El Sol Science and Arts Academy is an independent charter school founded in 2001 with 110 students and now enrolls over 900. The Dual Language program begins in Transitional Kindergarten as a 90/10 model, 90% Spanish/10% English, and gradually increases the use of English. By fourth grade the use of each language is 50/50. Middle school students use their bilingual skills in the community for service projects. They have translated menus for local restaurants and for Nurse Practitioners at community health fairs. Teachers collaborate and have common planning times. There is in-classroom support for teachers, demonstration lessons, and peer-to-peer observation in order to improve student outcomes. Parents are also an integral part of the school and can be seen volunteering on the playground helping with supervision, in classrooms, and doing clerical work for teachers. During the parent focus group they expressed how much they appreciated everything the school does for their children and how excited they are to have their students be bilingual and biliterate. El Sol strives to establish a positive community climate through its culture of kindness, respect, trust, and support for everyone.
The World Languages Institute mission is to prepare students linguistically, socially and cognitively to lead with creativity and innovation. Students arrive with varying degrees of proficiency in English and Spanish but are immersed in courses in both languages immediately. All students take Latin in sixth and seventh grades to support their language development and have the opportunity to learn a fourth language if they choose. To support students’ learning, teachers incorporate both content and language objectives into lessons that are frequently project-based and hands-on. As well, teachers use a common lesson plan format that includes essential questions, vocabulary, differentiation for diverse learners and methods of assessment. The administrative team audits lesson plans, conducts walkthroughs with particular foci and develops weekly professional development based on data analysis, observations and student work. There is a real team spirit at WLI with emphasis on Tier I instruction, so assistants and support staff including SPED push into classrooms. Professional Learning Communities discuss student work and strengths and weaknesses in their instruction that yielded the outcomes, all in an effort to improve.
At Ortiz Elementary School, all students, including those who are learning English and those with special needs, are learning the same rigorous curricula. Administration, faculty, and staff all believe in the capacity of their students to learn at high levels. “We get things done,” explained first-year principal Patricia Garza. “We do have obstacles, but we don’t make excuses.” When the state moved to more challenging standards, the gap between second and third grade achievement was stark. In response, Ms. Garza (then as dean of instruction) began to articulate clear academic expectations in the primary grades. Today, Ortiz kindergarteners are reading and first graders are writing in paragraphs. Ms. Garza was concerned that her students with special needs were not gaining access to grade- level material. Today, special need students learn alongside their grade-level peers and resource support is pushed into the classroom.
Wildflower Wildcats benefit from a dynamic educational environment focused on enhancing social skills, students’ dreams and aspirations and access to rigorous standards to “increase learning for all.” All stakeholders know and understand their role in achieving the mission and contributing to the school vision. Communication is purposeful and designed to be inclusive; appreciation of diversity and ensuring equity for all students is the goal. Teachers are departmentalized and students are grouped to differentiate and tier instruction to fill gaps and help guide students to their maximum potential. Teachers utilize the Understanding by Design process to break down and plan instruction. Teachers believe in continuous improvement and using data to help keep them focused and to support a system for immediate intervention. Students also have the opportunity to work at a higher grade level if they have mastered grade level concepts. And, the school has a Genius Hour for project-based learning opportunities. As well, students have extensive extracurricular opportunities to expand their passions through clubs including art, cheerleading, coding, science, honor choir, intramurals, tech club and more. Staff want students to be happy in the learning environment and have ownership over their learning.
Kenmore Elementary uses a Response to Intervention (RTI) model to ensure all students have access to a standards- based, rigorous curriculum. They believe that, “all students can succeed by mastering one standard at a time.” A big part of ensuring access to the curriculum is consistent use of Thinking Maps and Write from the Beginning and Beyond across all grade levels. They want students to gain academic vocabulary and organize their thinking so that they can write about what they have learned, believing this will bring students to a higher level of comprehension. Teachers share strategies and plan lessons during 45-minute collaboration meetings weekly. They also review data to plan intervention groups for their 45-minute intervention blocks three times a week which are supported by all staff including the principal, assistant principal and high school ROP students so that students receive the support they need. Teachers also receive support to grow from instructional coaches who model lessons and also through visits to other teachers’ classrooms to observe use of effective teaching strategies.
