In 2017 The School District of Indian River County engaged The Urban Learning and Leadership Center (ULLC) of Hampton, Virginia to conduct an assessment of 21 schools in Indian River County, Florida. The assessments were conducted in October, 2017
Dr. John W. Hodge, President and Co-founder of the ULLC and his team from the ULLC conducted school walkthroughs; student, parent, teacher, and administrative interviews; as well as having staff complete surveys to develop a profile for each school.
“ULLC offers personalized school improvement services to schools and districts. “ULLC is dedicated to helping schools develop workable plans to achieve greatness – and to staying with them through the difficult work of putting those plans to work.
ULLC … for school districts whose leaders are passionate about improving achievement for all students … from the ground level up.” (http://ullcschools.com)
Through a public records request we have been able to obtain the assessments of each of the schools, excerpts of which we want to share with you; particularly since there will be school board elections in August.
It would be too much to take on all the schools in one article so we have limited this one to four schools. We will continue our reporting on all the other schools in separate posts.
If you want a copy of the PDF file on any particular school please contact us.
Our takeaways from the four schools below are how economically disadvantaged the students population is and how few staff members completed the surveys. It seems that 10% or less completed the surveys.
One teacher told us she didn’t take the survey because through a bar code she felt her survey could be traced back to her and she feared retaliation. Maybe that is why so few, at least at the four schools below few took the survey.
The process ULLC took is as follows:
- Structured interviews — Coaches gather information on current school practices and triangulate those data through a cross-section of staff responses. Interviews are usually conducted with the principal, the assistant principal, the leadership team, and a random selection of classroom teachers.
- SAME survey — All staff members complete an on-line, anonymous survey which yields data on staff perceptions regarding the social, academic, moral, and distributed leadership dimensions of the school culture. The SAME Survey is an investigative school-climate tool designed to provide general information regarding the opinions and perceptions of a school’s staff (see preface to SAME survey results following this report). The instrument is not intended to indicate whether there is a causal relationship between survey results and student achievement. Rather, survey data are to be used to begin targeted school improvement dialogue using survey results as an entry point. These survey data are invaluable as we attempt to triangulate our findings between the site visit observations, the structured interviews, and the quantitative data on school performance.
- Walk-throughs — ULLC coaches conduct preliminary “walk-throughs” to gather observational information regarding current norms and behaviors of teachers, staff, and students. The goal of this walk-through is to collect baseline data regarding the social and moral elements of the school culture as well as initial reads on the academic (curriculum and instruction) culture. It is NOT evaluative of teacher performance and teachers need to be informed that there will be no information collected which is identifiable by specific teacher.
- Data analysis – ULLC coaches collect and analyze existing data which the school uses to measure success in the social, academic, and moral dimensions of school culture. Examples of these types of data sets are PBIS data, SWIS data, benchmark and summative test data from local and state testing programs, survey data, attendance and discipline data, grade distribution data, etc.
This diagnostic report organizes results through the lens of the seven domains of the ULLC SAME model:
- Distributed Leadership
- Student Social
- Teacher Social
- Student Academic
- Teacher Academic
- Student Moral
- Teacher Moral
“Nationally and in Florida, schools have struggled with a very clear and consistent achievement gap in many urban, suburban and rural areas. This gap became more glaring after the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which was signed into law on January 8, 2001. The Act was a reform of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
No Child Left Behind was the first time in the history of public schools in the United States that school accreditation was measured by the achievement of traditionally underserved and underperforming populations of students. This legislation made sweeping changes to the role of the federal government in educating children and was specifically designed to help close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent and less challenged peers.
The law required states to implement statewide accountability systems covering all public-school students. The law also required that assessment results be categorized and disaggregated according to socio-economic status, disability, race, and limited English proficiency.”
Vero Beach High School
114 staff members completed the survey
51% economically disadvantaged
No reference to disabled.
“When asked about the strengths of Vero Beach High School, the number one response from parents, students, and staff was that there is a feeling of mutual respect from all members of the educational community. One parent who graduated from VBHS stated, “Teachers are wonderful. They are willing to help even after school.” “I am treated with courtesy and respect when I visit my child’s school.”
Another asset at Vero Beach High School is in regard to a feeling of pride expressed by teachers, parents, and students. Students and parents expressed that there are many opportunities for students in regard to courses and extracurricular activities. “Teachers are proud to say they teach at this school and like spending time with the people at this school.
A consistent concern from faculty members was in regard to the lack of distributed leadership. They said that department meetings are “top-down” with minimal dialog and faculty meetings are rare. According to them, there is no productive means for two-way communication. As one teacher stated, “There is a big divide between teachers and administration.” Other teachers nodded in agreement.
The behavior of students and subsequent administration of discipline were concerns from teachers as reflected by their comments in interviews and in the results of the survey. Teachers said there was “inconsistency” in the application of discipline. When asked if it was administrator to administrator, teacher to teacher, or one student to another by student age or by student ethnicity the teachers responded, “All the above.”
Distributed Leadership should be a major focus for the staff at VBHS. No plan for improvement will be successful if the key stakeholders are not involved with planning, development, and implementation.”
Dodgertown Elementary School
Seven staff members completed the survey.
71% economically disadvantaged
No reference to minorities
“When asked about the strengths of Dodgertown Elementary School, the number one response from parents, students and staff was the caring and supportive staff and school climate. An administrator remarked, “The staff is friendly and we have a lot of staff members that care.” One member said, “there is somebody for everybody here,” and a teacher added, “it takes a lot of caring to be here and we’re here.”
