morehouse College.  He is also the holder of a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Emory University.  Even more, Mr. Abdul- Salaam is a 2015 Woodrow Wilson National Teacher Fellow.

Complimenting Mr. Abdul-Salaam are veterans like long time math teacher Ms. Yolanda Goggins.  Ms. Goggins, who will be starting her 23rd year at Banneker, returns in a slightly new role. She will now be serving as an Expanded Impact Teacher and teacher mentor – a new role thoughtfully created through our partnership with the school reform non-profit organization, Public Impact.

Ms. Goggins, Mr. Abdul-Salaam, and many others represent an intellectual revival of sorts at Banneker High School.  Together, they will help to reclaim the pride of our beloved school by leveraging their experience and expertise to set help set the tone for elevating the professional practice of the adults within our building.  

In just a short period of time, we’ve come a very long way.  With you, we can travels miles further, and quicker.  For the sake of our students, we must. As we prepare to get started, I enthusiastically invite your support. Welcome to the 2016-2017 school year.

The Pride is Back!

Teacher Shortages Spell Trouble for Struggling Schools

2014-15 Teacher Shortage ChartIn just a few short weeks, children will return to school marking the end of summer vacation. When they return, if a degreed, certified, and credentialed teacher has been assigned to lead their classrooms – luck will surely have fallen upon them.  They will be lucky because America’s teacher shortage problem is real, and the devastatingly harmful effects of those shortages have the ability to further handicap this nation’s schools – especially underperforming, high poverty schools.  

Notwithstanding these shortages, even the casual observer could rightly assume a couple of things about why low performing schools are so deeply affected by teacher shortages.  Those assumptions would likely be: 1) The working conditions are difficult, and 2) The residual impact of those conditions result in high rates of attrition.

Both of these assumptions, even if not substantiated by academic studies or verifying data points would be reasonably safe judgments to make.  Perhaps more, they would probably be correct. But the problem isn’t solely about teacher attrition or the challenges associated with working in struggling schools.  Those issues have been bandied about for years.  However, what may be surprising to many is that the task of filling a teacher vacancy has become a more complicated task than it once was.  There now exists an equal, if not greater concern about the supply of teachers available to choose from.

The Student and School Experience

Student – Teacher shortages fundamentally impact the quality of a child’s school experience.  Their schooling is often wrought with collapsed course sections, maxed-out classrooms, and virtual classroom assignments – not as a matter of convenience or choice, but of necessity.  For high schoolers, imagine an experience where substitutes are charged to teach vitally important foundational classes such as Biology or Algebra.  Imagine further, specialized courses like Spanish and French, or critical courses like Calculus and Physics simply not being offered because of the lack of an available teacher.  For far too many students, these circumstances represent a common experience.

Teacher DeskSchool – Although efforts have intensified in recent years to transform failing schools, much attention has been given to the urgency with which these schools are expected to produce improved student outcomes.  Often missing in the corresponding discussion is an analysis of the access that those schools have to qualified personnel – much less, minimally qualified personnel.  What then results from a dwindling teacher force is a condition where struggling schools are pushed to hire lesser-experienced teachers; promising young professionals who have not yet reached their full potential, but asked to execute on some of the most challenging work there is.  Unfortunately, struggling schools and the students they serve require at least access to talented individuals from all sectors; experienced and novice – not just a homogeneous cadre of new entrants into the profession. As a consequence, the impact of teacher shortages can have the effect of stifling the much needed turnaround efforts underway in many low performing schools unless the teacher workforce quickly repopulates and diversifies.

A Point of Action

To the credit of some school districts across the country, teacher shortages have been met with smart and aggressive action.  Earlier this year, it was reported that the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) in Savannah, Georgia was poised to hire upwards of 450 new teachers – none requiring a teaching degree or certificate.  This strategy took dead aim at the district’s teacher shortage problem.  More importantly, such a drastic measure likely supplied teachers for schools that otherwise wouldn’t have them.  It’s worth noting, too, that the Savannah-Chatham County Public School District serves approximately 30,000 students, a significant percentage of whom attend academically struggling schools.

What Next?

While struggling schools continue to find ways to best meet the academic needs of their students, that work can only be realized through the efforts of great teachers.  When teachers are sparse, producing sustained reform efforts focused on improved academic achievement becomes more difficult, if not improbable.  It is good news, however, that a bevy of school-based innovations, policy adjustments, and other efforts to make the teaching profession more attractive have finally begun to take root.  Each of these strategies will likely continue to expand until the nation’s teacher workforce is prepared to meet its demand.  

For struggling schools, relief can’t come soon enough; doubly so for students.

