Collaboration Results in Transformation at Maryland School
In the fall of 2000, then-Superintendent of Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools (MCPS) Jerry Weast identified Broad Acres Elementary School for “reconstitution,” which meant removing its new principal and bringing in a new teaching staff. But Montgomery County Education Association opposed that idea. The union maintained that the existing staff needed support, not replacement.
At that time, Broad Acres had had flat or declining test scores for decades and was the lowest performing elementary school in a district of 195 schools. Broad Acres is also the highest poverty school in the district, with 90% of students on free or reduced lunch and a 99% minority population. District-wide, however, MCPS had only 25% of its students on free and reduced lunch and a minority population of 58%.
The union suggested a different approach: offer every teacher and the principal a chance to participate in the challenge of dramatically improving student achievement at Broad Acres. MCEA wanted the district to restructure the school with the staff and provide the teachers quality professional development, as well as acknowledge the additional work and time that teachers who remained on-board would have to put forth, and pay them for it.
The proposal that resulted from these conversations began several years of collaboration between MCEA and the Weast administration on making the lowest performing school a model of school improvement. It is the story of that collaboration and the sense of ownership it generated on the staff that is the story of Broad Acres Elementary School.
A formal memorandum of understanding called for a three-year commitment from staff for school stability, staff-wide training during the first summer and an increase in work hours each week that would justify additional compensation.
“The union hoped that the proposal would give teachers an incentive to stay and make a commitment to Broad Acres for the long haul,” says Mark Simon, MCEA president from 1985 through 2003.
Principal Jody Leleck was key.
“She provided protection from her teachers having to spend time doing anything not valuable to them and their students. She believed in and supported her teachers’ ability to figure out what needed to be done,” says Simon. “She was their constant instructional guide and mentor, and did not compromise her expectations for improved student achievement.”
MCEA Vice President Bonnie Cullison and Community Superintendent Kimberly Statham met with each teacher to describe to them the new, joint expectations in terms of teaming, planning, and the requirement for teacher leadership. Two-thirds of the staff decided to stay. The rest elected to be transferred. Over the next year, Cullison was on-site nearly every day to help facilitate the implementation of the principal and teachers’ reorganization plan.
“Every member of the staff underwent 6 days of training together in the language of the ‘skillful teacher.’ Every member of the staff also served on at least one teacher-chaired structure group including teams on curriculum implementation, examining student work, and professional development,” said Simon.
After three years, Broad Acres Elementary School was a community of teachers and administrators making instructional decisions together. By the end of 2003 (the second year of the collaborative experiment), 93% of 4th grade African American students achieved math proficiency. Math score improvement was better than any other school in Montgomery County. After three years, Broad Acres had achieved AYP.
According to Principal Leleck, “The reason Broad Acres succeeded was teacher leadership; and everyone holding themselves accountable for every student.”
Representatives from Broad Acres Elementary School in Montgomery County, MD, recently attended NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign conference in New York City, where they shared the story of the school’s remarkable turnaround in a case study offered to conference attendees.