Fourth “R” Drives Priority School Improvement in Las Vegas
By Princess Moss, NEA Executive Committee
Clark County Education Association (CCEA) President Ruben Murillo met the NEA team at 6:30 a.m. Thursday and drove us to Carson Elementary School in West Las Vegas. At Carson, we met CCEA board members and staff. The day would be spent talking with teachers, ESPs, building level and central office administrators.
Krispy Crème donuts and coffee awaited us in the staff lounge. As we chatted about the School Improvement Grant process, we focused on two questions: What is working in implementing the School Improvement Grant plan and what is not working? In answering, employees were asked to comment on four areas: collaboration, professional development and capacity, leadership, and outreach/partnerships.
Collaboration is essential and works. Billie Rayford, Associate Superintendent, shared with us that in addition to the 3 R’s; there is a 4th – Relationships. Relationships are so very important. The relationship between the Clark County Education Association and the administration has been one in which it was obvious that both had the same vision – a great public school for every student.
From the very beginning, the Clark County Education Association determined that school transformation is union work. Long before the notion of priority schools, CCEA initiated and bargained for empowerment schools. Empowerment schools are schools in which the staff works collaboratively as part of a team with administrators, students and family and community members. Among the changes developed since the program began in the ’06-’07 year, there is additional compensation for staff at schools meeting schoolwide student learning targets and additional time added to the day. The team structures put in place during the development of empowerment schools provided a strong boost to the collaborative process needed for the SIG implementation. Both the CCEA and the Employee Support Education Association have been and continue to be at the table with the local school board. There is collaboration between grade levels. Permanent substitutes cover classes two days per month so that teachers can work together on planning.
Carson Elementary is also applying for International Baccalaureate (IB) status and going through the professional development required. The staff is visiting other IB schools and gaining more knowledge and tools that can be used at Carson. When asked about the requirements of the SIG process and of the IB process, some teachers expressed concern that engaging in both at the same time was somewhat overwhelming. However, they felt that the time was right to pursue gaining IB status. Staff was busy with sub plans as several planned to make the next day trip to Denver to visit four IB schools. Visits to observe IB programs in Los Angeles are also on the list. The principal also surveys the staff to determine the professional development that is brought into the school. When we offered NEA professional development such as C.A.R.E. and ELL workshops, the principal offered that we could give snippets to the staff and then the staff would vote on what they wanted to pursue as professional development. There are Professional Learning Community meetings every week. Carson also incorporates the Teach for Success model, which is aligned with SIG.
School Leadership Matters
Carson is using the turnaround model and it is working. Important to note is Principal Marlowe, early in her career, started working in Clark County as an ESP and later held a teaching job at Carson. She eventually left to serve as an assistant principal in another school. This year, Marlowe was assigned to Carson as principal. One of her first tasks was to hire the staff. Marlowe used a carefully thought-out process when hiring employees for Carson. She looked at diversity as well as experience with working with at-risk students. Many at-risk students live in neighborhoods that are plagued with crime. Marlowe emphasized to her hires that they could not be afraid of be in the community. Marlowe also asked applicants to bring a copy of their last three evaluations to the interview so that information could be gathered about classroom management as well as instruction.
In our conversation, it became clear that Marlowe has a personal and professional commitment to making sure that all of the students, not only the students who have academic challenges, at Carson get the level of help that they need.
Outreach and Partnerships
Outreach/Partnerships are the core of the success of our priority schools. It does take a whole village to raise a child. Carson’s parental partnerships continue to improve and grow. There is the Parent Room in which parents can come for resources. Parents can ask for help with paying their electric bill. Principal Marlowe also told us a story of a parent who she missed seeing around school. Marlowe discovered that the parent wasn’t coming to school because she had challenges with her prosthetic and needed a new one – only for the cost of $2,000. The Parent Resource Center, staffed by two ESP, helped the parent find the correct social service resource to assist with purchasing a new prosthetic! The parent continues to be involved in school activities.
Principal Marlowe shared with the NEA team that now since the ESP are staffing the Parent Resource Center, parents have explicitly said that they feel more welcome. The Parent Resource Center strives to increase parental involvement and has translators for parents. Principal Marlowe holds two parent meetings per month. If the parents come to the meetings, they get to choose free books. The School Community Coordinator, an ESP, models how to read to the elementary students when at home.
Wraparound services are a part of the plan. Local stores assist as well as the local chapter of the NAACP. Dental and tele-medical services are made available to students.
When asked about advice to give to other SIG schools, Clark County school employees were adamant that school employees need to know the intensity of the work – do not go into it blindly. Create a feedback loop and take time to reflect, making adjustments if necessary.
Students and school employees at Carson Elementary School are on their way to success!