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For more on the topic:

The American Federation of Teachers

Attracting well Qualified Teacher to Struggling Schools

http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/winter-2002/attracting-well-qualified-teachers-struggling

 

The Southeast Center for Teaching Quality

Recruiting Teachers for Hard-to-Staff Schools: Solutions for North Carolina and the Nation

http://www.ncforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Recruiting-Teachers-for-Hard-to-Staff-Schools-Fall-2001.pdf

 

TampaBay.com

Who’s My Teacher Today?

http://www.tampabay.com/projects/2015/investigations/pinellas-failure-factories/teachers/

The Paradox of Proficiency

Recently, a friend of mine and I furiously discussed an issue that ever since, I’ve been unable to find peace about. In our exchange, she said to me, “Schools have a moral imperative to ensure that students are successful when they graduate.” “They must be proficient at something!” Clearly, my well educated, super smart physician friend was associating proficiency with future success – a position that to me was far-reaching and stubbornly idealistic. In my attempt to give her adamance the benefit of doubt, I tried to draw a connection between her position and Dr. Benjamin Mays’ legendary musings about “…an air of expectancy”. But my friend’s argument wasn’t just about sending students into the world expecting that they do well. She argued that every diploma we award should come with a warranty of proficiency.

Although speaking specifically about my school, more broadly, she meant all schools – and since our discussion, I’ve been haunted by questions whose answers have proven elusive: How can I actually ensure that students are successful beyond their days under my care? Better yet, what must be true about their school experience that ensures a trajectory of success? Must our focus be purely academic or socio-emotional – or perhaps even behavioral?

Some would argue that reaching proficiency in the content standards is the most reliable indicator of future academic success. Yes, getting students to proficiency is a critical component of any educator’s work, but what remains unclear is what proficiency actually means. Although academic standards provide a clear guidepost for what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade, it is much harder to truly quantify the depth of student learning in reality. Most parents who believe their children to be proficient would probably tell you that it means their kids are prepared for the academic challenges that lie ahead – be it transitioning from 4th grade to 5th grade, or from high school to college. The presumption that undergirds this belief is that proficiency means having a solid intellectual or technical command of the material they’ve been taught. Yet and still, the only tools we have to actually verify proficiency come in the form of student grade reports, bracketed by a bevy of mandated assessments. We know them well: diagnostics, formatives, summatives, benchmarks, and state exams. Somehow, from these assessments, we are to glean a measure of truth about student ability. I only wonder how much truth we actually gain once these assessments have all been given? A paltry sum I imagine.

In recent years, students have been bombarded with conflicting messages about their academic abilities. We are all too familiar with stories of standout high school students enrolling in remedial courses once they arrive at college, or middle school students ill-prepared for the rigor awaiting them in high school. If not an indictment on these students’ prior school experiences, stories of this kind suggest that they simply aren’t as prepared as we think or hope.

Actually, the world demands more than just proficiency. Employers aren’t looking for those who are “generally capable”, much less colleges and universities. Most educators understand this; we understand that the quiet ambition of education isn’t proficiency at all – it’s everything that lies along the continuum between personal growth and mastery. Under this theory, it is not difficult to understand that clinically, “…proficiency levels change in direct relation to the scales, standards, tests, and calculation methods being used to evaluate and determine it.” But with the constant change that we endure in public education, it is difficult to envision a time when we will ever reach clarity on this issue.

Today – as I reflect on the discussion I had with my dear, well-intentioned friend, I realize that the strange paradox of proficiency will always be with us. The reality is that the truth about student ability may very well remain elusive until the mechanisms through which we examine proficiency are re-examined.

We Need Them All

 

we_need_them_all_groupI believe that teachers have the most direct and measurable impact on student achievement. And although sharp criticisms have been offered in recent years about those who enter the profession through non-traditional pathways – I am convinced that time has come to upend the treachery of this debate. I’d rather focus on something that we can all agree on: This nation’s public schools are in crisis, and if we are to ever solve this enduring problem, we need to support our teachers while working to identify a new generation of professional educators.

As a principal, I know too well how a tough, smart, and unrelenting teacher can change a student’s life. For me, it was Mrs. Crawford – my third grade teacher. To an 8 year old, she was a tall woman with an intimidating presence. By all standards, Mrs. Crawford could be best described as “old school” – a strict disciplinarian and a lover of structure and routine. She managed our class from behind her desk and could bring swift order with the narrow squint of her eyes alone. Our assignments were on the wall-length chalkboard each day, and her impeccable classroom – smartly decorated with bright colors, posters of famous Americans, and a variety of motivational sayings.

Mrs. Crawford taught for her entire adult life and well beyond retirement age. Generations of families in the Carver Heights community of my hometown are indebted to her for the contributions she made to the lives of so many young people. Admittedly, it is not likely that my recollections of Ms. Crawford have gone unaffected by the passing of time. My depictions of her may not even be fair or completely accurate – but I am certain that she has been one of the most powerful influences of my life.

