Successful Students

What Worked at Churchill Junior High School in Galesburg, Illinois

By Jess House and Sandra Watkins on the Hope Foundation website

Something has been working well at Churchill Junior High School (CJHS) in Galesburg, Illinois, since 2004. Student achievement scores in this grades 6-8 school have climbed to 89 percent proficiency from 69 percent proficiency in the past four years. Math scores for low income students have jumped from 32 percent proficiency to a high of 80 percent proficiency. The teachers are delighted with the progress. This article describes how Principal Bart Arthur diagnosed and analyzed the situation, the actions he took to boost the achievement scores, and what he learned in his master’s degree program in educational leadership at Western Illinois University that prepared him to make the appropriate changes.

When Bart Arthur became the new principal at CJHS, he found a school coasting on a reputation formed during better days. While the community and staff were still satisfied with the school, student achievement had remained stagnant. Plant closings and changing demographics in Galesburg had increased the proportion of poor and minority students. Formerly, most of the 600 students had been from affluent families, but today half of the students at Churchill qualify for free or reduced lunches. Roughly 15 percent of the students are African-American, and about the same percentage are Hispanic or multi-racial.

Bart Arthur was concerned about student and teacher relationships within the school and the less than mediocre student achievement scores. Personnel at the school seemed indifferent to the wide gap in scores between the African-American students and student from poor families compared to white students of higher socioeconomic status. Principal Arthur initially drew up a list of 17 school goals but concluded that the list was too long. Based on a teacher survey and discussions with faculty, he narrowed the list to the five goals that were most important to the teachers and students:

  1. Improve the building climate and the culture.
  2. Improve relationships (how faculty, students, and parents treat each other).
  3. Raise student achievement.
  4. Improve communications with parents.
  5. Infuse technology into instruction.

Churchill Junior High School has made remarkable progress on each of these goals in the last four years. The remainder of this article describes the nine actions taken by Principal Arthur to advance CJHS toward achieving these goals.

Improving School Climate and Changing the School Culture
Teachers were proud of the discipline they enforced, but some of the staff tended to maintain their dominance over students through public displays of anger. The students didn’t get along very well, either. In Arthur’s first year as principal, the administration handled 52 referrals for student fighting. Referrals for fighting dropped from 52 in the 2004-2005 year to 18 the following year to 16 in 2006-2007 and to 11 in 2007-2008. Churchill is now considering a Zero Fight Goal for the next school year. Principal Arthur took the number of fights as an indicator of poor student relationships and encouraged improved relationships through the development of a system of positive incentives.

He used the approach found in the Pike Place Fish Market story. Students who are observed performing a positive deed are recognized for their actions. The student’s name, the deed, and the date are written on a fish-shaped form and dropped into a fishbowl in the office. Students, teachers, and administrators who observe a student or staff member doing something positive can nominate them for a Fish Award. A fish is drawn from the fishbowl once a month, and the winning staff member receives a gift certificate at a local restaurant. The winning student from each grade level selects a teacher and a friend to go out to eat at a local fast food establishment paid for by the school. At the end of the year, students and staff who were most frequently nominated are awarded gift certificates, stereos, iPods, and other gift items. Parent who have seen a Churchill student doing a positive deed in the community have come into the school to ask, “Can I give a fish to this student?”

Safe, Caring, Orderly, Environment
The school was marred by acts of petty vandalism, such as graffiti and scratches in the bathrooms and hallways. Principal Arthur had scratches filled and graffiti removed immediately. A security system was installed, including a buzz-in entry to the building and a video monitoring and recording system.

Police are included as part of the Churchill learning community. Canine drug searchers are performed randomly and the school practices their lockdown procedures while the searches occur. Proactive program such as Project Alert are a part of the curriculum to educate students about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Each year, Churchill holds one special assembly focusing on “Making Good Choices.” Groups such as MWAH (Messages Which Are Helpful) have presented to the Churchill community. These special assemblies are funded through the partnership with the Galesburg Public Schools Foundation. This year Anna Corbitt, a quadruple amputee, spoke to the students on how to overcome adversity in their lives to become successful adults. Churchill implemented the Social Emotional Learning standards with the help of funding from a grant written by Heidi Gengenbacher, Dean of Student. All students are given weekly instruction on the standards utilizing the Second Steps curriculum.