There is a strong focus on teaching and learning at Dodgertown Elementary School. Many teachers celebrated that they raised the state report grade from a D to a C in one year by focusing on meeting students’ needs
As mentioned in the preface above, Dodgertown Elementary School is in transition and the new leadership needs to build a sense of passion around a new vision and a new mission for the school.
Teachers made many claims of the lack of support from the behavior specialist that was once there, due to change in the position at the district level
We also need social emotional support for students. Our teachers are not trained on dealing with some of our students’ issues.
Although the effects teachers have on students are well documented, the system wide impact of high rates of teacher turnover—such as on the health of the school (including faculty, staff, students, and the larger community)—is often overlooked. Staffing consistency was a repeated theme during the site assessment with Dodgertown. There is a new principal, new assistant principal, eleven new teachers and five new non-instructional staff. Many staff members shared that the “revolving door” results in a hard launch every year with new changes because so many people are new; because of this, there is no continuity from year to year.
Dialogue with parents and other community members is critical for continuing to engage the external stakeholders of Dodgertown Elementary School. District and school leaders are encouraged to find ways to remove the “stigma” that is perceived to be present.
These observations are merely the tip of the iceberg to begin the dialogue with the staff of Dodgertown Elementary School relative to school improvement.”
Fellsmere Elementary School
40 staff members completed the survey.
100% economically disadvantaged
No reference to minorities
18.3 % disabled
“When asked about the strengths of Fellsmere Elementary School, the number one response from parents, students and staff, in English and in Spanish, was the unique community atmosphere of the building. Quotes from students, parents, teachers, and administrators included: “My teachers are awesome! We love our principal. There is a positive atmosphere, everywhere; the staff is always trying to do something in the community! Teachers care about the whole student. There is a family atmosphere. The community is so caring.”
Multiple parents told us, ‘The teachers do anything for these kids.’ A parent reported, “The dedication is amazing” a teacher professed, ‘The staff is so willing and ready…’
Despite the rating of “C” for two years, Fellsmere Elementary School struggles to meet the students’ academic and language needs. One teacher stated, “Our students struggle and their parents cannot be shown how to help them at home and build their confidence, they feel intimidated because of the language barrier.”
This school is the only in the district with the bilingual population. Additionally, the school is physically removed from the rest of the county as well. The staff and parents feel that the “one size fits all” approach should not be applicable to this school:
It is recommended that the Fellsmere leadership team work closely with Indian River County leaders to develop a plan of action to assist in providing resources to help parents be involved in their children’s education, the ability to serve as a host site for resources that address family needs.”
Citrus Elementary School
39 staff members completed the survey
71.4 economically disadvantaged
No reference to minorities
“When asked about the strengths of Citrus Elementary, the overall response from administration, parents, and staff was how passionate and hard-working the members of the Citrus Elementary staff are. Not only does the staff report that they work well together, they shared that they are responsive to the needs of students, parents, and families. Interviews with parents indicate that there is a high level of collegiality and mutual respect between parents and teachers at Citrus Elementary.
Parents, students, and teachers alike highlighted the positivity demonstrated by the new principal, Mrs. Garcia, as a major strength of Citrus Elementary. When asked to tell the best thing about the school, seven students said “Mrs. Garcia!”.
Appropriate student behavior is an essential ingredient in a positive school culture and academic achievement. To this end, there is likely to be a negative impact on the culture and achievement when students exhibit disruptive behaviors in their classrooms that require teachers to use instructional time on addressing misbehavior. Results from the SAME survey regarding this area suggests that more needs to be done to address student behavior at Citrus Elementary.
The staff at Citrus Elementary should examine why misbehavior persists to this degree in spite of their efforts to teach what is appropriate and expected.
Throughout interviews with students from various racial backgrounds at Citrus, students from all backgrounds openly shared their belief there was little to no sense of fairness in terms of discipline outcomes, particularly for Black students. It is important to note that this sentiment was reiterated by 3 Black students, 5 White students, and 1 Hispanic student. Specifically, one Black student expressed, “These teachers are racist! They always believe the White students over us!”. Three White students expressed what can best be described as sadness when they explained that their Black friends can demonstrate the same behavior as they do, yet the Black students get in trouble whereas they (White students) do not.
Another White student explicitly commented, “I kinda feel bad for my best friend (a Black student who participated in the interview alongside him) because no matter what he does, it is always wrong and he’s gonna get yelled at. When I do it, they just ignore it and let it go, and I can tell you, I do much worse stuff than he does”
One teacher specifically stated “we need more time with our students to work on reading at the foundational levels. The way we departmentalize completely disregards the needs of the whole child, and we only started doing this because of the focus on test scores. Our kids are more than a test score!”.
Out of 44 teachers, only 6 represent a different ethnic or racial background that is different from the dominant population. To this end, it is the recommendation of the observer that substantial efforts should be made to attract, recruit, and retain highly-qualified teachers to Citrus Elementary. This may aid in reducing some of the racial tension expressed by students if they see staff who represent their racial or cultural background.
These observations are merely the tip of the iceberg to begin the dialogue with the staff of Citrus Elementary relative to school improvement.”
As indicated earlier, we will continue to provide assessments for the additional schools.