By contemporary standards, Mrs. Crawford wasn’t a model for the exercise of best instructional practices. She probably wouldn’t perform well under the mandates of my state’s teacher evaluation system either. But what she did better than any other was push students to their personal bests. In her own brand of instruction, Mrs. Crawford made sure that students left her classroom feeling challenged. Her students learned that the formula for success required a belief in oneself, effort, and hard work. Those were the real lessons of her class.

I’m convinced that Mrs. Crawford typifies the kind of people we need in our schools today. She wasn’t a gem because of her instructional prowess, but because should could pull extraordinary things out of children. In my professional experience, teachers who possess that skill need not come from a particular tradition of preparation either. Degrees and training don’t necessarily predict success in this work. The reality is that there is a new paradigm within which we must function as educators – and throwbacks like Mrs. Crawford are relics from the century just past. Teachers like her simply aren’t commonly found – and that isn’t a bad thing.

We don’t need educators of the same background, forged from similar training frameworks and each having the same motivations for why they’ve entered the profession. What we need are talented individuals who believe in children – traditionally trained or alternatively so. We need the career changer, the novice, the lifelong educator, and the one who simply wants to make a meaningful contribution to this nation’s most noble career.

In a perfect world, classrooms of the future will consist of an eclectic collection of teachers – an amalgamation of traditionalists like Mrs. Crawford and the constantly plugged-in millennial. Joining them will be the retired military veteran and those who just want to help children reach their full potential. To that end, if we are to appropriately respond to the needs of students, and ostensibly, our schools, then we must leave no stone unturned in our search for the very best people there are. They are out there, and we need them. We need them all.

The Stars Among Us

Ms. Prayer Indowu

Ms. Prayer Indowu

I am a sports junkie – and without shame or fear of reprisal, I admit to regularly scouring the pages of sports magazines and watching ESPN more often than I should. So, in my unapologetic obsession, I do all of the things that people who have unhealthy addictions do. I overindulge.

On one of my recent binges, I came across an article that discussed how the use of analytics (the discovery of meaningful patterns in data) has become an indispensable tool used by most professional sports teams. In no uncertain terms, there is a new complexity to modern day athletics, and the use of analytics has become essential to gaining competitive advantage and for identifying talent. Nearly every major professional sports team is now steeped in the art of predictive analysis – a practice that relies upon the utility of complicated algorithms and statistical models. Together, they have the very specific purpose of foretelling performance outcomes within an anticipated, but very small margin of error.

As an educator, I heartily believe that if we relied on predictive statistics to identify students who were destined for success, we would actively be participating in an exercise of condemnation for those whom “the numbers” may not favor. We would be pre-determining their life outcomes based on seemingly reliable data. But isn’t that what happens anyway – at least on some level? It has become very easy to make predictions about students based on a cursory examination of a variety of factors – not the least of which are things like family income, reading ability, test scores, and the social conditions from with they come. As maddening as these identifiers may be, I admit that they do hold some value if considered thoughtfully and used in a responsible manner. At Banneker, we take note of the challenges that our students come to us with, but we also work to look beyond them so as to ensure that subconscious judgments aren’t made about their ability to perform.

Each day, as I walk our hallways, I am convinced that my students are absolutely amazing – all having talents, skills, and abilities that need to be awakened and cultivated. They are stars. Some shine brighter than others, and some have simply yet to be discovered – but they are stars no less. They come to us in all sorts of disguises – seemingly unmotivated, disinterested, and uninspired. But they, much like the stars that populate our universe are just waiting to be found.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about all of the students that I may have overlooked during my career. How deep and impactful have my failures been, I’ve thought? Rather than lamenting about professional shortcomings, I am now committed to letting the world know when I have discovered a star. So, in the spirit of honoring this commitment, allow me to introduce you to Ms. Prayer Indowu. She is a talented writer, poet, and spoken word artist from Banneker High School – and, she is a star indeed.

These are her words:

“Rise Up Now”, in part

Why must it be that in this life, we are separated?
Why must it be that people are forced or required to do things they aren’t willing to do themselves?

Must we all be in that box of “no progress” – because, “hello, I refuse”.
I refuse to be a part of a collective, a group or be a dependent, a statistic, a stereotype, a label, or be a follower. I refuse to be in a box of “no progress”. I want to explore the world and go places, and do things unimagineable. I want to be called “DISTINCTIVE, DIFFERENT, and INDEPENDENT”. I want to be out of the box.

I have been in two different worlds. I have tasted rich and poor, white and black, nice and cruel, smart and dumb. I have experienced ups and downs, life and death, highs and lows.

