Go tell it on the mountain

Have to share this wonderful story of what real education reform can look like. A school where teachers hold themselves to the highest standards available for measuring teaching quality; where the administration values teacher voice, and where students benefit from uncompromising commitment to quality.

The place: Stonewall Tell Elementary School in College Park, Georgia. Forty teachers at the K-5 school (out of a total staff of 91 including administrators, paraprofessionals, and other non-classroom personnel) are voluntarily pursuing National Board Certification.

What’s even more amazing is the journey the teachers and administration of the school have made together to get to this point. The process began when Principal Shannon Flounnory listened to 4th grade teacher, Elletta Denson, NBCT, when she introduced him to the NBPTS Take One! program in which teachers complete one entry of the multi-faceted National Board process. Denson proceeded to “design and implement…a schoolwide comprehensive, job-embedded…performance-based” professional development around Take One!  “71 teachers and 3 administrators successfully completed this process with a 0% attrition rate..making Stonewall Tell Elementary School the largest cohort in the nation to complete this rigorous process.”

Along the way teachers gained greater proficiency in use of data, and in how to adjust instruction according to the cultural and learning differences among their students. Principal Flounnory was so impressed, he led a massive letter writing campaign to help raise enough money to pay the fees for all 40 teachers who went on to commit themselves to full Board Certification. He rightly observed: “This is a very small investment for our community considering that our community’s teachers will be among the most highly skilled anywhere.” These teachers are demonstrating their desire to be held accountable for student learning by opening themselves for peer review and critique at the school and national level.

Unlike many in education who bemoan the lack of parental involvement and try to use this as an excuse for lower student achievement (if you read my earlier post, you know why I don’t put much stock in this as reason not to teach well), Flounnory and his staff believe, “High levels of parental involvement would be an outstanding asset, but if we don’t get it, then we still have a responsibility to the students we serve.” Teachers at Stonewall Tell have focused on the real priority: student learning. “Instead of having discussions [about] some students not achieving standards, discussions now are of why this is so and what Stonewall Tell educators should be doing to address the issue.”

The social and economic problems facing many of our students today are real and deserve to be aggressively attacked. But I am convinced the best way for us eductors to confront these problems is with highly effective teaching of meaningful curriculum within a highly collaborative and supportive learning environment. It’s the quality of our work that gives us the moral high ground in the battle for real school reform.

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