How do parents evaluate a school? Peg Tyre’s purpose in The Good School (2011) is to give parents the tools to evaluate a school based on current research about schooling. There are chapters on reading, mathematics, testing, class size and teachers. Wornick can check all the boxes to meet Tyre’s standards. We teach reading according to best practices, and we introduced three years ago systematic reading assessments by Fountas and Pinel in each elementary grade to make sure that each child is making clear progress. Tyre sings the praises of the Singapore mathematics system – we use this method of teaching. Our class sizes are appropriate; our testing is multi-faceted and used for frequent feedback.
The last chapter of the book discusses the importance of excellent teachers - “the best schools have come up with a school-wide process to develop and retain excellent teachers.” (Peg Tyre, 2011, p.193) This is indeed one of our greatest strengths and this is what sets us apart as a great school. That is why our teacher, Adam King, was selected, out of a pool of exceptional teachers throughout the bay area, to receive the Helen Diller teacher of the year (for early elementary education) award. The award ceremony that took place this past week was inspiring. Adam even stood out in his presentation among the four recipients.
We locate teachers in a rather unconventional way. We rarely post advertisements for jobs – we call Deans of College of Education and ask them to recommend their “best and brightest” graduates for us to interview. We do this early in the year – before the usual “job hunts” begin, and sometimes without being sure if we have a job available. Usually, we ask this prospective teacher to substitute so we can see them in action longer than the usual one hour demonstration lesson that we also require.
Another effective vehicle for finding teachers is by training our own teachers in partnership with teacher training programs (i.e. Notre Dame de Namur, SFSU and DELET). This is how Mr. King came to us. Teachers who are training are assigned an on-site certified mentor and are reviewed regularly by an outside field supervisor.
DELET is a very unusual and “cutting edge” teacher preparation program. Each year twelve promising college graduates are selected from a competitive vetting to participate in the West Coast DELET program based at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Those selected for the program receive free tuition, free mentoring and jobs as classroom fellows for one year. The program includes an intensive summer studying best practices in pedagogy (i.e. how to teach reading, mathematics, language arts, etc), a year working at a designated “DELET school” with two mentor teachers and an outside field supervisor.
In this state, all novice teachers have five years to clear their credential and receive a “clear credential”. New teachers with a preliminary credential who are working to clear their preliminary credential receive additional field supervision during their first years of teaching. This model mimics the medical model of education and is highly effective as teachers grow from novice to full professional by receiving extensive scaffolding from field supervisors and their mentors. We have four graduates of DELET teaching and several Notre Dame de Namur and SFSU trained teachers at Wornick.
Finding outstanding teachers is half the battle - the retention of great teachers is a hallmark of excellent schools. There are several different ways that our school assures this. The first is that our teachers operate in a culture that expects everyone to learn – teachers and children. There are bi-monthly “learning circles” where teachers study various aspects of pedagogy. Our professional development is not one-shot sessions, but rather deeply embedded with trainers working with staff throughout the year on particular initiatives. A few years ago, our focus for the year was aligning all class work with a particular curricula method called Understanding by Design. This year, all teachers are working with a group called Pivot Learning to make sure all aspects of the school are Common Core Standards aligned, and the Hebrew staff (thanks to a generous grant from the Levine Lent family foundation) will be spending the next three years structuring their lessons according to the proficiency model of foreign language learning. Additionally, there are ample opportunities to share best practices among colleagues, to walk into another classroom to support each other, to give and to receive feedback.
I know that we are a great school (which includes the idea that we are focused on continual improvement), but it’s awfully nice to have that thought validated by a well-researched current book.