Houston School District studies more collaboration, learning for teachers

Schools everywhere offer a variety of activities and opportunities to students. We can get excited about an athletic event, a band concert, a first grade play or a myriad of other things that are all important. However, the bottom line activity that is the fundamental purpose for the existence of a school is learning. As a school district, our success is best measured by the academic performance of our students. We must work consistently in a dogged pursuit of continual improvement in student performance. Everything we do as a school district should relate back to the primary goal of fostering student learning at increasingly higher levels.

Of the many factors that can have an impact on student learning levels, research has proven that no factors have more impact than the quality of the curriculum that is taught or the quality of instruction provided by teachers. We are fortunate in Houston to have a dedicated professional staff that not only works very hard to provide high quality curriculum and instruction to our students, but also demonstrates a great deal of willingness to learn and improve through professional development. Quality professional development can have tremendous impact on student learning. One of our key goals in the upcoming year is to provide our staff with the time that is necessary for developing curriculum and honing instructional skills.

One means of allowing teachers the time needed for collaboration and professional learning that many schools have adopted is a weekly “Early Release” time for students. This involves dismissing students early one day each week all year long. This time, usually about 11/2 hours, is then used by teachers working together to fine tune curriculum, share best practices and learn new instructional strategies. Much of the time lost with students can be made up with small adjustments within the existing school day, and more importantly through increasing our effectiveness during the instructional time we have day in and day out.

An “Early Release” would provide for much more consistency and allow for ongoing professional development activities. It would also eliminate the need for all of the half-days currently built into our school calendar for professional development. It is my goal to have a plan in place and, with board approval, implement a weekly “Early Release” beginning by August.

In addition to our efforts to enhance our professional development, we also have the goal of developing a structured program for providing intervention when students are struggling academically. Some steps have already been taken at the building level and our principals are working with teachers to establish step-by-step approaches to making sure every student receives any additional help needed. By building on what is already being done, our goal is to have a basic “Pyramid of Interventions” in place by August. By having a variety of intervention strategies in place, we hope to prevent any student from falling through the cracks, thus helping guarantee the success of every student.

Finally, we will continue to work on the goal of improving our facilities. We recognize that the environment in which students have to work also has an impact on their performance. It is our goal to provide our students with the best facilities and equipment we can in order to enhance their learning opportunities.

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