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Va. Turnaround Program aims to improve under-performing schools

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Kennett Public School District is one of five regionally-located schools currently participating in a national academic improvement initiative identified as the University of Virginia's School Turnaround Specialist Program.

In addition to Kennett, neighboring schools that are taking part in the program include Senath-Hornersville, Caruthersville, Hayti and Charleston.

The program is described as an intensive intervention and leadership development agenda designed to help teachers and administrators improve or "turn around" their failing or under-performing schools. Because Kennett's South Elementary campus had been previously identified as a school that had not met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and was therefore, placed under "School Improvement" status it was applicable for the Turnaround program.

According to its Web site (www.darden.virginia.edu), The University of Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program is the "only school turnaround program in existence that utilizes a systemic approach to change by working with school districts, and in some cases, state-level leadership teams to help them build the internal capacity necessary to support and sustain effective school turnarounds."

The University of Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program focuses on two components critical to successful and sustainable turnarounds:

* High-impact school leaders.

* The district capacity/conditions necessary to initiate, support and enhance transformational change.

South Elementary Teachers are currently preparing students at their campus for the state assessment. According to the school's Principal, Kim Lowry, remediation and small group instruction is substantial part of the curriculum that is daily practice at South. In her administrative report to the Board of Education, Lowry told board members and Superintendent Chris Wilson that she and South Elementary Educators Paula Caldwell, Gayla Campbell and Tara Pierce, in addition to the district's Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Rayanna Dalton, recently attended a Turnaround Schools meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia on January 23-25. This mid-winter retreat, according to Dalton, consisted of two-days of classes and workshops focused on "sustaining school improvement efforts, building high-performing teams, strategic planning, effective allocation of people, time and money, increasing accountability, sustaining growth, and developing and finalizing the next 90-day plan for improvement.

Lowry noted in her report to the board that she and her staff were "enlightened by the fact that we are the luckiest school in the Turnaround program to have the support of the faculty, staff, students, community, school board and central office in the turnaround process."

"We have been able to see the successes throughout the process, and continue to experience those everyday," she told the board in her written report.

According to Lowry, the University of Virginia sent two data teams from the Cobb County School District, located in Georgia, to meet with South Elementary's data teams on Monday, February 7, which subsequently turned out to be a snow-day for the entire district, due to inclement weather. Lowry said that as a result of this, she and Instructional Coach, Julie Lack traveled to Hayti, Mo., to meet with the team for several hours, exchanging ideas regarding what could possibly strengthen the data teams at the South Elementary campus.

"Mrs. Lack and I were both very pleased with the result of the meeting and are ready to start implementing some of the suggestions," Lowry said.

As a final note pertaining to school improvement, the principal also added that staff was currently working to administer the third predictive test in Communication Arts and Mathematics, and the second test in Science for the fifth-grade students. Lowry explained that the staff will be using that information in data meetings to gear differentiated instruction and small group instruction between now and MAP testing time.

The turn around program works with education leaders, like Lowry and her staff, to identify key issues within the school based mostly on data and teacher feedback, and uses that information to create strategies based on those needs.

According to the University of Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program, it recognizes that there is no "one formula" for turning around a low-performing school, but that it is able to achieve results by combining the type of executive education typically only received by top-level business leaders with ongoing support, resources and tools for school and district teams.

Generally speaking, the nationally-recognized program offered through the University of Virginia (UVA) Curry School of Education, with the Darden School of Business is designed to ensure the principals and teachers participating receive support at the district- and school-level.

Dalton explained in her administrative report to the school board that she, Lowry and Superintendent Chris Wilson, will meet on Thursday, February 24, 2011 for a conference call with Michael Terry, UVA Turnaround Program Coordinator, to further the support the district is receiving in its efforts to meet its curriculum objectives.

* Some of the information in this article, pertaining to the school's involvement in the University of Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program, was sourced from the program's Web site, www.darden.virginia.edu. Additional information was provided by the administration at Kennett Public Schools.

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