By Dan McGowan
With education reform driving the news cycle in Rhode Island, Harvard’s Ed. Magazine takes a look at how one Providence elementary school principal is handling federal mandates set by the Obama administration.
The article profiles Pleasant View Elementary principal Dr. Gara Field, whose school is in its first year of a “transformation” model that requires additional minutes to be added to the school day; creates a demanding evaluation system for teachers; and gives more operational power to principals.
The school has added time to the school day (a requirement for all turnaround and transformation schools), including 70 additional minutes for teachers, which allows more time for prep, meetings, and teaching. Field also created “dream teams,” where teachers help one another. One example was to change the schedules for preK teachers. Initially, preK teachers came in late morning and taught just preK students. Now, they come in at 8 a.m. and help K–5 teachers until their younger students arrive. The result, Field says, is that there’s a different feeling in the building.
‘All the kids see the preK teachers in the hallways, and they’ve gotten to know those teachers,” she says. “It was a whole faculty investment. We’ve placed value in relationships. No significant learning occurs without significant relationships. Our faculty now comes early and stays late. We’re here with a shared purpose and a shared vision.’
The transformation model is one of four possible options persistently low-achieving schools can select in exchange for a three-year federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) in order to increase achievement. Other options include: turnaround, which replaces the principal and fires half the staff; restart, which allows a school to be converted to a charter school; and school closure; which closes the school and enrolls students at a higher performing public school.
In Providence, 21 elementary, middle or high schools are currently labeled have been targeted for one of the four model of intervention, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education.
Field said her goal was to focus on technology and the school now has iPads and SMART boards in every classroom.
‘We didn’t even have wireless in the building,” she says. “Now, teachers can reach kids in new ways. This gives students the opportunity to connect to data, have multimedia experiences, and allows for targeted, small-group learning. If we didn’t have this extra money, we could have made cultural changes, but we would never have had the funding for infrastructure to do the work.’