Robert and Patricia Muth Excellence in Leadership Award
Ballard Elementary School
Niles Community Schools ~ Amy DeVos, Principal
Garfield Elementary School
Port Huron Area School District ~ Gary Bates, Principal
Ballard Elementary School serves 655 students in grades K-6. Forty-seven percent of the student population receives free and reduced lunch, and 8.8 percent are designated special education. Their population is 77.4 percent Caucasian, 16 percent African American and 4.7 percent Hispanic.
Instructional leadership is key to Ballard’s success. It is a shared leadership. Principals, consultants, teachers and paraprofessionals all share the responsibility for educating students, and everyone is involved in looking for and demanding quality in themselves and in their students.
For example, the staff collects data in many academic and social areas and uses it to monitor program instruction, measure student achievement and behavior, evaluate interventions and gather stakeholders’ opinions. The principal analyzes data with the staff and brainstorms ideas for improving student performance and identifying staff development needs. The teachers, principals and instructional specialist work together to insure that all staff members know what instructional models should look like by involving them in the process of developing interventions.
Focus goals at Ballard center on three subject areas: reading, writing and math. Ballard staff used data to determine that focusing on their ethnic and gender subgroups, although necessary, was not as inclusive as focusing on the larger, economically disadvantaged subgroup. They found that the majority of students not meeting grade level standards, regardless of ethnicity or gender, fall within that category. Because of that overlap, staff selected the economically disadvantaged subgroup as their primary target group.
During the last three years, Ballard instituted a number of interventions that have resulted in an increased number of students achieving academic success. Because writing was students’ weakest area, the majority of Ballard’s staff development time and resources was allocated to improving the teaching of writing. The Writing Workshop Model was adopted; it allows educators to plan instruction that will meet the needs of each student and to monitor individual progress by assessing each student’s writing, identifying areas of concern and individually conferring with each student.
Another integral component of Ballard’s success is built around parental involvement. One innovative program, Book Check Out, is targeted toward Title I students and their families. Every day, the intervention specialist or trained paraprofessional selects a book for a student to take home and practice reading. A form is also sent home and is completed by the adult who reads with the child. Upon returning to school, every child reads the book once again, and the reading is recorded with a sticker on a chart. Children are rewarded throughout the year for meeting individual goals, and the daily communications sent home also give Ballard’s staff the opportunity to establish relationships with parents who are unable to visit the school on a regular basis.
Ballard students regularly score above the state average on the MEAP test. The staff attribute their success to their systemic school improvement process and continued drive to increase student achievement. The staff focuses on the goals of academic success for all students, and their ambitious efforts to improve student achievement serve as a model for the entire district.
Garfield Elementary School serves 443 students in grades preprimary-5. Fifty-six percent of the student population receives free and reduced lunch, and their population is 80 percent Caucasian, 13 percent African American and 4 percent Hispanic.
Garfield’s road to success began during the 2001-2002 school year. With a new principal at the helm and the school listed in corrective action for not meeting adequate yearly progress objectives in reading and writing, Garfield staff charged forth with a positive attitude towards change. They developed a plan that focused on balanced literacy, fluency, word analysis and writing. Under the philosophy that, “many brains make light work” teachers and administrators worked together on a comprehensive plan for professional development and school improvement.
Professional development at Garfield centers on a series of regular staff meetings, in-services and professional literature research to facilitate discussions on best practices in the literacy classroom and adjustments that need to be made to create better opportunities for learning. As a result of these ongoing efforts, focuses have become evident, and staff now utilize data much more effectively to alter instruction and goals. Leadership and responsibility are shared through promoting such activities as arranging for teachers to visit other classrooms in the building, in the district and in other districts. Teachers are encouraged to share the best practices they have observed, and they participate in the decision-making process for professional staff development.
The leadership and staff of Garfield use their knowledge to help students focus and learn in innovative ways. For example, the Writing Buddy Program pairs cross-grade level students in working together to compose stories. The “published” pieces are then shared on the Writing Wizards of Garfield Show, a bi-weekly television program hosted by two fifth graders. The hosts interview the authors about how they got their ideas, who inspired them, what genre they feel the selection falls into and so on. The effort has inspired students to take great care in creating complete writing pieces that portray a message they want to share with others.
The building staff strive to involve parents as often as possible. Staff spend many evenings during the year in meetings with the express purpose of informing and helping parents to understand classroom efforts and better help their own children at home.
Garfield’s improvement efforts have proven successful. In 2003, students scored above district and state averages on the MEAP test in reading. Writing scores in the proficient category on the 2003 MEAP test more than doubled. MEAP scores showed improvement in all student subgroups, including gender, ethnicity and economically disadvantaged. As the Garfield staff stated in their winning application for this year’s Muth Award, “We do not give up on our students. We know that there has to be a way to achieve progress and at Garfield we will leave no stone unturned to find it.”