NovoMetro

Education in Oakland

Want To Know What’s Really Going On in Oakland Unified? Ask A Teacher.

Posted by novometro on September 18, 2006

Teri Hudson, a teacher at Sobrante Park elementary school in East Oakland for nine years, shares her take on why that school posted better than expected test scores last year.

Her description of dedicated teachers and a respected principal working long hours to turn a struggling school around jibes with NovoMetro’s belief that students all over Oakland Unified can receive the education they deserve.

We are always on the lookout for hidden gems in Oakland Unified. Let us hear from you at alex@novometro.com, if you know of one.

I have been teaching at Sobrante Park for over nine years, and I wanted to comment on the “secrets” of our success over the past few years (most notably, this last year).

There are a number of practices that we have put into place that have helped us raise the achievement level of our students. Morning intervention (an extra 50 minutes of instruction), math workshop, English transition in second grade for students in the bilingual programs, full implementation of the core math and reading programs, institutionalized collaboration amongst teachers, and a school-wide writing program directed by a writing teacher are some of the ones that jump immediately to my mind.

But I feel that the real “secret” to our budding success is more fundamental. Essentially, we have evolved into being a very dedicated staff who works well together and with our equally-dedicated principal.

Threatened with the loss of our school under Program Improvement of No Child Left Behind, we were willing and able to fight hard to get the district to allow us to implement “Option 5”, which was self-initiated restructuring. Part of the reason we could do this was because we had already been posting some promising gains in our test scores.

In the spring of 2005, towards the end of a grueling and discouraging school year, a handful of staff members got together after school, in the evenings and on weekends to hammer together a plan to improve the performance of our students and meet our targets for 2006 (with the knowledge that failure to do so could cause us to lose our school). For me it was one the highlights of my career to be able to have such a strong voice in how our school was going to operate.

The “self-initiated” aspect of the process meant that the returning staff had a high level of buy-in to the program at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year. The new staff members (about 30% of the faculty) immediately followed our lead.

For example, almost all teachers agreed to come into school to teach an extra 50 minute “intervention” class. Our principal did find funds to pay us for some of those hours, but most of us were doing it whether or not we got paid. Many teachers routinely work well into the evening or come in on weekends. We have developed a culture of increasing collaboration amongst the teaching staff.

I believe that the “secret” to our success is not a particular curriculum or set of practices. And it is certainly not “wise” policy-making from above. Our “secret” is hard work and willingness to think outside the box. It is the opportunity to have a say in how we do our jobs. It is who we are as individuals and professionals that has helped us bring our students up.

I think that many people won’t like this answer, as it is not something that can easily be copied in other schools for instant success. But I want to make this very clear: the teachers, principal, and other staff members are the ones who make the difference in a school. By investing more in school professionals, in the form of resources, salary, effective training, and – perhaps most importantly – decision-making power, other schools and districts may see a similar rise in the achievement level of their students.

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