Fay Herron staff are dedicated to their students and “by any means necessary” will find the resources teachers need to reach their primarily low-income and Latino student population. The principal’s motto is, “If you make a decision with the best interest of the child in mind, it will be the right decision.” Freaky Friday meetings provide grade levels time to collaborate and design learning goals with differentiation in mind so that they reach each and every student. Wacky Wednesday meetings allow for vertical collaboration so teachers can have in-depth conversations with colleagues in other grade levels to align instruction and also professional development to learn new strategies. Teacher rely on data to provide feedback on their instruction and do weekly progress monitoring on specific skills. A 30-minute intervention period and a before and after school program supports struggling students to reach grade- level standards. Staff at Fay Herron also have a lot of fun with each other and the students. They offer numerous clubs for students including an art club, jazz dance team, rock club and baking club in addition to an active arts program. Students have the opportunity to do Folkloric Dance and participate in Disney musicals in school.
At Mary and Frank Yturria Elementary School in Brownsville, Texas a coherent system of structures provides the foundation for excellence. Weekly grade-level meetings provide structure and time for educators to work together to analyze student performance data, identify individual students’ learning needs, plan targeted lessons, create assessments, and share ideas about how to increase instructional engagement and effectiveness. Regular diagnostic and formative assessments are designed and administered to guide teachers’ decisions about instruction and determine intervention and enrichment opportunities for students. The administrative team observes teaching and learning regularly and frequently. As a teacher explained, “They are very good about doing a lot of walkthroughs and give a lot of feedback. I’m never worried. It isn’t a ‘gotcha.’ They provide constructive feedback to improve our practice.” And, classrooms are structured such that all students (special need, bilingual, gifted, and general education) learn together and interact with one another throughout the school day.
In August 2012, Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YMLA) opened its doors as an innovative school aimed at preparing young men to succeed in college and take their place as responsible leaders of our global society. The graduated their first class in 2018- all “scholars” have been accepted to a four-year college and earned a collective $7.5 million dollars in scholarships. There is a strong community at YMLA, they call it a brotherhood, where every teacher and every student roots for the brother next to him. Relationships are both about understanding and supporting as well as holding each other accountable to the high standard set. The curriculum is challenging and hands- on. All students take Latin and participate in STEAM curriculum through Project Lead the Way. The courses spiral and scaffold learning in a project-based learning environment. Students also participate in interdisciplinary and cross curricular projects designed to help them learn about themselves and the content. College is not just an aspiration, but something consciously worked toward whether it be scholars telling visitors the college they will attend, building their Career Cruiser portfolio or attending college fairs and writing about what they learned pertaining to their future plans.
Bonnie Brae Elementary School in the Fort Worth Independent School District has been on an upward improvement trajectory over the last several years. Their goal is to set and ensure the same high standards for all students. Teachers and administrators discuss lesson plans and share ideas throughout the school day, as well as during grade level and staff meetings. Lesson plans are reviewed on a weekly basis by administrators and three sets of lesson plans receive feedback each week. This feedback helps teachers evaluate their own lesson plans and increase rigor in their classrooms. This process is also used as a tool to check lesson plan alignment to standards and student outcomes. The campus makes every effort to limit students being pulled unnecessarily from class and core instruction. Every classroom teacher holds a daily zero hour from 8:00- 8:45am. This is a time to reteach and hold interventions with students. Struggling students are pulled in small groups, allowing them additional time to master the curriculum with teacher support. Leaders and teachers are implementing a methodical approach to improvement and next steps in their journey to excellence for all students.
Staff at Patrick Henry believe, “students learn best when they are engaged, valued and challenged.” To accomplish this a strong set of systems and protocols governs life every day at school. Teachers work collaboratively in teacher teams to develop and refine curriculum using school-wide curriculum templates and protocols including a Curriculum Map Template, Guide for Creating and Enhancing Curriculum, Scope and Sequence Template, Lesson Plan Template and Exemplars and Expectations Checklist for Every Lesson. All units of study are based on state standards and the results of both formal and informal assessment of student work. Teachers discuss effective teaching strategies at their grade level team meetings and monitor individual student progress using specific protocols and formative assessments. All lessons include teaching points, essential questions and connections to previous learning. Student work is graded with rubrics and actionable teacher feedback and next steps are provided across all disciplines. And, following interim assessments, teachers organize student data to determine patterns and trends and work collaboratively to discuss appropriate instructional initiatives and/or interventions to address individual student needs.
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