Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Yes, It's a Sad Truth, But...

The hard truth is that some of the worst schools in the country get the most grant money. It seems like a tragedy to me, but if you have a low socio-economic population and poor test scores, it is usually easier for you to get grant money for your school than it is for others. Thank goodness there is a trend of late to break up schools that consistently perform poorly. The students in this country deserve better.

If you are from a low-performing school (next time, I’ll discuss higher performing schools), I suggest that you focus on three areas to improve your school: leadership, attendance, and reading. You should be able to find grant money in all three categories.
While a good superintendent is important for the overall academic performance of a district, it is the building principal that must provide strong leadership for a campus. Yes, you can have a weak principal and still have individual teachers who perform well, but you must have a strong principal for widespread success. While grants can be written to try to improve the performance of a weak principal, I feel that it is better to find someone with a proven track record to lead you.
The second problem that most low-performing must correct is poor attendance. It is impossible to teach students anything when they are not present in your classroom. Many low-performing schools have poor attendance overall and pockets of downright neglect. You should be able to write grants that help you center in on the problems that cause poor attendance and also look for incentives to help students want to attend school.

Finally, if you are ever going to turn a low-performing school around, you have to aggressively attack your reading problems. Most low-performing schools have students with reading levels two or more years below the norm. If this is the case in your school, you will make very little academic progress until you raise those reading scores nearer the appropriate level.

Reading is fundamental. It is fundamental to academic success. It is fundamental to student self-esteem. It is fundamental to all future academic growth. If your library is not well-stocked with interesting books on an appropriate level, you need to write a grant. If your school day does not block out time for students to read silently every day, you need to write a grant. If students are not aware of the level on which they read and don’t know how to choose appropriate books according to that level, you need to write a grant.

It is difficult enough to teach students these days when everything in your school is working well. If you have poor leadership, poor attendance, and poor reading scores, it will be almost impossible for you to move from a low-performing school to even an average school. It is imperative that you identify these problems in your school, make plans to change your current patterns, and write grants to fund these changes if you don’t have the money in your budget to do so.

I always loved being a principal, but when I became a principal at a low-performing school, it was absolutely essential that I attack the attendance problems that we had and to revamp our overall reading program so that every student practiced reading an hour each day in appropriate-level books. I know from firsthand experience how to turn around a campus:

1)      Improve your leadership
2)      Improve attendance
3)      Improve your reading scores

If you start with these three key components, you have a very good chance of actually improving your school

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