With a new school year underway, our intent remains: reimagining how to approach schooling so that all students thrive. We also continue to reflect on the pandemic’s impact on health and learning. New research proves what we knew to be true: the pandemic widened the opportunity and achievement gaps that existed pre-pandemic.
“In math, students in majority Black schools ended the year with six months of unfinished learning, students in low-income schools with seven. High schoolers have become more likely to drop out of school, and high school seniors, especially those from low-income families, are less likely to go on to postsecondary education.” Student mental health was negatively impacted, and if unaddressed, will have residual effects on well-being and academic success.
Despite the many uncertainties, pressures, and challenges of the 2020-21 school year, the leaders in our program leveraged our support to “Create What’s Next” for their schools, staff, and students. Here are some of the ways that leaders persevered in order to minimize the negative impacts of the pandemic:
During the 2020-21 school year, Angela Johnson-Williams (Providence Englewood, Chicago) continued her focus on improvement despite having no leadership team support. She collected and analyzed student data consistently and implemented changes when necessary, resulting in academic gains for her students.
During the second semester, she set a goal to increase the percentage of her school teams that scored at the “skilled” level on the Data-Driven Culture Checklist. Designed by Accelerate Institute, the checklist guides schools as they work to implement systems and processes within the Data-Driven Culture objective of the Accelerate Framework.
This objective, which focuses on ensuring teachers are analyzing and acting on student and classroom data, is crucial for schools who want to move toward making decisions based on what students have learned, not based simply on what teachers have taught.
In January, only 7% of teams at Providence Englewood were skilled on the checklist; by May, 71% of teams were skilled. With this improvement, Angela’s teams will be set up for success as they analyze the extent of unfinished learning that needs to be addressed in this school year. Additionally, as a testament to Angela’s strong leadership, she retained 100% of her staff for the second year in a row!
This past year—her first in the Accelerator program—Lindsey Girard (Loomis Longwood K-5, Chicago) set clear goals for her school along with a concrete plan for meeting them. Because of this, she was able to shift her leadership style to focus on her communication, instructional expertise, and systems support. Lindsey leveraged her classroom walkthrough tool to identify high-impact action steps for each teacher to implement, and this strong emphasis on coaching led to student gains in math. From December to March, the percentage of classrooms meeting student proficiency targets in math increased from 19% of classrooms to 65% of classrooms.
Aneesa Sergeant (University of Chicago-NKO, Chicago) focused on coaching teachers for strong instruction that would directly impact student learning. Teachers received additional planning time this year through shortened schedules and Wednesdays that delivered asynchronous lessons to kids. Student attendance averaged 95% for the year. That’s an important metric given that student attendance is a strong predictor of student outcomes—students who steadily attend school are more likely to succeed academically. In addition to the strong attendance rates, Aneesa’s students showed high engagement and had high rates of meeting academic targets, including 64% percent of classrooms meeting student proficiency targets in reading and 100% meeting proficiency targets in math in May.
The shift to remote learning was no easy task at the kindergarten and first grade levels, requiring additional creativity on the part of school staff to engage little ones. Kawika Chun (Equitas Academy #5, Los Angeles) and his teachers volunteered to make ‘learning pods’ for kids, which included a number line, sound cards, and other resources to set up workstations at home. Students were also invited to “Fun Friday” events where teachers were able to pull them out for quick foundational skills assessments. The school maintained a 91% average for the year’s attendance and achieved 12% growth in reading proficiency from the previous year, despite the challenges of the pandemic.
Dave Trejo (Environmental Charter MS-Gardena, Gardena, CA) set a high bar of professionalism, being responsive to staff feedback while practicing radical candor and putting families and students at the forefront of decision-making. He was very conscious of pushing his whole team while avoiding burnout.
Instructionally, Dave worked to build teachers’ understanding that the Reading Apprenticeship program is a key tool for all of them, not just for English teachers. As a result, the school’s 8th grade English Language Learners group more than doubled the national norm for growth in reading, growing 20 RIT points* in comparison to the national norm of 8 RIT points and setting them up to better access the high school content next year. Furthermore, two-thirds of ECMS-Gardena students met their growth target in Reading during the winter NWEA-MAP assessment.
*The NWEA-MAP assessment uses a scale called RIT to measure student achievement and growth.
A first-year principal in 2020-21, Ally Wright (Ednovate-South LA College Prep, Los Angeles) was named the Ednovate leader of the year. She put together a high-performing team while being intentional about building their capacity and giving more ownership. Her teacher coaching cycle, which focuses on equity and examining student group data, resulted in 90% of students within each student group (and 95% of students overall) passing all classes.
Ally and her team set goals on that particular metric to ensure that all students will graduate from high school college- and career-ready. In comparison, the LAUSD average is just 38% of students graduating college- and career-ready. Ally and her team’s focus on every student group paid off, as Pre-ACT results showed Black students outscored all other groups (a contrast to the trends we see nationwide). Ally has worked to help her team balance the immediate with the long-term view; she is ready to build upon her positive school culture as she doubles her staff and students next year.
As we move forward this school year, it’s so important that educators take things one day at a time. While there is so much important work to do, warming up to full-time, in-person learning again is going to require a bit of an adjustment period for everyone.
The truth is, though, school leaders are in a unique position to provide critical support right now. You can do so by taking the time to interrupt inequities, reimagine systems, and reconnect with students, families, and staff in meaningful ways.
Implement strategies for addressing the trauma that has impacted our communities (and may still continue to be doing so)
Dedicate time to helping students reestablish routines and procedures. Consider how you might be able to readapt old routines for the current circumstances so that students feel understood and cared for.
Reconnect in meaningful ways
Make deliberate efforts to promote relationship building among students, families, and staff. Some may have never met each other in person before, and feeling comfortable with each other is essential.
Educators have done truly incredible work delivering a quality education to students under difficult conditions in the past two school years. Now, it’s time to lead them into the next chapter of their academic careers.