Instruction
When Principal Arthur first arrived, he noted that the teachers relied upon didactic pedagogy, with desks in rows, few signs of student engagement, and very little use of technology. Churchill utilizes the middle school philosophy which provides 45 minutes daily for teacher team meetings, interdisciplinary units, instructional strategies, parent calls and Response to Intervention meetings. Arthur had the opportunity to hire several new teachers due to retirements these past few years and selected highly qualified, motivated teachers who are interested in becoming exemplary teachers. He expanded the Standards Aligned Classroom Training and now 80 percent of core teachers have been trained in this model. He took teachers to visit exemplary schools with similar demographics that displayed success in student achievement and in closing the achievement gap. The math teachers worked tirelessly on curriculum mapping and the coordination and articulation of the curriculum with the grade school and high school teachers to ensure coverage of the state standards.

Principal Arthur felt that the requirements of the NCLB law directed educators’ attention to achievement gaps. The largest achievement gap noted when he began was the gap between scores of students from low income families as compared to students from families of more affluence. In 2005 only 32 percent of students from low income families met or exceeded standards on the ISAT math subtest, while 54 percent of all students met or exceeded standards. On the 2008 ISAT math subtest, the gap closed with 80 percent of the low income student meeting or exceeding proficiency compared to 88 percent of all students meeting or exceeding the standards.

Churchill teachers became concerned when they analyzed the achievement data and discovered a large gap between minority students and students of poverty. They tackled the challenge with action. Math and reading lessons were designed to “boot strap” these students by scaffolding instruction. Frequent monitoring through benchmark assessments and diagnosis were the order of the day at Churchill. The math gap in four years has disappeared! The low income students are now performing at 80 percent proficiency almost commensurate with their peers who perform at 80 percent proficiency.

The school’s curriculum does not focus only on learning gains that would appear on standardized achievement tests. The school seeks to develop the “whole child.” Keyboarding, guitar-playing, and drumming are offered to students and are seen as aids to their cognitive development. New clubs were also started at the school and include drama, gardening, technology, and a builder’s club.

Arthur worked in collaboration with Joel Estes, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, to implement a summer school program for 6th and 7th grade at- risk students. Last year 65 middle school students were enrolled in an intense 6-week program of reading and mathematics instruction. The 8th grade at-risk students are offered the opportunity to enroll in the On Track Program, which is a summer program that continues into their high school careers. These students will have the same advisor for their entire high school experience. The advisor will work with students to help them “stay on track” and focus on academic achievement through their high school career.

After School Programs
Principal Arthur was concerned about latchkey students, and sought to head off the problems caused by unsupervised young adolescents and to increase time for student engagement in their studies through the Teen Reach, SUCCESS, and Carver Center programs. He partnered with the local YMCA to offer the Teen Reach program, an after school program that includes tutoring, games, activities and snacks. The Teen Reach Program runs every day school is in session and is open until 7 p.m. A YMCA bus transports pupils who are eligible for free and reduced price lunches to the Hawthorne Community Center’s after school program. The students are given city bus passes to use when the center’s program closes at 7 p.m.

Many Churchill students participate in SUCCESS, an after-school tutoring program for homework help and instruction. Three certified staff members, volunteer students from Knox College, and high school volunteer students, assist students who are in need of academic help. Approximately 50 students attend the SUCCESS program on a daily basis and as many as 85 have appeared for tutoring and guidance with their school work. The college student volunteers are from Knox College, a residential liberal arts college in Galesburg, and work at the school as part of a cooperative learning partnership with Churchill. These volunteers gain experience working with junior high school students, and the students benefit from the diverse ethnicities and nationalities of the student teachers. College classes are also held at Churchill, resulting in the development of mentoring relationships and reinvigoration of veteran teachers.

The school provides African-American students transportation to the Carver Center for after school activities. These include in tutoring sessions, basketball, and other sports activities.

