Transformation Tour – Marysville, WA
By Princess Moss
Walking in the shoes of NEA members at our Priority Schools in Washington State. Free and organic conversation. This is how my day started and ended on Oct. 5. It is a day that has forever left an imprint on my heart and soul.
6:45 a.m. – Met with Marysville Education Association President Arden Watson, NEA Director Kim Mead and WEA President Mary Lindquist at the Marysville Education Association headquarters. Got a briefing on the two schools that we will be visiting today, Totem Middle and Tulalip Elementary Schools. Both have a significant Native American population.
7:15 a.m. – We meet with MEA members employed at Totem Middle School. We talk about what is working well and not so well with the School Improvement Grant implementation. Our members were very open and honest. They are concerned about the gains that they are being asked to make, especially in the area of math. It is evident that collaboration by grade level has already made an impact on what and how students are learning. One teacher even stated that the students know that they talk with each other.
8:00 a.m. – We meet with the principal, Robert Kalahan. He is positive and is obviously well-liked by his staff. He tells us that Totem has a 25% Native population and that they are continuously working on the culture of the school – honoring it as well as making sure that it is used as a means to ensure student success. He talks about Power Time, which is the time that teachers use to build relationships with their students. He also talks about Pride Time, which is the time of day that students receive academic intervention. He takes pride in the fact that PTSA membership has grown from 60 to over 170 members during the course of a year. It is also good music and art are important to the tribal community and this translates into the appreciation for the arts in the curriculum.
8:15 a.m. – In walks the 8th grade team. Half of the team is new this year. The 8th grade team talks about school leadership . . . they stress the importance of the math and literacy coaches. They also talk about collaboration. What all of the team members agree on is the fact that when they plan well, students do engage. When asked what advice they would give to other schools that receive School Improvement Grants, the common thread is start early. Start working on the things that you know need to be improved before you receive the designation of being a priority school.
9:15 a.m. – The 8th grade team leaves and the 7th grade team enters the library and sits with us. They talk about the students and the Pride and Power parts of the day that are found in the teacher developed schedule. They also talk about components for teachers STOIC for – Structure Teaching Observing Instruction and Collaboration.
10:15 a.m. – The 6th grade team shares with us that they meet weekly to collaborate as a team. Their frustrations stem from working 10 hour days (at a minimum). They urgently want to connect with other teachers at priority schools. They want to be able to learn from each other. We share with them our social media opportunities. The 6th grade team is also concerned about sustainability. They realize that they are getting resources now but are concerned about what may happen down the road.
1:oo p.m. – We head to Tulalip Elementary. A beautiful sky and a beautiful body of water that feeds into the Pacific Ocean offer a spacious backdrop for Tulalip Elementary. Tulalip’s Native population is 50%. We meet the principal and talk with many staff members. We watch the Literacy Coach at work. What we learn from Tulalip is that systems and cultures must be in place to support any type of transformation that the employees may engage in. They have a “walking” school bus in which the Tribal Youth Coordinator walks the community on weekday mornings and knocks on doors to ensure that the students are up and ready for school. This has increased attendance. We meet with a para-educator and the health room assistant. They emphasize the fact that relationships are important. The ESP remind us that the students are largely aesthetic, which accentuates the importance of the arts. We later meet with the math coach, literacy coach and a 3rd grade teacher. They all stress the importance of family in the discipline of the student. They also address cultural competence and the role that it plays in the success of both the teacher and the student.
The literacy coach reminds us that when we look at the achievement gap, it affords us the chance to look at the opportunity gap. I like this positive way of thinking. Wrap around services are badly needed for this school population that brings adult issues that they find at home in to the classroom.
I distinctly heard 4 themes throughout my two school visits today. I heard that this is important work and that the teachers and support staff in our priority schools believe in the students that they teach. They truly believe every student can learn and that they have a responsibility to make that happen. They also believe that it is important for their local, state and national associations to be visible and support the efforts of their members in the priority schools work. Cultural competence matters as well as school leadership.
In the video below, Moss shares the importance of the community for Totem Middle and Tulalip Elementary Schools.