All I’m saying is that there are differences in this world, and I want to be the DIFFERENT part of the world. I want to be greater than those who have lived, I don’t want to like her or him, I want to be like ME!!!

by Prayer Indowu
Banneker High School, 10th grade

Leveraging the Full Thrust of Community Partnerships

duke_staff_circle

A coalition of Banneker’s community partners

As the nation recently paused to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I have found it difficult to overlook much of the corresponding commentary offered about New Orleans’ hotly debated education reform movement. While many conscious observers have remained fixated on topics such as school choice and reform sustainability – for me, the most compelling discussions emerging out of this debate have been about what’s actually happening in the schools themselves. Whatever your politics may be – there is no question that the work of modern education reform must extend beyond the classroom.

At Banneker High School, we boast several partnerships with organizations that not only provide a variety of essential services, but also produce incredible results for kids. Whether the work is about dropout prevention or helping young people make healthy decisions about their lives, I am proud to say that Banneker High School has been proactive about securing much needed extended support for our students.

Making Partnerships More Dynamic

In the coming weeks, we will be announcing another exciting new partnership with the Oak Hill Child, Family, and Adolescent Center. We have teamed up with Oak Hill to launch the Georgia Apex Project (GAP) – a program that will provide site-based mental health screenings and services for students on an ongoing basis. While GAP represents the first of what we hope will be several new initiatives during the 2015-2016 school year, preparing for its launch has reaffirmed that initiatives of this sort are critical to the success of our students. For years, Banneker has been fortunate to partner with dynamic organizations like Communities in Schools, The Future Foundation, Stand Up for Kids, Showcase Group, Next Generation Men – and several others. However, we’ve now come to realize that in order to maximize our partners’ collective impact and utility, the services that they provide must be fully leveraged, marketed broadly, and regularly assessed for value.

Recently, we convened a meeting with several of our partners to discuss, among other things, how inter-agency relationships can help to ensure that students receive the full benefit of auxiliary resources in place to assist them.   Going forward, we’ve committed ourselves to exploring whether, or the extent to which coalitions between community partners can yield a more powerful impact than organizations who operate independently. Of course, there is always room for all types of support at Banneker High School, but our work has turned more pointedly to investigating how we can leverage the power of collaboration to ensure maximum impact for our kids.

Duke

It’s a New Day

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Ms. Ojofeitimi, Dr. Bradley, and Mr. Oliver

Having recently completed week 1 of the new school year, I am pleased to announce that we are off to a fantastic start.  Last Monday, we happily welcomed over 1600 students and a staff numbering 192 in all.

Represented among those faithful 192 staff members is an impressive collection of professional educators.  We have people like Mr. Raynard Oliver, a 35-year veteran mathematics teacher who has been with Banneker since its opening in 1988.  We also have new additions like Ms. Marie Ojofeitimi, a very talented Teach for America Corps member from Long Island, New York.  She will be teaching a variety of English courses.  I could mention several more individuals on our team, but Mr. Oliver and Ms. Ojofeitimi represent the whole of Banneker’s instructional staff – a combination of experienced and novice teachers who share in the work of teaching our students.  It has been my good fortune to work alongside them during the summer months and now into the early weeks of the new-year.

One powerful anecdote that has come from our work together is the adoption of Banneker’s 2015-2016 motto: “It’s a New Day.”  In several ways, we are changing for the better and a new day is certainly upon us.  Even Interim Superintendent Mr. Ken Zeff noted some of those positive changes during a recent visit to the school.  Now, I join district staff and an army of supporters to help move Banneker to a higher level of academic performance.  It should be noted, though, that we are not trekking blindly into the proverbial wilderness; we have a plan.  To that end, there are five strategic initiatives that will inform our work this year.

They are:

  • Initiative #1: The implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s)
  • Initiative #2: The application of Understanding By Design (UbD)
  • Initiative #3: The demonstration of Restorative Practices
  • Initiative #4: Balanced Literacy, and
  • Initiative #5: Talent development through personalized coaching

In cooperation with our School Governance Council and the

Achievement Zone team, we’ve designed an aggressive plan of action that will be implemented with fidelity and closely monitored. I have also prepared a supplemental 90-day entry plan for this school year.  This work centers primarily upon improving our practice as adults, setting high expectations for all, and maintaining a relentless focus on elevating our academic standing.  But we need your help!  We need you actively engaged in the school community – be it through volunteer service, attending school events, or simply by spreading the good word about all the wonderful things happening in “Trojan Land”.  If you do that, I can assure you that nothing will prevent us from reaching our goals.

Within a culture of collaboration and an absolute focus on results, I am confident that Banneker High School will claim its place as a beacon of academic excellence. Attributes like hard work, excellence, and determination must be thoughtfully integrated and prominently featured in every aspect of our work.  Making certain that these things happen is my job – but at my invitation, I hope that you will join me on this journey.  Will you?

It’s a New Day at Banneker High School!

Duke