Professional Development
In Arthur’s first year he formed a book study group with the other CJHS administrators. The administrators read and discussed DuFour’s Common Ground which is centered on Professional Learning Communities. In his second year, he expanded the study group to include team leaders, and in his third year, he included all school staff. Professional learning communities have been formed and are evidenced through collaboration among teachers, critical inquiry of specific instructional challenges, action research, examination of multiple measures of data and a results orientation to student achievement. Teachers have also received professional development on United Streaming, Study Island, and SmartBoards as vehicles to infuse technology into their instruction. Other professional development activities have included training in data analysis, use of spreadsheets to sort and filter data, Standards Aligned Classroom training, and workshops on Professional Learning Communities.

Communication with Parents
While the instructional model has led to dramatic improvements, it was initially difficult to communicate the essential components to parents and community members. In response to complaints heard through the parent advisory group that parents were disappointed with school communications, several initiatives were undertaken. An electronic message board was purchased, and the Student Council president and vice-president read the daily announcements. These are posted to the Web as podcasts. Other students are now vying to get involved. The quarterly newsletter became a bi-monthly publication, and the newsletter’s content was overhauled. Rather than emphasizing sports which is thoroughly covered by the local newspaper, the school’s newsletter features student achievements, club activities, and FISH winners. The school district added a new student management software system to include a parent connect feature, so parents can see grades and attendance at any time of the internet.

Infusion of Technology
As a first step to the infusion of technology, Principal Arthur upgraded two computer labs in the library and a 30-station mobile computer lab. Several permanent and three mobile Smart Boards were added, and eleven more will be budgeted in the coming year. DVDs and videos can play through the SmartBoards. The school also added a technology class for 7th grade students emphasizing keyboard, design, Virtual Life, and PowerPoint. Streaming video was made available through United Technology. A site license was also purchased for Study Island, a Tier 2 remediation program for RTI that is based on Illinois standards. Professional development on the Study Island program for teachers has been offered on a semester basis, and visitors can readily see Study Island in action by touring classrooms and watching the integration of technology and high student engagement in daily lessons.

Instructional Leadership
Principal Arthur stated that what he learned in the principal preparation program at Western Illinois University enabled him to take Churchill from a mediocre status to a thriving and striving junior high school. He asserts that the tools and techniques he learned in his graduate educational leadership courses informed him how to implement second order change. He learned how to analyze multiple measures of data, triangulate the data, and work with the school leadership team to develop and implement a school improvement plan of action. He felt confident in forming a professional learning community and facilitating collaboration among the faculty.

Principal Arthur stated that what he learned in the principal preparation program at Western Illinois University enabled him to take Churchill from a mediocre status to a thriving and striving junior high school. He asserts that the tools and techniques he learned in his graduate educational leadership courses informed him how to implement second order change. He learned how to analyze multiple measures of data, triangulate the data, and work with the school leadership team to develop and implement a school improvement plan of action. He felt confident in forming a professional learning community and facilitating collaboration among the faculty.

Principal Arthur is a results oriented, instructionally focused principal. He learned about the importance of climate and culture in his course work at Western Illinois University. Upon his arrival at Churchill, he immediately administered a climate inventory to faculty, students, and parents to diagnose the areas of strengths and weaknesses and then developed a goal to improve the building climate. He stated that he implemented strategies he learned in his courses, and he saw a changed climate and emergence of a new culture.

High expectations are now the “order of the day” at Churchill. Arthur asserts that course work in curriculum, instruction, marketing his school with parents and the community was also essential to his success. Curriculum mapping, daily lesson plans, and the coordination and articulation of the curriculum with elementary schools and the high school were high priority items with Arthur. Visitors to Churchill know when they enter the school house door that this is a “school on the move,” one that gives direction to other junior high and middle schools. Principal Arthur is to be commended for his stellar performance as an instructional leader at Churchill Junior High School and his achievements with students, teachers, parents, and the Galesburg community.

Jess House, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois. Professor House’s e-mail address is JE-House@wiu.edu. Sandra Watkins, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois. Professor Watkins’s e-mail address is SG-Watkins@wiu.edu.

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