No Longer Just a Dream
Standing in front of her eighth grade honors reading class, Patrice Fletcher personifies the hard-working, dedicated teacher. Steadfast and compassionate, she sets high goals for her students. She has for them, as Charles Dickens wrote, “great expectations.”
Patrice Fletcher also has plans – more like dreams — for her beloved G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover, Maryland. Though Gholson is categorized as a lower-performing school, its turnaround is in motion and expectations are high by school staff like Fletcher.
“Each year, we are progressing in the right direction to make Gholson an institution of success for our scholars,” says Fletcher, an eight-year veteran of the school. “Each year, more parents are becoming involved, and each year we are getting more and more support from surrounding businesses.”
Gholson, visited last year by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, has recently collaborated with the Washington Redskins football organization, a local Chick-fil-A restaurant, Shoppers Food Warehouse, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. One of the school’s integral stakeholders is the 9,000-member Prince George’s County Educators’ Association (PGCEA).
“PGCEA has been supportive of teacher needs,” says Fletcher, PGCEA’s building representative at the school. “In fact, our school leaders are completely comfortable with going directly to PGCEA with any questions they may have.”
The approximately 50 teachers who belong to PGCEA at Gholson are involved in all activities and interdisciplinary teams, which are groups of teachers responsible for the academic, social, and emotional needs of its 940 students.
At Gholson, the organizational structure is designed to provide a strong sense of belonging between students and staff, according to the school’s website. Students are assigned to teams to ensure a balance between races, gender, ability, and former elementary school attendance. Special needs students are clustered at each grade level. This allows teachers to maximize their support since they use the plug-in-model for delivery of services.
ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) students are also clustered for the same reason. As a result, teachers are able to share common concerns on a daily basis in team meetings, conduct parent conferences with all of a child’s teachers in attendance, improve the efficient planning of team activities, and coordinate the instructional program for all subjects. Support staff, specialists, counselors, and administrators are also assigned to each team. This practice of having teachers help students with transitions throughout the day has proven to be a real asset in terms of continuity and communication among staff and with parents, according to school literature.
Training for the school’s 120 staff members receives great emphasis. Many staff members are enrolled in adult-learning classes and encouraged to attend and make presentations at education conferences. The school’s management was developed in partnership with the community and focuses on specific needs identified by both staff and community stakeholders, of which Fletcher is both.
“Not only am I a teacher at Gholson, I am a member of the neighborhood,” Fletcher says proudly. In fact, many staff members live, shop, and worship in the neighborhood where the school is located.
“I would love to see Gholson become the neighborhood meeting place where there are activities for everyone — adults and children,” she says. “With every stakeholder’s assistance, this is no longer a farfetched dream.”
No, in Fletcher’s mind, this is no dream. It is an expectation.